The most recommended human evolution books

Who picked these books? Meet our 57 experts.

57 authors created a book list connected to human evolution, and here are their favorite human evolution books.
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What type of human evolution book?


Book cover of Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War

Anthony Doyle Author Of Hibernaculum

From my list on to read before hibernating.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an Irish novelist and poet. Fiction writers are perhaps better described by their fascinations than by any expertise as such. I can’t claim to be an expert in anything, but I am easily fascinated. My educational background is in philosophy, but I’ve always had a tremendous interest in the natural world too, and my writing tends to reflect that. When it comes to fiction, I love books that throw new layers on old surfaces. With nonfiction, I love anything that can explain something. Nonfiction loves to adorn itself with fiction, while fiction tends to cling to nonfiction like flesh on a bone. So my list is mostly bones, and one big sea pearl.        

Anthony's book list on to read before hibernating

Anthony Doyle Why did Anthony love this book?

Science fiction envisions the future. The best way to imagine future change is to look at how and when change occurred in the past.

The drivers seldom change: climate, war, and famine. None of those indicators are looking particularly good for humanity right now. Dudley Young’s masterful, poetic, and irreverent scholarly work about the origins of the sacred in human history is the most enjoyable and rewarding book I have read on human evolution and development. So many things began to make sense to me after reading it.

Young is a steamroller of a writer, sloshing through millions of years of paleontology and thousands of years of early human culture with the same vim and swagger as he does Yeats’ poetry (his field of expertise)—and all in wonderful prose.   

By Dudley Young,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tracing the origins of mankind's identity through evolutionary biology and mythological literature, Dudley Young examines the primitive mind and the development of religion and sacredness as seen through our ancestors. Attempting to unearth the origins of violence and to answer the question "Are we born violent?", Young begins millions of years ago, with the transformation of the arboreal monkey into a chimpanzee. As man's brain grew and became more advanced, his most basic instincts - sex and violence - became unharnessed and unprogrammed at the same time that human civilisation emerged. The book concludes on a tragic theme, with the…

Book cover of Why We Run: A Natural History

Sam Murphy Author Of Run Your Best Marathon: Your trusted guide to training and racing better

From my list on challenge the status quo about how to run.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a journalist, writing about health and fitness for women’s magazines and national newspapers, I had a strong sense that much of the advice being doled out by personal trainers and other ‘experts’ was dubious, to say the least. I decided to see for myself, embarking on an Exercise and Sport Science degree and training as a running coach. Two decades on, with a handful of running books and a 13-year-strong column in Runner’s World to my name, I still like to delve into the science underpinning physical activity to see if it really stands up, and if so, for who, and under what circumstances?  

Sam's book list on challenge the status quo about how to run

Sam Murphy Why did Sam love this book?

American marathon legend Bill Rodgers is quoted on the back cover of Why We Run saying, “This is not a how-to book, it’s a why book.”

He’s right, and Heinrich answers the question of why through a fascinating blend of biology, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology. It’s both a universal inquiry and a personal one: the book gets its narrative thread from Heinrich’s build-up towards competing in a 100km race, through which we are introduced to his experimental training methods and the thinking behind them.

I’ll leave you to find out how the race pans out…

By Bernd Heinrich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Each new page [is] more spellbinding than the one before—this is surely one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.”—Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Hidden Life of Dogs

When Bernd Heinrich decided to write a memoir of his ultramarathon running experience he realized that the preparation for the race was as important, if not more so, than the race itself. Considering the physiology and motivation of running from a scientific point of view, he wondered what he could learn from other animals.

In Why We Run, Heinrich considers the flight endurance of birds, the antelope’s running prowess and…

Book cover of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Greg Brennecka Author Of Impact: How Rocks from Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong

From my list on books to teach you something cool and make you laugh in the process.

Why am I passionate about this?

