Wonderful Life
Annotated Bibliography

Frank Deis

What is this list about? This is the list of books I have read or intend to read or utilize in some way for the upcoming honors course, "Wonderful Life" to be taught in Spring 2001 with Dr. Lenore Neigeborn. Eventually I will edit this list and perhaps leave it up for students to choose an "outside reading" book from. I have attempted to put the books into a kind of descending order, except of course that I haven't read them all as yet. In other words the "top ten" are indeed the best 10 books I've read, and the assigned readings for the class will probably come from these books unless I read a batch of better books in the interim. At present the list is for semi-private distribution only, which means I will tell some people where it is but not link it to anything. I expect to update the list, and move the books up or down in it, as I complete more of my reading.

This version of the list is the third update -- I have created a separate section for books with behavioral or ethical implications, followed by a separate section describing reference books and textbooks at the end.

Related links,

  1. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Norton 1989			ISBN 0-393-02705-8		347 pages
    "fun to read" 90%, "relevant" 95%, "difficulty" 7

    The name of the course "Wonderful Life" is taken from Gould's book. The way he describes the Burgess Shale is gripping and fascinating, and this book will be part of the reading for the class. Few paleontologists agree completely with Gould's interpretation of what happened in the Cambrian, but this will be grist for the mill in a seminar class.

  2. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe.
    Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee		Copernicus (Springer) 2000		ISBN 0-387-98701-0	333 pages
    "fun to read" 92%, "relevant" 96%, "difficulty" 7 

    Peter Ward's newest book is co-written with an astronomer. I was amazed to find a book that paralleled so closely the course I had in mind. My only problem now is that I'm reluctant to assign both this book and Ward's other books as well. I'm not quite so interested in the principal thesis -- which is that while microbial life is probably quite common in the universe, the development of multicellular life is probably a rare event. On some levels this strikes me as obvious, and I had come to the same conclusion after doing extensive reading in the field. What I especially like is the discussion of constraints on life -- the early Universe was all hydrogen and helium, so life could not have started then, we need carbon and iron and oxygen. And after getting the Solar System started, Ward and Brownlee work up chronologically through the development of life forms. This is probably done as well or better in other books (incl. DeDuve and Margulis) but it's adequate here. Anyway, I am halfway through at this writing and VERY impressed with this book!

  3. Time Machines: Scientific Explorations in Deep Time
    Peter D. Ward				
    Copernicus (Springer) 1998			ISBN 0-387-98416-X		241 pages
    "fun to read" 90%, "relevant" 92%, "difficulty" 7

    Peter Ward also wrote "On Methuselah's Trail" described below. If the students are going to read a book by Ward, this (Time Machines) should probably be the one. (NOTE -- except that Rare Earth is even better!) Ward lays out the techniques required to extract information about extinct species. His description of isotope ratios is very clear, and this is just about the only "popular" book I've seen that attempts to explain paleomagnetism. He describes cladistics and even sedimentology, and everything he writes about is clear and fascinating.

  4. Cradle of Life
    J. William Schopf
    Princeton 1999		ISBN 0-691-00230-4			367 pages

    "fun to read" 88%, "relevant" 94%, "difficulty" 6

    William Schopf is a leading expert on micropaleontology. While reading through the other books on this list, I have come across several mentions of him by other paleontologists all of whom seem to think of him as kind of a father figure whom they respect greatly. His focus in this book is on the precambrian, and in fact on the origin and earliest fossils of life on Earth, which makes the book a "bull's eye" for the course as I envision it. Other books discuss theories on the origin of life -- Schopf actually has diagrams and pictures of Stanley Miller's apparatus, and pictures of Oparin. The book has some shortcomings, including probably too many very simple "Vu-Graphs" or Powerpoint style illustrations, and a bit more than we need to know about Schopf's life outside the lab (like his visit to Salvador Dali). The book does not deserve the low rating it has on Amazon.com, probably given by disgruntled students in one of Schopf's undergraduate courses. Schopf writes deservedly with self-confidence, but I don't think he is "arrogant." If the choice has to be made between Malcolm Walter's book (below) and Schopf, then Schopf's book is better and more complete, largely because it includes specifics about methods.

