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Full title A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Anthology, biology, essay and science
Publication year 2004
Original publication year 2003
ISBN 978-0-618-48539-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 263
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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to the American Edition
  1. Science and Sensibility
    • 1.1 A Devil's Chaplain
    • 1.2 What is True?
    • 1.3 Gaps in the Mind
    • 1.4 Science, Genetics and Ethics: Memo for Tony Blair
    • 1.5 Trial By Jury
    • 1.6 Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls
    • 1.7 Postmodernism Disrobed
    • 1.8 The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle
  2. Light Will Be Thrown
    • 2.1 Light Will Be Thrown
    • 2.2 Darwin Triumphant
    • 2.3 The 'Information Challenge'
    • 2.4 Genes Aren't Us
    • 2.5 Son of Moore's Law
  3. The Infected Mind
    • 3.1 Chinese Junk and Chinese Whispers
    • 3.2 Viruses of the Mind
    • 3.3 The Great Convergence
    • 3.4 Dolly and the Cloth Heads
    • 3.5 Time to Stand Up
  4. They Told Me, Heraclitus
    • 4.1 Lament for Douglas
    • 4.2 Eulogy for Douglas Adams
    • 4.3 Eulogy for W. D. Hamilton
    • 4.4 Snake Oil
  5. Even the Ranks of Tuscany
    • 5.1 Rejoicing in Multifarious Nature
    • 5.2 The Art of the Developable
    • 5.3 Hallucigenia, Wiwaxia and Friends
    • 5.4 Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progress
    • 5.5 Unfinished Correspondence with a Darwinian Heavyweight
  6. There is All Africa and her Prodigies in Us
    • 6.1 Ecology of Genes
    • 6.2 Out of the Soul of Africa
    • 6.3 I Speak of Africa and Golden Joys
    • 6.4 Heroes and Ancestors
  7. A Prayer for My Daughter
    • 7.1 Good and Bad Reasons for Believing
  • Endnotes
  • Index
Full title The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Mariner Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2004
ISBN 978-0-618-61916-0 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 623
Synopsis

A history book about life, in reverse chronology.

Review

This 600+ pages book could easily be called Dawkins' magnum opus. It's a history of life, written in reverse chronology, starting with humans and working backwards to the common ancestor to all life. The book is divided into chapters, called Rendezvous, and each rendezvous would be where two twigs on the tree of life meet. If you picture the tree of life, then the book starts at one tip of the tree, humanity, and moves progressively backwards (inwards) to the root of the tree. (Actually, this is slightly misleading. The entire tree of life is an unrooted phylogenetic tree, not a rooted one.) At each rendezvous, a joining pilgrim (sometimes several) gets a chance to tell its Tale, and the tale usually illustrates a point about biology. This is what makes this book such a joy to read. While you're reading you can (and are in fact encouraged to) imagine that you're on a pilgrimage (see subtitle), à la Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. But unlike The Canterbury Tales, this isn't a work of fiction, and you'll inevitably learn a lot of biology while you're at it.

In the book, like with most of Dawkins' books, he doesn't shy away from using technical words, but he's very meticulous about explaining ones that may be unfamiliar to the reader. Being a hobby etymologist, this is the kind of writing that I love. (The word 'Neanderthal', for instance, comes from Neander, the valley in Germany in which the original fossil was found, and 'thal', which is German for 'valley'.) And besides, it's a fun challenge for the reader to go look up the words she doesn't understand.

This is a thoroughly excellent and riveting book, but be warned that it's also a long and difficult book. Set aside a good chunk of uninterrupted time for it. I read about one-fifth of it (straight) in bed, and the rest during a thirteen-hour bus trip, and I was in a daze for a week. (Maybe partly because I read it on a bus, but mostly because the book itself is so eye-opening.)

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Full title Asimov's New Guide to Science [permalink]
Original title The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Biology, chemistry and science
Publication year 1987
Original publication year 1984
ISBN 978-0-140-17213-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 880
Synopsis

This is a thick door-stopper of a book, dealing with all of science (and the history of science in general). It's divided into two major parts, The Physical Sciences and The Biological Sciences.

Review

Asimov wrote very well fiction, but I think non-fiction is where he shines, and this book is no exception. Go buy it, and get an overview of the vast fields of science!