I didn’t know anything at all about meteorites (or, really, space in general) until I took a cosmochemistry class during my first semester of a PhD program in geology. As soon as I learned that meteorites captured information about the start of the Solar System – the material we started with, hints about how planets evolve, and how meteorites changed the course of Earth – I was hooked. At the end of that class in 2007, I switched the main topic of my PhD research to studying meteorites and what they can tell us about the past, and I have been doing it ever since.

Greg's book list on books to teach you something cool and make you laugh in the process

Greg Brennecka Why did Greg love this book?

Like many folks, I am fascinated with the “where we came from” question. And for me, this is the quintessential book to dive into this topic from an evolutionary biology perspective.

Correct or not, I fancy myself someone that knows a decent amount about evolution and the human body, but I was captivated by the parts of the human body that have endured, for good or for bad, the long journey of us crawling out of the ocean and eventually into the office cubicle.

This book isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as some others I generally like, but it really is a great book, and I had a hard time putting it down.

By Neil Shubin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Your Inner Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells a “compelling scientific adventure story that will change forever how you understand what it means to be human” (Oliver Sacks).

By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible…

Book cover of First Steps: How Walking Upright Made Us Human

Alex Bezzerides Author Of Evolution Gone Wrong: The Curious Reasons Why Our Bodies Work (or Don't)

From my list on the evolution of the human body.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a biologist, a writer, and a teacher. I like knowing how the human body works but what I really like is knowing why it works the way it does. Those explanations lie deep in our past and I use my broad biological background to dig up the answers in scientific journals. Then I take those articles and figure out how to describe them to people who last took a biology class in 10th grade. I start with those drab scientific threads and knit them into big, bold scientific sweaters that anyone can curl up in and feel warm and comfortable. 

Alex's book list on the evolution of the human body

Alex Bezzerides Why did Alex love this book?

Let’s be honest. Books about science usually fall into one of two categories. Many of them are dry and boring, with way too much detail, losing the reader in the scientific weeds. Other times they are too fluffy, with the author trying so hard to be witty and cool that the science takes a back seat.

It is rare to find an author and a book that can bring modern, complex science to the table in a package that is witty, readable, and engaging. Jeremy DeSilva pulls this off in First Steps. DeSilva, one of the world’s preeminent paleoanthropologists, uses his vast experience in the field to explain both how and why humans started walking upright.

By Jeremy Desilva,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the W.W. Howells Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association and named one of the best science books of 2021 by Science News

“DeSilva takes us on a brilliant, fun, and scientifically deep stroll through history, anatomy, and evolution, in order to illustrate the powerful story of how a particular mode of movement helped make us one of the most wonderful, dangerous and fascinating species on Earth.”—Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University and author of Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

“Breezy popular science at its best. . . . Makes a compelling…

Book cover of Re-Enchanting the Earth: Why AI Needs Religion

John D. Caputo Author Of What to Believe? Twelve Brief Lessons in Radical Theology

From my list on now that religion has made itself unbelievable.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in a world steeped in pre-Vatican II Catholicism including four years spent in a Catholic religious order. My theological training led me to philosophy, to question my theology, and to my life as a philosophy professor. There's a blaze of light in every word, Leonard Cohen says, so I've been seeking the blaze of light in the word God. My idea is that God is neither a real being nor an unreal illusion but the focus imaginarius of a desire beyond desire, and the “kingdom of God” is what the world would look like if the blaze of light in the name of God held sway, not the powers of darkness.

John's book list on now that religion has made itself unbelievable

John D. Caputo Why did John love this book?

For me, Ilia Delio represents a new breed of theologian.

She started out as a scientist (Ph.D. in pharmacology, specializing in brain science), then tried being a contemplative nun, then joined an active order of Franciscans as a theology professor (PhD in process theology). She brings this marvelous mix to the problem of AI, which is proving to be as much a poison as a cure, something that will save us unless it kills us first.

But AI is not the problem and religion is not the solution, she says. It is the misuse of AI and religion as it presently exists which puts them at odds. This is what theology will look like in the future if it expects to survive, indeed if we expect to survive.