  5. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors
    Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan			$11.16 Amazon price, paper.
    Univ. of Cal., 1986/1997	ISBN 0 520 21064 6		300 pages
    "fun to read" 90%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 5

    This book will probably be one of the "textbooks" for the Wonderful Life course. Margulis starts at the beginning (she assumes that the RNA World was the starting point, and doesn't get into any details) and goes through four billion years with a constant single celled perspective on things. There are some odd things about the book, in one chapter she elaborately defines the word "Seme" and uses it a few times, and then forgets it for the rest of the book. And she refuses to acknowledge the Archaea as an important and very different division of the Procaryotes, and this leads to problems, especially when she imagines the Mitochondria coming from a "vicious attack" by Bdellovibrio on another Eubacterial species. Instead the engulfing species, the ancestor of the Cytoplasm, was probably an Archaean (with no cell wall) and the original mitochondrion was probably related to our modern Rickettsia, which lives as a parasite in eucaryotes today. Things also get a little strained when she tries to see multicellular organisms as assemblies of microorganisms. Still, it's a good book and mind-broadening and we'll probably use it.

  6. Seven Clues to the Origin of Life: A Scientific Detective Story
    Alexander Graham Cairns-Smith		$9.56 Amazon price
    Cambridge Canto 1985	ISBN 0-521-39828-2 PB	130 pages
    "fun to read" 85%, "relevant" 85%, "difficulty" 2

    Very well written, if a little simplistic. Cairns-Smith does a good job of arguing against the RNA world as the original system in living cells. Unfortunately after tearing down the RNA world, he offers clay as the replacement. The idea that clay served as the organizer for early peptide synthesis is the least convincing part of the book. However the first 2/3 of the book is priceless. Cairns-Smith quotes from the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre and those parts are amusing.

  7. Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative
    Christian De Duve				$12.80 Amazon price
    Basic Books 1995		ISBN 0-465-09045-1		362 pages
    "fun to read" 91%, "relevant" 94%, "difficulty" 8 (length, vocab, topics)

    After reading many books dealing with the origin of life, I can say that this book is the best in many ways. First, many authors that tackle the subject don't really have a comprehension of the details of Biochemistry. De Duve is a Nobel Prize winning scientist and is very comfortable proposing real possibilities for metabolism of the earliest cells. He is a great prose writer, fun to read, and the combination of his imagination and philosophy with his ability to get through a subject promptly is just masterful. I worry about assigning the book because of the vocabulary and complexity, but the ideas in this book are just first rate. The last few chapters get a bit too philosophical and mystical for my taste.

  8. Search for Life on Mars
    Malcolm Walter				$17.50 Hamilton price
    Perseus Books 1999		ISBN 0-7382-0124-3		169 pages
    "fun to read" 88%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 7

    Malcolm Walter is an Australian scientist. He is an expert, one of very few in the world, on microfossils. His book is very engaging and interesting, and probably the only one to encompass the latest thinking about gene transfers during the earliest stages of life on Earth. He gets a bit crusty when discussing the claims about Martian meteorites, especially because the "experts" NASA contacted to analyze the meteorites were not from the field of micro-paleontology, and Walter does not believe the claims that the meteorites show evidence of Martian life. He is tolerant of the hoopla because he thinks it will result in greater funding. This book could be assigned to the class because of its readability and its very clear material about early life on Earth. Students will probably also be interested in reading about "Life on Mars." Much of the same material is covered in William Schopf's book, above. Schopf and Walter are experts in the same field.

  9. On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions
    Peter Douglas Ward				$12.71  Amazon price
    Freeman 1992			ISBN 0-7167-2488-X (pbk)	212 pages
    "fun to read" 96%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 6

    This is a terrific book, lots of fun to read, and full of interesting information. Might be good to assign to the class. Ward is an active paleontologist who goes out in the field and has adventures. He describes them so vividly you get "white knuckles" just picturing them. He also gives rhapsodic descriptions of the earth millions of years ago, or the ecology of the chambered nautilus. Really worth reading!

