Books for Biology Majors

If you are looking for a good book to give to a biology major, there are a lot of good books to choose from in both the nonfiction and fiction genres.  Recent nonfiction titles discussing current discoveries in genetics and evolution include “Drawing the Map of Life: Inside the Human Genome Project” by Victor McElheny and “Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom” by Sean Carroll.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot has been discussed by many book groups. Doctors used Henrietta Lacks’ cells to launch the HeLa cell  biological research revolution without her permission. No one wants to live in a disease ridden world without microbe killers such as antibiotics but they are becoming ineffective against many diseases such as tuberculosis and MRSA.  “The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug Resistant Bacteria” by Michael Shnayerson and Mark Plotkin tells how superbugs evolve and how close we are to having infections that can no longer be killed with antibiotics.

“The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World’s Cleverest Creatures” by Sally Boysen tells how many animal species communicate, count, use tools, work in social groups, and adapt to their environment. “Collapse” by Jared Diamond details how different civilizations created unsustainable environments resulting in mass extinctions of plants and animals. Even if you think global warming is a natural phenomenon, the many examples supplied indicate that waiting too long to create policy could have disastrous results

Biology majors should enjoy fiction written by Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, and Dean Koontz. Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Congo” were made into successful movies. “Next” is also thought provoking and deals with medical research using a patient’s cancer cells (ala HeLa) and transgenic organisms used to manufacture spare parts for transplants. Robin Cook’s novel “Outbreak” about an ebola virus was made into a movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Cook’s “Toxin” about E. coli infections and “Chromosome 6” are engrossing medical thrillers. Koontz often utilizes genetic or congenital traits to describe the villain or detective in his suspense stories. “Easter Island” by Jennifer Vanderbees jumps between two time zones providing a modern day research project to compare to Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species”.

There are even books of photographs to delight the biology major. “Microcosmos” by Brandon Boll illustrates the world through SEM or scanning electron microscope images. “A Photographic Atlas for the Biology Laboratory” by Kent Van de Graff and John Crawley displays dissection photographs of the whole organism and microscope slides from both plant and animal kingdoms.