The best science books in behavior and evolution

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a biologist specialized in animal behavior and evolution. I write science nonfictions about behavior, evolution, and human nature for the general, intelligent audience. An avid reader myself, I “consume” at least a hundred books a year (mostly nonfictions but occasionally fictions when I have some leisure time) with a wide range of topics including science, nature, technology, psychology, economics, social justice, philosophy, and history. My favorite science books are those with new ideas and insights, an impeccable scientific rigor, and a strong, accessible, and concise writing style

I wrote...

The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars: Cheating and Deception in the Living World

By Lixing Sun,

Book cover of The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars: Cheating and Deception in the Living World

What is my book about?

Nature is rife with cheating. Possums play possum, feigning death to cheat predators. Crows cry wolf to scare off rivals. Amphibians and reptiles are inveterate impostors. Even genes and cells cheat. The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars explores the evolution of cheating in the natural world, revealing how dishonesty has given rise to wondrous diversity.

Blending cutting-edge science with a wealth of illuminating examples―from microscopic organisms to highly intelligent birds and mammals―Lixing Sun shows how cheating in nature relies on two basic rules. Sun demonstrates that cheating serves as a potent catalyst in the evolutionary arms race between the cheating and the cheated, resulting in a biological world teeming with complexity and beauty.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

Lixing Sun Why did I love this book?

Mingling state-of-the-art research information, Ryan synthesizes major theories about sexual selection with superb clarity and accuracy.

He demonstrates that females of many species have some built-in neural and sensory biases evolved to suit for such basic survival purposes as finding food and escaping from predators.

For males, however, whoever bears a trait that can better stimulate the pre-existing biases in females’ sensory systems would be rewarded with a higher level of success in wooing females. So, males were channelled to evolving such traits, often to a seemingly ridiculous degree, that fit females’ tastes.

It is a compelling idea for the evolution of such features as loud chucks in the songs of Túngara frogs, sexy “swords” (from the modified anal fin) in swordtail fish, and alluring smells in insects and mammals.

By Michael J. Ryan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Taste for the Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, the astonishing story of how the brain drives the evolution of beauty in animals and humans

In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off, transforming our understanding of sexual selection and shedding new light on animal and human behavior. Drawing on cutting-edge science, Ryan explores key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual…

Book cover of The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People

Lixing Sun Why did I love this book?

This book offers a thorough analysis of monogamy in a variety of animals, including people.

It demonstrates biological justifications for why monogamy is a dynamic balance brought about by the conflict of interests between males and females with wry humor and excellent prose. This book is a must-read for everyone interested in the behavior and evolution of the mating system.

By David P. Barash, Judith Eve Lipton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Myth of Monogamy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In "The Myth of Monogamy", David Barash describes how new research investigating sex in the animal world concludes there is simply no question whether sexual desire for multiple partners is natural. It is. Similarly, there is no question of monogamy being natural. It isn't. Using DNA fingerprinting technology biologists have been able to trace the parenthood of animals and have found that even among those species previously thought to be monogamous, cheating on your mate is the rule for both sexes. The book explores why animals cheat, some prostitute themselves for food or protection, while others strive for genetically superior…

Book cover of The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer

Lixing Sun Why did I love this book?

Cheating takes place in all organisms at all levels.

This book takes readers to cheating at the cell level, particularly cancer cells. It demonstrates to readers how cancer cells take the path of going rogue, refusing to die as they are preprogramed.

In light of this, fighting cancer is essentially fighting cells that defy their fate by cheating. This introduces a fresh strategy for tackling cancer.

By Athena Aktipis,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cheating Cell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fundamental and groundbreaking reassessment of how we view and manage cancer

When we think of the forces driving cancer, we don't necessarily think of evolution. But evolution and cancer are closely linked because the historical processes that created life also created cancer. The Cheating Cell delves into this extraordinary relationship, and shows that by understanding cancer's evolutionary origins, researchers can come up with more effective, revolutionary treatments.

Athena Aktipis goes back billions of years to explore when unicellular forms became multicellular organisms. Within these bodies of cooperating cells, cheating ones arose, overusing resources and replicating out of control, giving…

Book cover of Different: Gender Through the Eyes of a Primatologist

Lixing Sun Why did I love this book?

Today, gender is frequently viewed as a topic of pure ideological difference between the left and the right.

This book approaches gender as a biological issue rather than a social construct by looking at its evolutionary connections in primates, especially apes. This is a significant step toward establishing gender in the context of objective science, where liberals and conservatives may find common ground.

By Frans de Waal,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Different as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Different, world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal draws on decades of observation and studies of both human and animal behavior to argue that despite the linkage between gender and biological sex, biology does not automatically support the traditional gender roles in human societies. While humans and other primates do share some behavioral differences, biology offers no justification for existing gender inequalities.

Using chimpanzees and bonobos to illustrate this point-two ape relatives that are genetically equally close to humans-de Waal challenges widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity, and common assumptions about authority, leadership, cooperation, competition, filial bonds, and sexual behavior.…

Book cover of Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health

Lixing Sun Why did I love this book?

Diseases are frequently handled as though they are just "out of the condition" and considered as such.

This frequently results in a superficial understanding of the underlying causes of the disorders. In an effort to explore the problem from an evolutionary standpoint, Zoobiquity takes readers to many diseases occurring in both animals and humans, showing their shared roots.

It's an eye-opener for readers who aren't familiar with evolutionary medicine with a clear implication for how we can tackle human diseases more effectively.

By Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, Kathryn Bowers,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Zoobiquity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revelatory depiction of what animals can teach us about the human body and mind, exploring how animal and human commonality can be used to diagnose, treat, and heal patients of all species.

"Full of fascinating stories.” —Atul Gawande, M.D.

Do animals overeat? Get breast cancer? Have fainting spells? Inspired by an eye-opening consultation at the Los Angeles Zoo, which revealed that a monkey experienced the same symptoms of heart failure as human patients, cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz embarked upon a project that would reshape how she practiced medicine.

Beginning with the above questions, she began informally researching every affliction that…

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The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

By Sammy Stein,

Book cover of The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

Sammy Stein Author Of Fabulous Female Musicians

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been passionate about music for almost my entire life. Jazz music in particular speaks to me but not just jazz. I love music, full stop. I really discovered jazz when I attended a jazz club workshop in London and there, I had to join in or leave. I chose to join in and since then I have never looked back. I was introduced to more jazz musicians and now write about music for three major columns as well as Readers’ Digest. My Women In Jazz book won several awards. I have been International Editor for the Jazz Journalist Association and had my work commissioned by the Library of Congress. 

Sammy's book list on female musicians

What is my book about?

With input from over 100 musicians, the book discusses what exactly jazz is, and how you know you are listening to it. Do we truly know when and how jazz first originated? Who was the first jazz musician? How does jazz link to other genres? What about women in jazz? And writers and journalists? Do reviews make any difference? 

This book is a deep dive into jazz's history, impact, and future. It discusses jazz's social, cultural, and political influence and reveals areas where jazz has had an impact we may not even realize.Its influences on hip hop, the connection to…

The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

By Sammy Stein,

What is this book about?

This book is very different from other, more general jazz books. It is packed with information, advice, well researched and includes experiences from jazz musicians who gleefully add their rich voices to Sammy's in-depth research. All genres, from hard bop to be-bop, vocal jazz, must instrumental, free jazz, and everything between is covered in one way or another and given Sammy's forensic eye. There is social commentary and discussions of careers in jazz music. The musical background of those in the book is rich and diverse.
Critics comment:
"This new book by Sammy Stein is a highly individual take on…

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