  10. The End of Evolution
    Peter Ward					$5.00 Hamilton
    Weidenfield & Nicolson (Orion) 1995	ISBN 0-297-81475-3	302 pages
    "fun to read" 94%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 6

    It is kind of a pity that this book has gone out of print. Fortunately for the time being it is available, remaindered, from William Hamilton. It seems possible that Ward allowed this book to go out of print because some of the material contradicts his later book "Time Machines" -- in which he says that oceans were actually getting deeper when the K-T Meteor hit the Earth 65 mya. In "End of Evolution" Ward conveys the impression that he thinks that multiple causes came together to end the Cretaceous. Otherwise it is another strongly written book from Ward. The sections on the "First Event" (Permian extinction) and "Second Event" are fascinating. The final section on the "Third Event" -- the current massive wave of extinctions caused by Man, is depressing and terrifying, so much so that Ward felt compelled to add a final chapter titled "Hope." After a lengthy searing indictment of Man as a thoughtless agent of death, the short final chapter doesn't do much to cheer one up. This book would make a great companion to "Ishmael" (see below).

  11. The Outer Reaches of Life
    John Postgate					$12.99  Amazon
    Cambridge 1994		ISBN 0-521-44010-6		276 pages
    "fun to read" 86%, "relevant" 86%, "difficulty" 8 (some topics are tough) 

    This is a wonderful book, aimed clearly at a general audience. Postgate is a Microbiologist who has done research on Sulfur Bacteria, but he states that he is in a way writing for his Aunt who complained that his other books had "too many equations." His descriptions of Halophiles and Thermophiles, of acid and base loving bacteria, etc. are wonderfully folksy. Of course in trying to describe Chemoautotrophs he probably goes beyond what his Aunt would want to deal with, but a bright undergraduate with a certain amount of determination ought to be able to handle it.

  12. Origins of Life (second edition)
    Freeman J. Dyson				$13.27 Amazon
    Cambridge 1999		ISBN	0-521-62668-4 PB	100 pages
    "fun to read" 87%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 6 except for math which is hard

    Freeman Dyson has written an elegant little book. He sees DNA and RNA as "software" and proteins as "hardware" and this causes him to reject the concept of the RNA World as a starting point for the origin of life. He agrees with Cairns-Smith that "metabolism" had to come first, but he disagrees with the details. His background is in theoretical physics, and so there is very little chemistry in the book. Rather he puts together what he calls a "toy model" for how life could function in very primitive cells. In the absence of supporting chemical theories, I find the mathematical model useless. Still it's a good book and the arguments are compelling.

  13. The Crucible of Creation
    Simon Conway Morris
    Oxford 1998			ISBN 0-19-850256-7		242 pages
    "fun to read" 87%, "relevant" 96%, "difficulty" 8 vocab, technical

    Reading this book was kind of a roller coaster ride. Parts of it I initially hated, other parts were pure pleasure to read. After finishing it, I felt it was one of the best books I've read. I'm not sure that it should be assigned to students because Conway Morris is a demanding writer, who uses his rich vocabulary to the fullest. One initially surprising facet of this book is Conway Morris's evident disrespect for the ideas of Stephen Jay Gould, despite the fact that Gould's portrayal of Conway Morris is very admiring. Reading the entire book really lets one see Conway Morris's position. His knowledge of the fauna of the Burgess Shale is unmatched, and like Gould's book, this is a book about the Burgess Shale.

  14. Life: A Natural History of the First 4 Billion Years
    Richard Fortey					$21.00 Hamilton
    Knopf 1997			ISBN 0-375-40119-9		346 pages
    "fun to read" 89%	"relevant" 88%		"difficulty" 7

    Fortey is a trilobite specialist, with a special fondness for the Ordovician. He has also read widely and loves to insert digressions comparing the end-Permian extinction to the plot of Thomas Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" and making other literary, historical, or philosophical references. For some people, including me, this is a pleasant treat, although sometimes one wishes for a little less wordiness. I can imagine readers, probably including many undergraduates, who would find Fortey's style impenetrable. I have criticized Mark McMenamin for relating what he had for breakfast. When Fortey does this (only once) it is a treat because he describes the perfect hearty breakfast that characterizes the best English B&B's, so I didn't mind at all. What Fortey is doing in this book is a chronological overview of the whole history of life on the planet. It takes a little while to see that he is doing this, what with excursions here and there. I am enjoying all of it, the "snapshots" of researchers, contemporary or 19th century, the reminders about how one should think about evolution (not as progress), and especially the loving depictions of long gone creatures and the fossils they left behind.

