The most recommended books on Darwinism

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to Darwinism, and here are their favorite Darwinism books.
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Book cover of The Early Evolutionary Imagination: Literature and Human Nature

Joseph Carroll Author Of Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

From my list on literary Darwinism.

Who am I?

I’ve spent the past thirty years leading the movement to integrate the humanities, and especially literary study, with evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I got my PhD in comparative literature right about the time the academic literary world was being convulsed by the poststructuralist revolution (Derrida, Foucault, et co). I felt a profound antipathy to the sterile paradoxes and attenuated abstractions of that theory. I wanted a theory that could get close to the power literature had over my own imagination. The evolutionary human sciences have provided me with a basis for building a theory that answers my own need to make sense of literature.

Joseph's book list on literary Darwinism

Joseph Carroll Why did Joseph love this book?

Jonsson argues that humans are suspended between a need to see reality and an urge to mythologize. Darwin’s theory is impersonal and mechanical, but authors in the later 19th and early 20th centuries still found ways to turn evolution into morally charged dramas. Jonsson convincingly demonstrates that those same myth-making impulses shape our imaginative experience today. The literary criticism in this book is superb, and Jonsson’s own rhetoric has classic power.

By Emelie Jonsson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Darwinian evolution is an imaginative problem that has been passed down to us unsolved. It is our most powerful explanation of humanity's place in nature, but it is also more cognitively demanding and less emotionally satisfying than any myth. From the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has pushed our capacity for storytelling into overdrive, sparking fairy tales, adventure stories, political allegories, utopias, dystopias, social realist novels, and existential meditations. Though this influence on literature has been widely studied, it has not been explained psychologically. This book argues for the adaptive function of storytelling, integrates traditional humanist…


Book cover of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

Joseph Carroll Author Of Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

From my list on literary Darwinism.

Who am I?

I’ve spent the past thirty years leading the movement to integrate the humanities, and especially literary study, with evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I got my PhD in comparative literature right about the time the academic literary world was being convulsed by the poststructuralist revolution (Derrida, Foucault, et co). I felt a profound antipathy to the sterile paradoxes and attenuated abstractions of that theory. I wanted a theory that could get close to the power literature had over my own imagination. The evolutionary human sciences have provided me with a basis for building a theory that answers my own need to make sense of literature.

Joseph's book list on literary Darwinism

Joseph Carroll Why did Joseph love this book?

This is the first book I always recommend to people wanting to see what literary Darwinism is about. Gottschall has a gift for charming readers, reaching out and speaking to them personally. The book is loaded with condensed research, but all that information is presented in a readily accessible, conversational style. The book is also loaded with fascinating anecdotes—stories. Gottschall makes a compelling case that the human mind naturally craves stories.

By Jonathan Gottschall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?

In this delightful and original book, Jonathan Gottschall offers the first unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems—just as flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience,…


Book cover of Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Author Of Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

From my list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science.

Who am I?

I have always wondered why people choose and act in particular ways, from heroism and altruism to selfishness and greed. Human society is a kaleidoscope of changing actions and fortunes. Social science tries to explain why. But I was dissatisfied with its answers. Then I discovered writers who used evolutionary ideas to help explain social and economic change. I realized that evolution did not mean reducing everything to biology. I became fascinated by Darwin’s deeper and wider ideas about human society, cooperation, and motivation. I read widely and joined with others of similar mind. It is an exciting and rewarding intellectual landscape to explore. I strongly recommend a long visit.

Geoffrey's book list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Why did Geoffrey love this book?

I often find well-researched histories of ideas invaluable as quarries for enhanced understanding and intellectual inspiration. This book is an exceptionally useful history of some key Darwinian ideas. Its principal focus is on evolutionary theories of mind, morality, and behavior, which have massive implications for the further development of the social sciences today. Richards sketches the intellectual background of Darwin’s thought in the nineteenth century, showing how he distanced himself from utilitarian approaches to moral and psychological analysis. The contrast with Herbert Spencer is particularly pertinent. But even more so, Darwin’s anti-utilitarianism remains highly relevant today, as much of social science – especially economics – is still dominated by utilitarian ideas. This history of thought defends evolutionary approaches to morality and it is explosive in its implications.