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Full title The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher W. W. Norton
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1986
ISBN 978-0-14-102616-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 358
Review

The Blind Watchmaker demolishes the argument from design, which was first advanced by the theologian William Paley. In short, it goes like this: If you're walking somewhere and you find a rock, you don't require an explanation for why it's there. But if you find a watch, you'll assume that the watch had a maker. Organisms are complex things, like a watch, so they, too, should require a maker (evolution is the blind watchmaker that the title alludes to). The book introduces biomorphs, creatures in a computer program that can evolve a multitude of shapes based on nine different "genes" (variables) which control how the form grows. Even with only nine genes, the number of forms that can be generated is huge, and the reader is invited to imagine walking through the (nine-dimensional!) space of possible shapes.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to the 2006 edition
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Explaining the very improbable
  • Chapter 2 Good design
  • Chapter 3 Accumulating small change
  • Chapter 4 Making tracks through animal space
  • Chapter 5 The power and the archives
  • Chapter 6 Origins and miracles
  • Chapter 7 Constructive evolution
  • Chapter 8 Explosions and spirals
  • Chapter 9 Puncturing punctuationism
  • Chapter 10 The one true tree of life
  • Chapter 11 Doomed rivals
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix (1991): Computer programs and 'The Evolution of Evolvability'
  • Index
Full title Climbing Mount Improbable [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher W. W. Norton
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1996
ISBN 978-0-393-31682-7 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 326
Images Back of Climbing Mount Improbable.Spine of Climbing Mount Improbable.Front of Climbing Mount Improbable.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Acknowledgements
  • Picture Acknowledgements
  • 1 Facing Mount Rushmore
  • 2 Silken Fetters
  • 3 The Message from the Mountain
  • 4 Getting off the Ground
  • 5 The Forty-fold Path to Enlightenment
  • 6 The Museum of All Shells
  • 7 Kaleidoscopic Embryos
  • 8 Pollen Grains and Magic Bullets
  • 9 The Robot Repeater
  • 10 'A Garden Inclosed'
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Full title Cosmos [permalink]
Language English
Author Carl Sagan (author)
Publisher Ballantine Books
Categories Astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics and science
Publication year 1985
Original publication year 1980
ISBN 978-0-345-33135-9 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 324
Synopsis

Cosmos is, as its title suggests, a book about the Cosmos. It's based upon (and can be considered a companion to) the TV series of the same name. There are thirteen chapters, each corresponding to the thirteen episodes.

The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is setting the tone for the rest of the book. Sagan discusses the Cosmos on its largest scales, putting the Earth in perspective. He then discusses early attempts to measure the size of the Earth.

One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue is about evolution and our own species. It discusses various potential biologies that could be evolved on other worlds and muses on the implication of all this.

In the chapter Harmony of the Worlds, Sagan really shines. This chapter deals with astrology, astronomy, and the histories of both. (Sagan was an astronomer.) He explains Kepler's Laws, goes into the geocentric vs heliocentric models of the Solar System, and the history of planetary observation and theory-making.

Heaven and Hell is all about comets and asteroids. Sagan discusses the Tunguska event and the impact craters on the Moon, among other things.

Blues for a Red Planet is about Mars in fiction and fact. He goes into the canali of Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowell, H. G. Well's The War of the Worlds, and the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He then discusses the Mars probes and the potential for terraforming Mars.

Travelers' Tales is about the sailing ships and the discoveries made during the Age of Exploration, with respects to astronomy and the study of the Cosmos.

The Backbone of Night is a discussion of myths from around the world on the creation and system of the Universe, veering into a discussion of the scientific explanations (and the evidence). There's a very charming three pages of imagined inner monolog by a curious and primitive ancestor dealing with his explanation for the stars. The chapter title is a reference to the name for the Milky Way that the !Kung people of the Kalahari desert use for it.

Travels in Space and Time is about the immensity of space and time. It begins with a discussion on constellations and astrology, and has a wonderful illustration of how a constellation (in the example, The Big Dipper) would look from other angles and in other eras. It then launches into an extended explanation of the speed of light and the various paradoxes attending it (such as time dilation).