  15. In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life
    Henry Gee				
    Free Press (Simon/Schuster) 1999	ISBN 0-87893-476-6		207 pages
    "fun to read" 86%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 6

    Henry Gee is a good writer, and he addresses several of the "hot topics" in paleontology. He presents a "baby" version of cladistics, and argues that it is dangerous to make up "stories" about the fossil record. After reading half of this book one is a bit put off by Gee's preachy tone. However he shows how some of the "big messes" of paleontology, including the origin of birds, the origin of Tetrapods, and Hominid evolution, have been made worse by the attempt to construct a narrative with too few facts, but can be cut down to size using the assumptions of cladistics. The argument is especially good when applied to roundworms which have essentially no fossils -- using DNA as the basis for cladistic analysis solves many problems of taxonomy. Many of the authors on this list (including Peter Ward and Richard Fortey) consider themselves cladists.

  16. Life on the Edge
    Michael Gross					$25.95
    Perseus Books 1996		ISBN 0-306-45786-5		200 pages
    "fun to read" 90%, "relevant" 84%, "difficulty" 6

    Michael Gross initially published this book in German, but there doesn't seem to be any awkwardness to this translation. He very clearly conveys the concepts of thermophiles and halophiles etc. and how they "make a living." Something that is both a good and bad feature of the book -- in a way it reads like a series of independent articles, with whatever he thinks is "neat" thrown in. The good part about this is that you don't have to read boring segues to unify the material, you just get the "good stuff." But on the other hand it doesn't add up to a coherent story. I liked this book, and enjoyed learning from it.

  17. Four Billion Years: An Essay on the Evolution of Genes and Organisms
    William F. Loomis				$6.95 Hamilton price
    Sinauer 1988			ISBN 0-87893-476-6		286 pages
    "fun to read" 88%, "relevant" 90%, "difficulty" 8 a bit long and technical

    This is a wonderful book, with lots of details about genes and biochemistry. It may be at too high a level for college Freshmen. I have read parts of it and enjoyed them thoroughly. I hope I can read the entire book.

  18. Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock-Eating Cave Bugs, and Other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space
    Michael Ray Taylor				$16.10 Amazon
    Scribner 1999			ISBN 0-684-84191-6		287 pages
    "fun to read" 93%, "relevant" 84%, "difficulty" 5

    This book was definitely fun to read. Taylor is a journalist who gets so caught up in the subject that he takes a college Microbiology course and lab, and ends up collecting specimens from hot springs for the research of "real" scientists. He also gets to know the people involved in the Martian meteorite which was claimed to have fossil bacteria, and presents an emotional defense of their side of the story, naming names and placing blame. Whether he is right is hard to tell, but you come away with a fine appreciation of what they were thinking when they held the press conference to announce "Life on Mars."

  19. Symbiotic Planet
    Lynn Margulis					$12.00
    Basic Books 1998		ISBN 0-465-07272-0		147 pages
    "fun to read" 91%, "relevant" 88%, "difficulty" 6

    This is a slender book, readable in 24 hours. Margulis mixes autobiography with scientific theory. It is interesting to see what she has been through on her way toward becoming a famous scientist. An especially touching story dealt with her problems in publishing "Origin of Eukaryotic Cells" while living at home with young children. She paid for the illustrations out of her own pocket and sent the manuscript off to a publisher and heard nothing for several months. Finally a box arrived, the manuscript was returned - the decision was made not to publish due to a very negative peer review. Someone else might have given up, but Margulis contacted the Yale University press and her book, which is now famous, came out in 1970. There were also interesting parts where she let her true feelings show, for example her irritation that Carl Woese came up with such a "difficult" test to identify Archaea. In her other writings she basically ignores the Archaea as a separate kingdom (or "Five Kingdoms" would be six) and treats them in terms of their morphology the way old-fashioned microbiologists used to. This book is useable for the course.

  20. Early Life
    Lynn Margulis
    Science Books Int. 1982	ISBN 0-86720-003-0			160 pages
    "fun to read" 89%, "relevant" 89%, "difficulty" 6

    This is really a nice book, Margulis focuses nicely on the problems of the early evolution of life. There are useful illustrations including very clear pictures of meiosis and how Margulis thinks this got started. I would consider using this instead of "Microcosmos" except for the fact that this book is out of print except for an expensive ($30) "classroom edition." As it is Microcosmos is probably preferable, since it is easily available in paperback.