By Robert J. Richards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With insight and wit, Robert J. Richards focuses on the development of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior from their first distinct appearance in the eighteenth century to their controversial state today. Particularly important in the nineteenth century were Charles Darwin's ideas about instinct, reason, and morality, which Richards considers against the background of Darwin's personality, training, scientific and cultural concerns, and intellectual community. Many critics have argued that the Darwinian revolution stripped nature of moral purpose and ethically neutered the human animal. Richards contends, however, that Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and their disciples attempted to reanimate moral life, believing that…


Book cover of Darwin on Trial

David F. Prindle Author Of Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution

From my list 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.  

David's book list on the politics of evolution

David F. Prindle Why did David 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 Last And First Men

K.K. Edin Author Of The Measurements of Decay

From my list on exploring philosophy through fiction.

Who am I?

I am a lawyer and novelist with a Master’s degree in philosophy. I read philosophy and its history to seek wisdom, knowledge, morality, meaning, and the means by which to think well. That is also why I read fiction. And a great philosophical novel can do what a treatise cannot: it can enlighten by style, perspective, the elicitation of empathy, by poignancy and aesthetic awe, and other qualities unique to good fiction. Although I could not possibly represent all the great philosophical novels in this short list, I’ve tried to present a meaningful cross-section. I hope you find these novels as enjoyable and meaningful as I have.

K.K.'s book list on exploring philosophy through fiction

K.K. Edin Why did K.K. love this book?

Last and First Men is an imagined history of the human race over two-billion years into the future. The beauty of this work is its ability to give the human race meaning and significance, whereas most other works of such scope instead seek to dwarf humanity and its significance under the scale of the universe. Stapledon achieves this by infusing his narrative with compassion, and with an underlying admiration for the process of evolution. Moreso than Darwinian evolution, the process humanity undergoes is more aligned with Hegelian, idealist dialectical movements, and implicitly evokes many questions about the nature of consciousness, our place in the universe, and what is essential about humanity. Though I cannot quite say why, the book has a refreshingly optimistic quality. I read this book shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, and it brought me much vitality.

By Olaf Stapledon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last And First Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years.

Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. First published in 1930, Last and First Men is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.


Book cover of On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction

Joseph Carroll Author Of Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

From my list on literary Darwinism.

Who am I?

I’ve spent the past thirty years leading the movement to integrate the humanities, and especially literary study, with evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I got my PhD in comparative literature right about the time the academic literary world was being convulsed by the poststructuralist revolution (Derrida, Foucault, et co). I felt a profound antipathy to the sterile paradoxes and attenuated abstractions of that theory. I wanted a theory that could get close to the power literature had over my own imagination. The evolutionary human sciences have provided me with a basis for building a theory that answers my own need to make sense of literature.

Joseph's book list on literary Darwinism

Joseph Carroll Why did Joseph love this book?

Boyd combines research on human evolution with cognitive psychology. He offers crisp and lucid summaries of the relevant research. His writing is like that of the best popular science. His marshaling of ideas from evolutionary and cognitive psychology offers an alternative to critical theories that have lost touch with science, and with much of reality.

By Brian Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Origin of Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A century and a half after the publication of Origin of Species, evolutionary thinking has expanded beyond the field of biology to include virtually all human-related subjects-anthropology, archeology, psychology, economics, religion, morality, politics, culture, and art. Now a distinguished scholar offers the first comprehensive account of the evolutionary origins of art and storytelling. Brian Boyd explains why we tell stories, how our minds are shaped to understand them, and what difference an evolutionary understanding of human nature makes to stories we love.