The Lives of the Stars is about atoms, chemistry, and the lives of the stars (ahem), meaning the fates and types of stars (white dwarfs, neutron stars, supernovas, etc.).

The Edge of Forever lives up to its title. Its subject matter is the beginning of time, the extent of the Cosmos, and a very entertaining discussion on higher dimensions (reminiscent of, even directly referent to, Flatland). It also discusses mythological theories on the nature of time and the Cosmos.

The Persistence of Memory is about information, in the form of DNA and brains.

Encyclopaedia Galactica is really about galactic citizenship. It goes into UFOs, SETI, the Drake equation, and contact with other intelligent beings (what it would look like and what the implications would be). This is one of the more interesting chapters.

The book ends on a somewhat morose note with Who Speaks for Earth? The chapter deals with the planet and its various challenges, most conspicuously nuclear weapons and what to do about the potentiality of our destroying ourselves. After so many chapters of uplifting speculations and explorations of immensity, this chapter is a very sobering read.

Review

Where to start? When I watched the TV series in 2007 I was utterly blown away, and the book is even better. Being a book it's also much more detailed. If you've read anything by Sagan you know what to expect, but this work is simply breath-taking in its breadth and depth. It's personal, uplifting, educational, interesting... If you want to get a (biased, in a good sense) overview of the history of ideas and science, go read it.

Images Back of Cosmos.Spine of Cosmos.Front of Cosmos.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction
  • I The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean
  • II One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue
  • III The Harmony of the Worlds
  • IV Heaven and Hell
  • V Blues for a Red Planet
  • VI Travelers' Tales
  • VII The Backbone of Night
  • VIII Travels in Space and Time
  • IX The Lives of the Stars
  • X The Edge of Forever
  • XI The Persistence of Memory
  • XII Encyclopaedia Galactica
  • XIII Who Speaks for Earth?
  • Appendix 1: Reductio ad Absurdum and the Square Root of Two
  • Appendix 2: The Five Pythagorean Solids
  • Further Reading
  • Index
Full title The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Bantam Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2009
ISBN 978-0-593-06173-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 470
Synopsis

A book about the evidence for evolution.

The first chapter begins by inviting the reader to imagine that they're a teacher of Roman history, and that they have to waste their time with a rearguard defense against people who try to persuade your pupils that there never was a Roman empire (which is akin to how biologists today have to spend their time).

The rest of the book is devoted to laying out the actual evidence for evolution, while debunking some claims against it (for instance, that there are missing links, which is simply based on a Victorian misunderstanding). I found the chapters dealing with radiometric dating and dendrochronology especially enlightening.

The last chapter takes the last paragraph of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and unpacks and explains it, with each sentence being a sub-heading.

Review

Dawkins says in the book that he wrote this book, a book about the evidence for evolution, because none of his other books explicitly lay this out (they only assume evolution is true). In contrast, this book lays it all out, in meticulous detail.

It's a relatively light read, but as with most books of this kind, you have to pay close attention when reading, or you might miss important points. I definitely recommend it.

Images Back flap of The Greatest Show on Earth.Back of The Greatest Show on Earth.Spine of The Greatest Show on Earth.Front of The Greatest Show on Earth.Front flap of The Greatest Show on Earth.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 Only a theory?
  • Chapter 2 Dogs, cows and cabbages
  • Chapter 3 The primrose path to macro-evolution
  • Chapter 4 Silence and slow time
  • Chapter 5 Before our very eyes
  • Chapter 6 Missing link? What do you mean, 'missing'?
  • Chapter 7 Missing persons? Missing no longer
  • Chapter 8 You did it yourself in nine months
  • Chapter 9 The ark of the continents
  • Chapter 10 The tree of cousinship
  • Chapter 11 History written all over us
  • Chapter 12 Arms races and 'evolutionary theodicy'
  • Chapter 13 There is grandeur in this view of life
  • Appendix: The history-deniers
  • Notes
  • Bibliography and further reading
  • Picture acknowledgements
  • Index
Full title The Human Body: Its Structure and Operation [permalink]
Language English
Authors Isaac Asimov (author) and Anthony Ravielli (illustrator)
Publisher Signet Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1963
ISBN 978-0451617743 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 309
Synopsis

Goes through the human body, from head to torso, muscles to blood, skin to genitalia, explaining in good detail how it all works.