  21. The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the First Complex Life
    Mark. A. S. McMenamin			$22.05 Amazon
    Columbia  1998		ISBN 0-231-10558-4			295 pages
    "fun to read" 86%, "relevant" 84%, "difficulty" 6

    Mark McMenamin is one of the major American paleontologists who concerns himself with the Ediacaran Fauna, the odd jellyfish-like organisms that lived just before the Cambrian. It is a small field, so in this chatty book you "meet" many of the other people in that area. The book is easy to read, but McMenamin injects himself into the discussion so much that he really gets irritating at times. We learn a lot about the Ediacaran Fauna but we also learn what McMenamin has for breakfast and the cute signs he saw in the airport. When he pulls himself together and proposes theories and wants to be taken seriously, it's hard to do so after all the other stuff in the book.

  22. Origins and Extinctions
    Donald E. Osterbrock & Peter H. Raven, eds.  $4.95 Hamilton
    Yale 1988			ISBN 0-300-04260 4			
    "fun to read" 85%, "relevant" 85%, "difficulty" 7

    This tiny book has an interesting article by Lynn Margulis in which she talks about finding microfossils in the Gunflint Chert. Most of the chert has no fossils. The brief article is evidently a transcript of a talk that she gave, complete with the slides she showed. These include a huge fossilized stromatolite. The other article (of four) which is interesting is the last one, about extinctions, by David M. Raup.

  23. The Deep Hot Biosphere
    Thomas Gold					$27.00 Amazon price
    Springer Verlag 1999		ISBN 0-387-98546-8		235 pages
    "fun to read" 82%, "relevant" 82%, "difficulty" 8

    Thomas Gold is probably dismissed as a wacko by most "mainstream" scientists. However, others endorse his thinking, including Freeman Dyson, another "outside the box" thinker. The central idea of this book is that the carbon which we find as oil deposits did not come from buried plants and animals. Rather, the rocks and dust which accreted to form the Earth carried carbon compounds with them, as "carbonaceous chondrite" meteorites do today. And the reason why drilled oil is full of Hopanes and other biological compounds is that deep-dwelling bacteria have transformed it. The part of Gold's hypothesis which appears to be winning broad acceptance is the idea that most of the Earth's biomass lies in crevices in rocks far under the surface. People who go looking for life down there have been finding it recently.

  24. Deep-Ocean Journeys: Discovering New Life at the Bottom of the Sea (Helix)
    Cindy Lee Van Dover				$9.60 Amazon
    Addison Wesley 1996		ISBN 0-201-15498-6 (pbk)	
    "fun to read" 94%, "relevant" 82%, "difficulty" 4

    Ms. van Dover is a Rutgers graduate who piloted the submarine Alvin for several years and now is a Marine Biologist. Her description of "black smokers" and rift organisms is poetic and exciting. She thinks it is imperative to keep diving and looking for new organisms in the ocean depths, and even dreams of some day finding a relict population of trilobites! This book probably doesn't contain quite enough science to be assigned for my course, but it's fascinating and a quick "read."

  25. Beginnings of Cellular Life: Metabolism...
    Harold Morowitz 				$4.95 Hamilton
    Yale 1992			ISBN 0-300-05483-1			195 pages
    "fun to read" 65%, "relevant" 85%, "difficulty" 5

    This book was fairly easy to read but I was kind of puzzled by it, and couldn't exactly see the point. Reading what other people had to say about it made me realize that one of Morowitz's contributions was the idea that by looking at what all modern cells have in common you can make deductions about what the ancestral cell should have been like. This is particularly interesting when applied to pathways and production of ATP as an energy source etc. I don't see using this book in the course.

  26. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?
    David M. Raup				$11.01 Amazon
    Norton 1991			ISBN 0-393-30927-4			210 pages

    I think Raup's answer is "Bad Luck" -- the foreword is by Stephen Jay Gould. Small book, have not read yet. Raup is famous as the promoter of the "Nemesis" theory, that the Sun has a companion which causes extinctions every 26 million years. This theory is not widely accepted, but Raup also has a good scientific reputation for his other paleontological ideas.

  27. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
    Richard Dawkins				$7.95 Hamilton
    Weidenfield & Nicolson 1995	ISBN 0-297-81540-7		172 pages

    Have not read.

