The best books on "the politics of evolution"

Who am I?

While growing up as a budding intellectual, two of my passions were social science (in other words, politics), and natural science, particularly biology. For decades, I thought of those as two unconnected fields of knowledge. I studied politics in my professional capacity as a government professor, and I read nature and wildlife studies as a hobby. Then, one day in 2000, I picked up a copy of a book by Stephen J. Gould, a Harvard paleontologist. It struck me that in every sentence he was combining science and politics. It was an on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. Since then, I have studied and written about the politics of evolution.  


I wrote...

Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

By David F. Prindle,

Book cover of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

What is my book about?

Because of his lucid, accessible writing style, until his death in 2002 Gould was probably the best-known scientist in the country. But he was not only a scientist; he was a passionately committed Leftist activist who infused his scientific writings with political advocacy. I examine and evaluate the way Gould fought the "evolution wars" within the scientific community, while at the same time crusading against the creationist resurgence in American politics. I examine the way his magnetic writing style gave energy to his views, and how he managed to suggest that good science was good politics, and vice-versa. I also evaluate the evidence underlying his scientific claims, in order to decide whether his criticisms of orthodox Darwinism were convincing.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection

David F. Prindle Why did I love this book?

This is one of the two or three most influential science books ever published. But unlike the case with other science books, The Origin, published in 1859, is also of profound political importance. Part of this political importance—the implications of Darwin's theory for religious explanations of the diversity of life, which I call "outside" politics—is familiar to all socially-aware citizens. But there is much less awareness of the "inside" politics of evolution—the political implications of controversies within the science of evolutionary biology founded by Darwin. Of course, to understand both the inside and outside politics, you must read much more recent books. But you should begin by reading Darwin.

By Charles Darwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the Origin of Species outlines Charles Darwin's world-changing theory that life on Earth had not been brought into being by a creator, but had arisen from a single common ancestor and had evolved over time through the process of natural selection.

This beautiful Macmillan Collector's Library edition of On the Origin of Species is complete and unabridged, and features an afterword by Oliver Francis. Designed to appeal to the booklover, the Macmillan Collector's Library is a series of beautiful gift editions of much loved classic titles. Macmillan Collector's Library are books to love and treasure.

Received with both enthusiasm…


Book cover of Darwin on Trial

David F. Prindle Why did I love this book?

The clearest and most comprehensive creationist critique of evolutionary biology. Johnson, a retired law professor, marshals every possible argument like a prosecuting attorney, employing reasoning and evidence that is either masterful and convincing, or deceitful and outrageous, depending upon your point of view. To Johnson, the biologists who work in the tradition of Darwin are not scientists, but propagandists in a political movement, using fake data and spurious arguments to bamboozle the public. His purpose is to clear the way for readers to be convinced that a huge, invisible, omnipotent, supernatural designer (no, don't call him God) authored the millions of organisms that have existed on Earth for 3.8 billion years. Is this a scientific critique or a political polemic?

By Phillip E. Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin on Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is evolution fact or fancy? Is natural selection an unsupported hypothesis or a confirmed mechanism of evolutionary change?
These were the courageous questions that professor of law Phillip Johnson originally took up in 1991. His relentless pursuit to follow the evidence wherever it leads remains as relevant today as then.
The facts and the logic of the arguments that purport to establish a theory of evolution based on Darwinian principles, says Johnson, continue to draw their strength from faith--faith in philosophical naturalism.
In this edition Johnson responds to critics of the first edition and maintains that scientists have put the…


Book cover of Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature

David F. Prindle Why did I love this book?

A Marxist critique of evolutionary biology, authored by a geneticist, a neuroscientist, and a psychologist.  From a perspective about as far from the viewpoint of creationists as it is possible to get, these three scholars argue that the philosophical assumptions, methodology, and social organization of modern biology add up to a politically conservative conspiracy reinforcing capitalism, racism, classism, and misogyny. Although their attack is general, it is most specifically aimed at intelligence testing, which, they argue, is shoddy science in the service of racist ideology.

By Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Not in Our Genes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Not in our Genes systematically exposes and dismantles the claims that inequalities class, race, gender are the products of biological, genetic inheritances. 'Informative, entertaining, lucid, forceful, frequently witty... never dull... should be read and remembered for a long time.' - New York Times Book Review. 'The authors argue persuasively that biological explanations for why we act as we do are based on faulty (in some cases, fabricated) data and wild speculation... It is debunking at its best.' - Psychology Today


Book cover of Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History

David F. Prindle Why did I love this book?

Until his death in 2002, Gould, a Harvard paleontologist, was probably the best-known natural scientist in the United States. What was not always recognized was that virtually every line Gould penned proceeded along two tracks, the scientific and the political. A leftist who started his career as a Marxist and developed into a more orthodox liberal, Gould had a genius for combining scientific lessons with political disputation and presenting that combination in lucid, interesting prose. No single book summarizes all of his political/evolutionary views. This one, in which he discusses many fascinating aspects of natural history while demolishing the views of creationists, would be a good place to start reading.

By Stephen Jay Gould,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over a century after Darwin published the Origin of Species, Darwinian theory is in a "vibrantly healthy state," writes Stephen Jay Gould, its most engaging and illuminating exponent. Exploring the "peculiar and mysterious particulars of nature," Gould introduces the reader to some of the many and wonderful manifestations of evolutionary biology.


Book cover of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives

David F. Prindle Why did I love this book?

The best book of readings on the controversy between "intelligent design" creationism (which is more intellectually respectable than "young Earth" creationism, the adherents of which believe that every word of the book of Genesis is literally true), and secular thinkers. Essays cover the truth of Darwinist theories, the nature of parents' rights to choose what their children are taught, the Constitutional law of education, the epistemological stance of naturalism as an unchallengeable assumption in scientific method, and various other relevant topics. The essays are generally as clear and jargon-free as it is possible to be, given that their authors are scholars.

By Robert T. Pennock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The last decade saw the arrival of a new player in the creation/evolution debate—the intelligent design creationism (IDC) movement, whose strategy is to act as "the wedge" to overturn Darwinism and scientific naturalism. This anthology of writings by prominent creationists and their critics focuses on what is novel about the new movement. It serves as a companion to Robert Pennock's Tower of Babel, in which he criticizes the wedge movement, as well as other new varieties of creationism. The book contains articles previously published in specialized, hard-to-find journals, as well as new contributions. Each section contains introductory background information, articles…


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The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


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