By Ilia Delio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Re-Enchanting the Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In her latest book, scientist and theologian Ilia Delio takes up the challenge of reconciling evolution and religion with particular attention to the role of Artificial Intelligence. She argues that AI represents the latest extension of human evolution, which has implications not only for science but also for religion. If the "first axial age" gave rise to the great religions, she sees us now on the cusp of a "second axial age," in which AI, oriented by new religious sensibilities, can bring about an ecological re-enchantment of the earth.

Book cover of Empathica

Bryony Best Author Of A Healing Journey

From Bryony's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Spiritual Positive Trauma Survivor Holistic Therapist Healer

Bryony's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Bryony Best Why did Bryony love this book?

I devoured this book because it resonated with many of my spiritual beliefs.

The MC is an evolved being who is the daughter of a goddess, she is reincarnated many times. I loved the higher power and the evolved beings, alongside human evolution as the MC lived through the ages. I am a Spiritualist and I truly believe that we are here on this earth plane to learn and grow.

This book offered a unique perspective on life, and the human psyche. This book left me asking questions about my own life, a deep and meaningful read indeed. 

By Ruth Watson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Living amongst the Gods and Goddesses of the Universe, Gaia 'Mother Earth' falls in love with a human man. For love Gaia takes a piece of her heart turning herself human so she can live a short mortal life and be with the man she loves.Through their love they create a new evolved human, her name is Laryssa.Others are born, created so that their child will never feel alone, and through these evolved creations, eternal love is born - two souls from one light - Empaths.Those of us who know what this is will understand, those who do not, need…

Book cover of The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization

Luke Heaton Author Of A Brief History of Mathematical Thought

From my list on grand, unifying ideas for how the world works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scientist and inventor, who has always been drawn to grand, overarching narratives, and unifying ideas. I have degrees in Mathematics and Architecture, a PhD in Biophysics, and spent 11 years studying fungal networks at the University of Oxford. I am currently working with the award-winning architect Ben Allen, to commercialize a patent for making POMB (poly-organic mycelium blend): a light-transmitting, thermally insulating, carbon-negative building material.

Luke's book list on grand, unifying ideas for how the world works

Luke Heaton Why did Luke love this book?

It is easy to imagine that in the Stone Age, stone tools were the critical thing, that in the Bronze Age, bronze tools were the critical thing, and so on. The truth is that right up until very recent times, most of our technology was made from wood. Even before modern humans evolved, we were deeply shaped by the physical realities of wood, and the challenges and opportunities it provides. Large animals that live in trees need big brains and spatial awareness to avoid falling to their death, and the habitations of early humans were surely closely related to the nests made by non-human primates. Stone tools enabled improvements in wood handling and wood tools, bronze-enabled wooden wheels, and many of the long-term trends in human history make a lot more sense from a wood-centric perspective.

In short, this charming and unique history of humanity casts a familiar and often…

By Roland Ennos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A “smart and surprising” (Booklist) “expansive history” (Publishers Weekly) detailing the role that wood and trees have played in our global ecosystem—including human evolution and the rise and fall of empires—in the bestselling tradition of Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and Mark Kurlansky’s Salt.

As the dominant species on Earth, humans have made astonishing progress since our ancestors came down from the trees. But how did the descendants of small primates manage to walk upright, become top predators, and populate the world? How were humans able to develop civilizations and produce a globalized economy? Now, in The Age of Wood, Roland Ennos…

Book cover of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

Andrew H. Knoll Author Of A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters

From my list on fossils and the history of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

An acclaimed scientist, teacher, and writer, Andrew Knoll has travelled the world for decades, investigating ancient rocks to understand the intertwined histories of our planet and the life it supports. His boyhood thrill at discovering fossils has never deserted him. It continues to motivate him to explore topics that range from the earliest records of life and the emergence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere; the diversification of both plants and animals, and the intricacies of mass extinctions, past and present. He has also participated in NASA’s exploration of Mars.

Andrew's book list on fossils and the history of life

Andrew H. Knoll Why did Andrew love this book?