  28. Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth
    Robert Shapiro				$19.57 Amazon
    Wiley 1999			ISBN 0-471-17936-1			306 pages

    I found the first 70 pages of this book more or less completely irrelevant, downright silly at times, and worthless. I actually considered quitting the book, which I rarely do, but I reread the reviews on amazon.com and decided to persevere. It -did- get better, and in fact Shapiro, who like me started in synthetic Organic Chemistry, lays out a devastating attack on the RNA World hypothesis, the best I've seen. In the process he is funny and entertaining and very clear. But before and after that part of the book, there are things that are a bit offensive. Shapiro longs for manned space travel, and argues as convincingly as he can for that, while seeming to kind of try to keep this agenda a bit hidden. His way of lampooning those who disagree with his views ("the sour lemon school" etc.) is not very attractive. Anyway, I am glad I read the book but I don't plan to use it in the course.

  29. Evolutionary Wars
    Charles Kingsley Levy
    Freeman 1999			ISBN 0-7167-3483-4			300 pages

    This is a Freeman book. Have not read yet. The "wars" are not between paleontologists but between species, in other words the book is about coevolution between predator and prey, etc.

  30. The Pattern of Evolution
     Niles Eldridge
    W. H. Freeman 1999		ISBN 0-7167-3046-4		219 pages

    Have not read. May not be quite relevant?

  31. The Art of Genes - How Organisms Make Themselves
     Enrico Coen
    Oxford University Press, 1999	ISBN 0-19-850343-1 Hbk		386 pages

    This book is fascinating, an extended metaphor comparing the production of an organism through developmental processes to the production of a painting by an artist. The analogy gets strained but I was helped by my prior knowledge of some of the details on a biochemical level. His "hidden colors" are hox genes, the "smells" are enzymes that produce transmitters or receptors, etc. It was nice that he mixed in discussions of plant development with the more normal material about animal embryos. A true understanding of evolution requires an understanding of developmental processes, but I wonder if seeing things the way this book presents it is enough? Without the underlying molecular biology, you come away only with Coen's terminology about colors and smells, i.e. with a functional understanding but with none of the vocabulary. I think that then it's necessary to read -another- book, perhaps "Cells, Embryos, and Evolution" listed under textbooks below.


  1. Time, Love, Memory. A Great Biologist and his Quest for the Origins of Behavior.
    Jonathan Weiner					$27.50
    Knopf (Borzoi) 1999		ISBN 0-679-44435-1		300 pages

    This book is really fabulous. Weiner conveys a lot about the history of molecular biology, and is fascinating when describing the sort of behavioral mutations which have been found in fruit flies. You get the entire panoply of fruit fly mutations, starting with "white" in Morgan's lab and coming down to the present. The "Great Biologist" in the title is Seymour Benzer whose scientific biography is central to the text -- but the story is really about the genes. This was a great read.

  2. Ishmael
    Daniel Quinn					$13.95
    Bantam  1992			ISBN 0-553-37540-7		266 pages

    This book is fiction. It presents an "outside" view of the human race, exposing fundamental assumptions that we make, the "stories" we tell ourselves about ourselves. It could be seen as an alarmist polemic about the environment, but I think the book's point is quite valid. For a more scientific (non-fiction) book that makes the same point even more forcefully read Peter Ward's "The End of Evolution" (described above).


  1. Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth
    Lynn Margulis & Karlene Schwartz		$23.96 Amazon
    Freeman 1998			ISBN 0-7167-3027-8 PB	520 pages

    Part of a proper understanding of previous life forms on the Earth is the realization of just how strange and various life on Earth is today. We often restrict our attention to vertebrates, insects, and flowering plants. There are some truly weird things that live in the depths of the ocean, or under dead leaves in Costa Rica, and they definitely help in understanding "odd" fossils like some of those in the Burgess Shale.

  2. Origins of Life on the Earth and in the Cosmos, 2nd Ed., paper
    Geoffrey Zubay
    Harcourt/Academic Press 2000	ISBN 0-12-781910-X	564 pages

    Zubay has written a truly interesting textbook. He takes the "clay hypothesis" seriously and describes how it could work (Ch. 20). He has less about the Sulfide World but has a useful discussion of the synthesis of Gramicidin by thioester transfer on 323-325. The book contains so much classic Biochemistry that it is a little hard for me to visualize using it. If students took a course based strictly on this book after Intro Biochem, there would be too much overlap. A separate course without a Biochem Prerequisite would resemble Intro Biochem in many ways. Could the book be used JUST to teach about the underpinnings of origin of life theory without presenting the pathways in detail? This could be done, but might be easier with a book written with that emphasis. Chapter 13, about the prebiotic synthesis of Nucleotides, should probably be taken rather lightly, in view of Shapiro's analysis (see above).