Review

As always, it's written in clear prose, and is easily accessible. If you have a moderate interest in human anatomy, this is the book for you.

Images Back of The Human Body.Spine of The Human Body.Front of The Human Body.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • 1 Our Place
    • Distinctions
    • The Phyla
    • The Development of Phyla
    • The Chordates
    • The Vertebrates
  • 2 Our Head and Torso
    • The Vertebral Column
    • The Vertebrae and Ribs
    • The Skull
    • The Teeth
  • 3 Our Limbs and Joints
    • The Arms
    • The Legs
    • Cells
    • Bone Structure
    • Tooth Structure
    • Bone Movement
  • 4 Our Muscles
    • Living Motion
    • Muscle Contraction
    • Striated Muscle
    • Tendons
    • Muscles in Action
    • Some Individual Muscles
  • 5 Our Lungs
    • The Entrance of Oxygen
    • The Nose and Throat
    • The Voice
    • The Bronchial Tree
    • Breathing
  • 6 Our Heart and Arteries
    • The Inner Fluid
    • The Circulation
    • The Heartbeat
    • Blood Pressure
  • 7 Our Blood
    • The Liquid Tissue
    • The Erythrocyte
    • Anemia
    • Leukocytes and Thrombocytes
    • Lymph
  • 8 Our Intestines
    • Food
    • The Mouth
    • The Stomach
    • The Pancreas and Liver
    • Absorption
    • The Colon
  • 9 Our Kidneys
    • Carbon Dioxide and Water
    • The Excretory System
    • Urine
  • 10 Our Skin
    • Scales and Epidermis
    • Perspiration
    • Hair
  • 11 Our Genitals
    • Reproduction
    • The Egg
    • The Placenta
    • The Human Female
    • The Human Male
  • Postscript: Our Longevity
  • Index
Full title Kunstformen der Natur [permalink]
Translated title Art Forms of Nature
Language English
Author Ernst Haeckel (author)
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1904
Online version Link
Synopsis

A beautifully illustrated book about the various life forms found on our planet.

Review

I wish I could read the original German, but I can't claim to have read the book. Maybe I'll someday find a good translation, but in the mean time, if you too don't read German, enjoy the wondrous images! See Kurt Stüber's wonderful 300 DPI scans, which are simply amazing.

Full title River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life [permalink]
Language English
Authors Richard Dawkins (author) and Lalla Ward (illustrator)
Publisher Basic Books
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 1995
ISBN 978-0-465-06990-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 161
Synopsis

This is only partly a book about evolution. In the last chapter (The Replication Bomb) Dawkins speculates on ten thresholds that life goes through on its way to interstellar emigration. (The analogy is to a supernova. Just as a star can go supernova, a planet might explode with life.)

The book also goes through some very neat experiments on bees and the evolution of a bee dance that codes for location of food.

Images Back of River Out of Eden.Spine of River Out of Eden.Front of River Out of Eden.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • 1 The Digital River
  • 2 All Africa and Her Progenies
  • 3 Do Good by Stealth
  • 4 God's Utility Function
  • 5 The Replication Bomb
  • Bibliography and Further Reading
  • Index
Full title The Selfish Gene [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2006
Original publication year 1976
ISBN 978-0-19-929115-1 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 360
Synopsis

A pretty comprehensive guide to evolution, and the second book that introduced the gene-centric view of evolution (namely, that genes use bodies — survival machines — to pass themselves on, rather than organisms using genes to pass their traits on). The main goal of the book is to explain altruistic behavior and to dispel the myth that just because genes are selfish, we must (or should) be selfish, and I think it succeeds. The book also introduced the concept of memes (supposed to rhyme with genes), which are units of culture (like a catchy tune or a piece of trivia or a certain way of walking) that are capable of being copied from mind to mind.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Introduction to 30th anniversary edition
  • Preface to second edition
  • Foreword to first edition
  • Preface to first edition
  1. Why are people?
  2. The replicators
  3. Immortal coils
  4. The gene machine
  5. Aggression: stability and the selfish machine
  6. Genesmanship
  7. Family planning
  8. Battle of the generations
  9. Battle of the sexes
  10. You scratch my back, I'll ride on yours
  11. Memes: the new replicators
  12. Nice guys finish first
  13. The long reach of the gene
  • Endnotes
  • Updated bibliography
  • Index and key to bibliography
  • Extracts from reviews
Full title Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder [permalink]
Language English
Author Richard Dawkins (author)
Publisher Penguin Books
Categories Astronomy, biology and science
Publication year 1999
Original publication year 1998
ISBN 0-14-026408-6 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 336
Synopsis

This book is a celebration of science, and an explanation of its beauty.