Art is a specifically human adaptation, Boyd argues. It offers tangible advantages for human survival, and it derives…


Book cover of Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Author Of Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social and Economic Evolution

From my list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science.

Who am I?

I have always wondered why people choose and act in particular ways, from heroism and altruism to selfishness and greed. Human society is a kaleidoscope of changing actions and fortunes. Social science tries to explain why. But I was dissatisfied with its answers. Then I discovered writers who used evolutionary ideas to help explain social and economic change. I realized that evolution did not mean reducing everything to biology. I became fascinated by Darwin’s deeper and wider ideas about human society, cooperation, and motivation. I read widely and joined with others of similar mind. It is an exciting and rewarding intellectual landscape to explore. I strongly recommend a long visit.

Geoffrey's book list on the seismic implications of Darwinism for social science

Geoffrey M. Hodgson Why did Geoffrey love this book?

Plotkin’s brilliant book is about the nature and evolution of human knowledge. How do people gain and develop useful knowledge in a complex, uncertain, and changing world? Behaviorist theories of stimulus and response are inadequate. The mind must be primed to deal with complexity and uncertainty. Models from behaviorist psychology are unable to account for the acquisition of knowledge in such circumstances. Darwinian evolutionary theory helps to explain how the mind uses inherited instincts and culturally acquired habits to guide and enhance intelligence. As with the earlier work of the Darwinian psychologist and pragmatist, William James, instinct and habit are the enablers of intelligence, not its impediments. Knowledge is an evolutionary adaptation. This great book reveals more explosive implications of Darwinism for social science.

By Henry Plotkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bringing together evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophy, Henry Plotkin presents a new science of knowledge that traces an unbreakable link between instinct and our ability to know. Since our ability to know our world depends primarily on what we call intelligence, intelligence must be understood as an extension of instinct. The capacity for knowledge is deeply rooted in our biology and, in a special sense, is shared by all living things.


Book cover of Homicide: Foundations of Human Behavior

Stephen K. Sanderson Author Of Human Nature and the Evolution of Society

From my list on understanding the biological basis of social life.

Who am I?

I have a PhD in sociology but know almost as much about anthropology. I am a comparative sociologist specializing in the study of the entire range of human societies. This gives me an advantage in knowing which social practices are universal, which are only common, and which are uncommon or not found at all. This is critical in being able to assess the basic features of human nature. For over thirty years I have been studying the literature on Darwinian approaches to human behavior, especially sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. I am one of the leading sociologists in the world today studying the biological basis of social behavior. 

Stephen's book list on understanding the biological basis of social life

Stephen K. Sanderson Why did Stephen love this book?

This husband-wife team uses Darwinian natural selectionist thinking to account for the most important features of homicide throughout the world. A basic principle of Darwinian theory is known as kin selection, which means that people favor kin over nonkin and close kin over distant kin. In this regard, the authors show, for example, that people are much more likely to kill unrelated acquaintances and strangers than genetic kin, and that child homicide is perpetrated much more often by stepparents than by natural parents. The authors also show that there is a huge sex difference in rates of killing. Throughout the world the vast majority of killing is done by men. This is because men are competing with other men for the status and resources needed to secure mates for reproduction.

By Martin Daly, Margo Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The human race spends a disproportionate amount of attention, money, and expertise in solving, trying, and reporting homicides, as compared to other social problems. The public avidly consumes accounts of real-life homicide cases, and murder fiction is more popular still. Nevertheless, we have only the most rudimentary scientific understanding of who is likely to kill whom and why. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson apply contemporary evolutionary theory to analysis of human motives and perceptions of self-interest, considering where and why individual interests conflict, using well-documented murder cases. This book attempts to understand normal social motives in murder as products of…


Book cover of Orchid: A Cultural History

Erica Hannickel Author Of Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers

From my list on orchid history and culture.

Who am I?

