www.BioTopics.co.uk

Amazon withdrew support for individual product links so my book recommendations have been replaced with search pages.
Although I have tried to replace them by references to authors, the resulting lists tend to wander off point sometimes.

. Please get in touch if you think you can recommend any other titles to add to Biological learning

Nick Lane

is a Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. He writes with authority about his subjects and puts them into context with much detail.

Life Ascending by Nick Lane is a fascinating book about evolution from a biochemical background - which is of course the level at which evolution itself operates. The ten sections of the book deal with the great "inventions" of evolution; the origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. It certainly adds to and updates our ideas of Darwinism.
In other books, Nick Lane explains the impact of mitochondria on the evolution of eukaryotes, and the chemical background to the history of life.

Click here to see a number of books by Nick Lane

Nessa Carey

is a Visiting Professor at Imperial College. Her background includes 13 years in the biotech and pharmaceutical sector, and a PhD in virology. Her books cover a number of topics which do not fit neatly into the accepted backgrounds behind inheritance and biochemistry at the molecular level.

The Epigenetics Revolution touches on the ways in which the action of genes may be modified by 'chemical postscripts' so that subtle differences in expression and their persistence into subsequent generations may be explained. She includes insights into research in various diseases and ageing.

Junk DNA is a great attempt to explain the existence of the large amount of DNA which does not code for functional proteins: 98% in our cells. She puts a slightly different angle on topics increasingly encountered in Biology nowadays: examples include telomeres, centromeres, and gene splicing.

Hacking the Code of Life: How gene editing will rewrite our futures deals with gene editing - a developing topic to add to the section on control of gene expression?

Click here for books by Nessa Carey


Bill Bryson

has written a couple of interesting books on general science:


The Body: A Guide for Occupants has the honour of being the Sunday Times Science Book of the Year 2019. It is very readable, working systematically through the systems of the body in his own style. I was interested to hear him read sections of this book on the radio recently.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (also known as a travel writer) is an impressive book which attempts to chart the development of the universe, planet Earth and life upon it, so it is a sort of compendium of science and history. Alongside this, the author brings out interesting facts about the scientists who made the discoveries, and their idiosyncracies and interactions. I was especially interested in the techniques employed to explain the scale involved in some of the stories. What I found especially uplifting was the way in which he was able to get to meet the people in the know (presumably as a result of his reputation gained in writing his other books), and pass on some fascinating conclusions.
ISBN 0- 552 - 99704-8

Some books by Bill Bryson (including his own style of travel books)


Some classical Biological books

Charles Darwin

is not the most popular or up-to-date author but he started off a different way of thinking about life ... The Voyage of the Beagle was an account of his journey to the Galapagos, and this led to the description of the process of evolution (quite controversial at the time!): The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection. He also applied the same principle to Mankind in: The Descent of Man: Selection in Relation to Sex.

Books by and about Charles Darwin

Gilbert White

Gilbert White is regarded by many as England's first ecologist and one of the founders of respect for nature. His book The Natural History of Selborne was first published in 1789 by his brother Benjamin. It has been continuously in print since then and has been called the fourth most-published book in the English language, after the Bible, Shakespeare and Bunyan. It is just a collection of letters - some unsent - but it shows a genteel concern for natural history.

Books by or about Gilbert White

Rachel Carson

can be said to have initiated the contemporary environmental movement.
Her best-selling book Silent Spring (1962) - suggesting the possible loss of bird species (and other consequences) - warned of the dangers to all natural systems from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT, and questioned the scope and direction of modern science.
Sadly I noticed on a recent 'Pointless' TV program that Rachel Carson (and this book) were practically unknown to the general public.

I was unaware of her previous 'sea trilogy' books The Sea Around Us, Under the Wind-Sea and The Edge of the Sea, and her background in writing for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, DC.

Books by and about Rachel Carson


Some recommendations

Sir Paul Nurse

is a geneticist, former President of the Royal Society and Director of the Francis Crick Institute.
What is Life? is an extremely readable little book and I feel it brings together lots of topics covered in this website.
I spotted a mistake about chlorophyll and he told me he hopes future printings will correct it.

Paul Nurse (and other unrelated books)

Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
tells the story behind the most widespread cell lines (HeLa) in modern laboratories.

Rebecca Skloot

Life at the extremes: The Science of Survival by Frances Ashcroft - This is said to be 'the debut of a female Steve Jones'.

The brain that changes itself by Norman Doidge - a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst - deals with neuroplasticity - how the brain is able to change its own structure and function, even into old age.

Paul Colinvaux' book Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare is a study of ecosystems and animal populations.