Dawkins discusses the probability of your birth (it turns out to be very low), the notion that knowing things about the universe diminishes its beauty (like Feynman before him), sound waves, DNA fingerprinting, astrology (always witty to condemn), genes, brains, and, finally, memes.

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  1. The Anaesthetic of Familiarity
  2. Drawing Room of Dukes
  3. Barcodes in the Stars
  4. Barcodes on the Air
  5. Barcodes at the Bar
  6. Hoodwink'd with Faery Fancy
  7. Unweaving the Uncanny
  8. Huge Cloudy Symbols of a High Romance
  9. The Selfish Cooperator
  10. The Genetic Book of the Dead
  11. Reweaving the World
  12. The Balloon of the Mind
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Index
Full title View From a Height [permalink]
Language English
Author Isaac Asimov (author)
Publisher Avon Books
Categories Anthology, biology, chemistry, physics and science
Publication year 1975
Original publication year 1963
ISBN 0-380-00356-2 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 224
Synopsis

This is an essay collection broken into four parts: Biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. As the subtitle says, it's a brilliant overview of the exciting realms of science. The title invokes the image of viewing science from above, to get an overview of it, and in the introduction Asimov likens science before 1800 to a well-managed orchard. After 1800, it's overgrown and even though there's still an underlying order to it, each wanderer through the orchard only gets to see a small part of it.

"So I have here a collection of essays with little internal unity. They are glimpses, here and there, of the orchard of science, as viewed from a height."

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Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • INTRODUCTION
  • PART I BIOLOGY
    • 1 That's About the Size of It
    • 2 The Egg and Wee
    • 3 That's Life!
    • 4 Not as We Know It
  • PART II CHEMISTRY
    • 5 The Element of Perfection
    • 6 The Weighting Game
    • 7 The Evens Have It
  • PART III PHYSICS
    • 8 Now Hear This!
    • 9 The Ultimate Split of the Second
    • 10 Order! Order!
    • 11 The Modern Demonology
    • 12 The Height of Up
  • PART IV ASTRONOMY
    • 13 Hot Stuff
    • 14 Recipe for a Planet
    • 15 The Trojan Hearse
    • 16 By Jove!
    • 17 Superficially Speaking
Full title Why Evolution is True [permalink]
Language English
Author Jerry Coyne (author)
Publisher Oxford University Press
Categories Biology and science
Publication year 2010
Original publication year 2009
ISBN 978-0-19-923085-3 [Amazon, B&N, Abe, Powell's]
Pages 309
Synopsis

This book lays out in a systematic way the evidence for evolution. The first chapter, What Is Evolution?, lays out the basics tenets of the theory. The second, Written in the Rocks, are about (as you might guess) fossils and how they give good evidence of evolution (which wasn't available in Darwin's time). The third chapter goes into vestigial organs and functions, and the various bad designs we find in nature. The rest of the book lays out evidence from the geobiography of life, sexual selection, and so on.

The book is a response to the (on-going) anti-evolution tendency, and directly answers criticisms from that wing, in a detailed and interesting way.

Review

One of the better books on evolution I've read. If you're looking for an explanation of exactly why scientists believe the theory of evolution best explains the adaptations in life (as opposed to intelligent design), then this book is for you.

Images Back of Why Evolution is True.Spine of Why Evolution is True.Front of Why Evolution is True.
Structure [Toggle visibility]
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  1. What Is Evolution?
  2. Written in the Rocks
  3. Remnants: Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design
  4. The Geography of Life
  5. The Engine of Evolution
  6. How Sex Drives Evolution
  7. The Origin of Species
  8. What About Us?
  9. Evolution Redux
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Suggestions for Further Reading
  • References
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index

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