I wrote Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers. I’m a historian, a master gardener, and I’ve grown a few hundred orchids for over half my life. I love collecting stories of orchids because, well, they’re fascinating, and they offer a deeper connection to the pastime I love best.

Erica's book list on orchid history and culture

Erica Hannickel Why did Erica love this book?

A truly great addition to orchid history by a great master of botanical history at large. Endersby sets orchid culture in all of its larger historical contexts and adds intrigue and flare by following orchid fiction through the ages. It’s funny to boot! I'll be referring back to this book for years to come.

By Jim Endersby,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At once delicate, exotic, and elegant, orchids are beloved for their singular, instantly recognizable beauty. Found in nearly every climate, the many species of orchid have carried symbolic weight in countless cultures over time. The ancient Greeks associated them with fertility and thought that parents who ingested orchid root tubers could control the sex of their child. During the Victorian era, orchids became deeply associated with romance and seduction. And in twentieth-century hard-boiled detective stories, they transformed into symbols of decadence, secrecy, and cunning. What is it about the orchid that has enthralled the imagination for so many centuries? And…


Book cover of Nietzsches persönliche Bibliothek

Anthony K. Jensen Author Of An Interpretation of Nietzsche's on the Uses and Disadvantage of History for Life

From my list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche.

Who am I?

I don’t especially like Nietzsche, and rarely agree with him. As a professor of philosophy, I find that he is less original than is popularly assumed and less clear than he should be—not out of some mysterious profundity—so much as a recalcitrance or maybe inability to make plain what he thinks. Even so, I find it quite impossible to break away from Nietzsche. For my part, and I suspect for many readers who came upon him during their formative years, Nietzsche’s thought is so close to me that I’m always wrestling with it. Maybe that’s not a ‘result of’ but a ‘condition for’ reading it?

Anthony's book list on interpreting Friedrich Nietzsche

Anthony K. Jensen Why did Anthony love this book?

Reading Nietzsche without understanding the contexts he was working in and against is a bit like trying to interpret a text thread among friends from only one of their vantages. Without the context of ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘when’ Nietzsche was reading and responding to, interpreters cannot grasp why he used the particular terms, phrasings, or rhetorical devices he did. Campioni, D’Iorio, Fornari, Fronterotta, and Orsucci—each remarkable scholars in their own right—deserve our gratitude for having cataloged Nietzsche’s (mostly) still-preserved personal library as it stands in the Weimar archives. Even better, they chronicled the margin notes, dog-eared pages, and various frustrated cross-outs or excited approbations that Nietzsche scribbled into those books. Nietzsches persönliche Bibliothek has sat next to my keyboard for years, and still offers surprises when I wonder ‘did Nietzsche read Dostoyevsky in German or French translation’ or ‘which biology anthologies influenced his understanding of Darwinism?’

By Giuliano Campioni (editor), Paolo D'Iorio (editor), Maria Christina Fornari (editor) , Francesco Fronterotta (editor) , Andrea Orsucci (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Der Band verzeichnet erstmals samtliche Werke und Noten aus Nietzsches persoenlicher Bibliothek (BN) bis Anfang Januar 1889. Er listet sowohl die Bestande der Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek als auch die des Goethe- und Schiller-Archivs in Weimar auf. Die kritische Analyse anderer Bestandslisten ermittelte zudem zahlreiche heute nicht mehr vorhandene Titel. Ferner wurden samtliche Bucherrechnungen und -quittungen von Buchhandlern und Buchbindern ausgewertet, die im Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv aufbewahrt werden.

Neben den ca. 2.200 Titeln aus Nietzsches rekonstruierter Bibliothek enthalt der Band auch ein Verzeichnis samtlicher 'Lesespuren' Nietzsches (ca. 20.000), z.B. Anmerkungen, Unterstreichungen und Eselsohren. Erganzt durch zahlreiche Faksimile-Reproduktionen sowie durch philosophische,…