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. Several of his titles look interesting:
Emperor of all maladies - A Biography of Cancer
The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human
The Gene: An Intimate History

Simon Conway Morris is a Cambridge professor who has written several books that cover biological topics, such as evolution.

Carl Zimmer is the author of fourteen books about science. He has a weekly column in the New York Times.
Lifeís Edge: The Search for What It Means to Be Alive is his most recent title, and
She Has Her Motherís Laugh won the 2019 National Academies Communication Award. The Guardian named it the best science book of 2018.

General interest

I have included a range of books and other media from certain popular authors, who may be appreciated at different levels or within different sections of the syllabus.

Authors†† Richard DawkinsMatt RidleyAlice RobertsRichard Fortey David Attenborough
Other stuff

Richard Dawkins


Richard Dawkins might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is very supportive of Charles Darwin, who is featured in most specifications under the heading of natural selection and evolution. He is also inclined to be very sceptical about religion, particularly in the context of evolution.
But isn't being sceptical part of being a scientist?

Richard Dawkins

Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a science writer who produces very readable books, not quite as reactionary as Richard Dawkins.

He also has an interesting background. As well as being titled, he has been a journalist with the Economist and was non-executive chairman of Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, in the period leading up to the bank's near-collapse.
Matt Ridley

Alice Roberts

Alice Roberts is a doctor, anatomist, illustrator and media person who has participated in TV programmes like Coast and by covering the topic of human evolution and the spread of Homo sapiens over the world, she has branched out into archaeology
Alice Roberts

Richard Fortey

Richard Fortey has written a variety of books on biological topics, especially fossils
Richard Fortey

David Attenborough

David Attenborough can do no wrong with me; I watch every TV program he is on, and I always find interesting details which amplify the things I am trying to teach each day.
I do not use his DVDs much in lessons, but they are packed full of lots of useful material! His books are great, too.
David Attenborough

Other stuff


Ben Goldacre

Between 2003 and 2011 he wrote a weekly column titled Bad Science in The Guardian newspaper. This was the basis for a book, and he continues to expose pseudoscience and criticise a number of self-serving factions alongside the health industry. I enjoyed reading his book Bad Science, which would be very useful in relation to "How science works" sections of the syllabus.
It has been quite high in the Amazon best-seller charts!
There is also a book on Bad Pharma.



A Guinea Pig's History of Biology by Jim Endersby focuses on the various organisms chosen by Biologists in their study, some of which were more fortunate choices than others. I have taken a long time reading this book - not much of a recommendation on the face of it. But as you get into it (i.e as it gets nearer to modern times from Darwin and Mendel onwards) it gets quite interesting and there is certainly a lot of detail about the key players in Biological Science, and their interactions at the research group level.



Some books about the impact of Man on plants and animals, and the reverse

Plants For People by Anna Lewington, an ethnobotanist. Sections include ' Plants that care for us, clothe us, feed us, house us, cure us, transport us and entertain us.'
Its mission is 'to help us save the diversity of plant life on earth, and to treat as equals the millions of people whose knowledge and services support us every day'.
She also wrote a book about Ancient Trees .

Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind byHenry Hobhouse who was an 'English sailor, broadcaster, journalist, farmer, author, and politician'.
These are sugar, tea, cotton, the potato, cinchona (source of quinine), and the cocoa plant.
Interestingly the book seems to have started out as four or five plants!

The Secret Life of Trees : How They Live and Why They Matter by Colin Tudge, a British biologist, science writer and broadcaster.
He has written a number of books with snappy titles:
Why Genes are Not Selfish and People are Nice: A Challenge to the Dangerous Ideas that Dominate Our Lives
Consider the Birds: How They Live and Why They Matter
Feeding People is Easy
So Shall We Reap: the Concept of Enlightened Agriculture
In Mendel's Footnotes: Genes and Genetics from the 19th century to the 22nd
The Variety of Life: A Survey and a Celebration of All the Creatures That Have Ever Lived
Neanderthals, Bandits and Farmers
Darwinism Today
The Engineer in the Garden: Genes and Genetics from the Idea of Heredity to the Creation of Life


Flora Britannicaby Richard Mabey - not to be confused with much older books with the same title! It is a comprehensive survey of the native and naturalized wild plants of England, Scotland, and Wales. Useful and delightful, it covers 1,000 species, including trees and ferns. More than a definitive work of natural history, however, it is also a virtual encyclopedia of living folklore, recording the role of wild plants in social life, the arts, customs, and landscapes.
Also by Richard Mabey: Food for free is a classic foraging guide, originally published in 1972. It is 'a classic complete guide to the edible species that grow around us'.