Of the many good books about human evolution, Dan Lieberman’s is my favorite. A biologist and paleoanthropologist, Lieberman describes in clear, accessible prose the fossils that document our own origins, stressing function as inferred from fossils. Having recounted the story of our evolutionary origins, he goes on to explain its consequences – some good, some bad – for human health in the 21st century.

By Daniel E. Lieberman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Story of the Human Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Story of the Human Body, Daniel Lieberman, Professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, shows how we need to change our world to fit our hunter-gatherer bodies

This ground-breaking book of popular science explores how the way we use our bodies is all wrong. From an evolutionary perspective, if normal is defined as what most people have done for millions of years, then it's normal to walk and run 9 -15 kilometres a day to hunt and gather fresh food which is high in fibre, low in sugar, and barely processed. It's also normal to spend much of…

Book cover of The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World

Marcia A. Zug Author Of You'll Do: A History of Marrying for Reasons Other Than Love

From Marcia's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Professor Lawyer Unromantic Displaced New Yorker

Marcia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Marcia A. Zug Why did Marcia love this book?

My father bought this book for me because I write on marriage and relationships.

I was skeptical that a book about the mating habits of birds had much relevance to my own work, yet I found Prum’s arguments about the connections between birds and humans compelling. According to Prum, female mate selection led to changes in the physical attributes and behaviors of birds and these changes can provide insights into the evolution of human sexuality as well.

As a scholar of marriage, I am very familiar with the argument that men choose partners based on physical attributes while women choose partners for economic and social reasons. Consequently, it was refreshing to hear that this difference may be more environmental that innate.

Prum suggests that for much of human evolutionary history, it was female preferences that mattered and that these preferences were so strong, they actually changed male bodies. According to…

By Richard O. Prum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A major reimagining of how evolutionary forces work, revealing how mating preferences—what Darwin termed "the taste for the beautiful"—create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world.

"A delicious read, both seductive and mutinous.... Minutely detailed, exquisitely observant, deeply informed, and often tenderly sensual."—New York Times Book Review

In the great halls of science, dogma holds that Darwin's theory of natural selection explains every branch on the tree of life: which species thrive, which wither away to extinction, and what features each evolves. But can adaptation by natural selection really account for everything we see in nature?
     Yale University…

Book cover of The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire

Per Molander Author Of The Anatomy Of Inequality: Its Social and Economic Origins - and Solutions

From my list on (in)equality and why it is a problem.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was trained in physics and applied mathematics, but my mother—a teacher of literature and history—secured a place for the humanities in my intellectual luggage, and I finally ended up in the social sciences. One of my first encounters with economics was John Nash’s theory of bargaining, illustrating how a wealthy person will gain more from a negotiation than a pauper, thus reinforcing inequality and leading to instability. Decades later, I returned to this problem and found that relatively little had still been done to analyze it. I believe that a combination of mathematical tools and illustrations from history, literature, and philosophy is an appropriate way of approaching the complex of inequality. 

Per's book list on (in)equality and why it is a problem

Per Molander Why did Per love this book?

This is a rich sourcebook on the emergence of inequality in human prehistory and history.

The authors move effortlessly across cultures from the entire globe, basing their analysis on written records, where possible, or archeological data such as buildings, art, tools, and bones. They confirm my own view that inequality is ubiquitous and that there is a tendency for it to grow over time, irrespective of the environment.

Political or religious elites have always tried to expand their power at the expense of the common man or woman, using myths about divine descent or other means of persuasion, and the majority has more or less successfully resisted such attempts.

For an armchair social scientist like myself, this wealth of data is tremendously valuable.

By Kent Flannery, Joyce Marcus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Our early ancestors lived in small groups and worked actively to preserve social equality. As they created larger societies, however, inequality rose, and by 2500 bce truly egalitarian societies were on the wane. In The Creation of Inequality, Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus demonstrate that this development was not simply the result of population increase, food surplus, or the accumulation of valuables. Instead, inequality resulted from conscious manipulation of the unique social logic that lies at the core of every human group.

A few societies allowed talented and ambitious individuals to rise in prestige while still preventing them from becoming…