The best books that will open your mind to the wonders of biology

Who am I?

Sam Kean is the New York Times bestselling author of five books, including The Bastard Brigade, The Dueling Neurosurgeons, and The Disappearing Spoon. He edited The Best American Nature and Science Writing in 2018, and his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and Slate. His work has been featured on NPR’s “Radiolab,” “Science Friday,” “All Things Considered,” and “Fresh Air,” and his podcast, The Disappearing Spoon, debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts for science podcasts.


I wrote...

The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

By Sam Kean,

Book cover of The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science

What is my book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes the gripping, untold history of science's darkest secrets. Science is a force for good in the world—at least usually. But sometimes, when obsession gets the better of scientists, they twist a noble pursuit into something sinister. Under this spell, knowledge isn’t everything, it’s the only thing—no matter the cost. Bestselling author Sam Kean tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process.

The books I picked & why

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Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

By Daniel Dennett,

Book cover of Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

Why this book?

Like Kant reading Hume, this book woke me up from my small-minded intellectual slumbers. Before this, I thought biology was basically just memorizing different parts of cells. Dennett opened my mind to the intricacies of evolutionary theory and did so with wit and elegance.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life

By Daniel Dennett,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Darwin's Dangerous Idea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life Daniel C. Dennett argues that the theory of evolution can demystify the miracles of life without devaluing our most cherished beliefs.

From the moment it first appeared, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been controversial: misrepresented, abused, denied and fiercely debated. In this powerful defence of Darwin, Daniel C. Dennett explores every aspect of evolutionary thinking to show why it is so fundamental to our existence, and why it affirms - not threatens - our convictions about the meaning of life.

'Essential and pleasurable for any thinking…


Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

By Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Why this book?

The ultimate big-picture book. Wilson outlines how fields like history and the humanities can incorporate insights from biology and the study of human nature—to the benefit of both science and the arts. A bracing look at the future of human knowledge.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

By Edward O. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking new book, one of the world's greatest living scientists argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and the need to search for what he calls consilience, the composition of the principles governing every branch of learning. Edward O Wilson, the pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity, once again breaks out of the conventions of current thinking. He shows how our explosive rise in intellectual mastery of the truths of our universe has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos. It is a vision that found its apogee in the…


A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

By Jim Endersby,

Book cover of A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

Why this book?

A topsy-turvy look at biology from the point of view of the animals (and plants) that make it possible. Richly detailed and full of engrossing characters, from Darwin’s time up to the genetically engineered marvels of today.

A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology

By Jim Endersby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved," Darwin famously concluded The Origin of Species, and for confirmation we look to...the guinea pig? How this curious creature and others as humble (and as fast-breeding) have helped unlock the mystery of inheritance is the unlikely story Jim Endersby tells in this book.

Biology today promises everything from better foods or cures for common diseases to the alarming prospect of redesigning life itself. Looking at the organisms that have made all this possible gives us a new way of understanding how we got here--and perhaps of thinking…


The Making of the Atomic Bomb

By Richard Rhodes,

Book cover of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Why this book?

A deep, deep dive into one of the most important, and consequential, scientific projects in history. It’s an epic story whose consequences we’re still living with today.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

By Richard Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Making of the Atomic Bomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a brand new introduction from the author, this is the complete story of how the bomb was developed. It is told in rich, human, political, and scientific detail, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan. Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly -- or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity there was a span of hardly more than twenty-five years. What began as merely an interesting speculative problem in physics grew into the Manhattan…


The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

By Caspar Henderson,

Book cover of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

Why this book?

Imagine a medieval bestiary of whimsical creatures, but with a twist. Instead of being imaginary, the animals here really exist. The book moves alphabetically from axolotl to zebrafish, with a new delight on every page. It’s a perfect reminder of what biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said: that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

By Caspar Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Barely Imagined Beings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Axolotl to Zebrafish, discover a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing than anything dreamt in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the earth, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizarreness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, inviting us to better imagine the precarious world we inhabit.

A witty, vivid blend of pioneering natural history and spiritual primer, infectiously celebratory about life's sheer ingenuity and variety, The Book of Barely Imagined…


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