  3. Cells, Embryos, and Evolution: Toward a Cellular and Developmental Understanding of Phenotypic Variation and Evolutionary Adaptability
    John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner		$64.95 Amazon
    Blackwell 1997		ISBN 0-86542-574-4		642 pages

    This is an actual "Developmental Bio" textbook written from a strong evolutionary point of view. Very meaty, very well done. Gerhart is at Harvard. Don't know if I will try to read this cover to cover, but dipping in has been rewarding. This book is cited repeatedly in Ward and Brownlee, near the top of list 1.

  4. Biogenesis: Theories of Life's Origin
    Noam Lahav					$29.95  Amazon
    Oxford 1999			ISBN 0-19-511755-7 PB		349 pages

    Now that I have started reading this book, I am tempted to put it up in the "reading" category instead of with the "textbooks." It is like a great big review article, but surprisingly easy to read. Lahav has had a long career as a "Lifer" (origin of life theorist) and he really touches all of the bases in this book, including all the theories of the ancient Greeks etc. I like the book but the print is very small and the writing gets quite dense at times, so even though the writing is clear, it can be hard to keep reading just due to the weight of all that material collected in one place.

  5. Evolution of the Genetic Code
    Syozo Osawa					$7.95  Hamilton
    Oxford 1995			ISBN 0-19-854781-1			205 pages

    Have not read. This book was originally priced at something like $100, and bought remaindered from Hamilton Books. It is a slender hardcover book, and seems readable for those with a background in molecular biology.

  6. Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
    Charles Darwin				$8.95 Hamilton
    Gramercy 1979		ISBN 0-517-12320-7			

    Have not read. Want to read at least parts of this classic!

  7. Atlas of the Prehistoric World
    Douglas Palmer				$24.50  Hamilton price
    Discovery 1999		ISBN 1-56331-829-6		226 pages

    This is a nifty book, from the Discovery Channel on cable TV. It is in the usual large atlas format, but the maps show things like continental drift over the ages. I have enjoyed looking through it, and it will make a good background reference but not a reading assignment.

  8. A Field Guide to Dinosaurs
    David Lambert
    Avon 1983			ISBN 0-380-83519-3			256 pages

    Lambert lays out very clearly the differences between Ornithischians and Saurischians, and the age of each dinosaur. A comprehensive treatment. This is more of a picture book than a text to read.

  9. Palaeontology, an Introduction
    E. W. Nield and V. C. T. Tucker
    Pergamon 1985		ISBN 0-08-02385408			178 pages

    Good basic treatment of where to look for fossils, what they mean, etc. Have read parts of this.

  10. Molecular Evolution
    Wen-Hsiung Li			$52.95 Amazon
    Sinauer 1997			ISBN 0-87893-463-4		487 pages

    This is a rather difficult book. I believe that Dr. Hey uses this as one of the texts for Evolutionary Genetics 01:447:486 here at Rutgers, and Dr. Laura Landweber uses either this or the corresponding "Fundamentals" book for her course at Princeton. You need to understand genetics and molecular biology (crossing over, gene conversion) and some biochemistry, and it appears you learn the "real" way to apply cladistics based on the genome etc.

  11. Fundamentals of Molecular Evolution, 2nd ed.
    Dan Graur & Wen-Hsiung Li	$48.95 Amazon
    Sinauer 1999			ISBN 0-87893-266-6 paper	

    Obviously this book is intended to be shorter and simpler than Li's textbook above. The first edition (1991) had 284 pages, a little more than half as large as "Molecular Evolution." As stated above, I think Dr. Laura Landweber is using this version of the book in her Princeton course.

  12. The Origins of Life: From the Birth of Life to the Origin of Language
    John Maynard Smith & Eörs Szathmary
    Oxford 1999			ISBN 019-850493-4		175 pages

    Have not read. Looks very theoretical and difficult! I believe that Dr. Hey is also using this book for Evolutionary Genetics.

  13. The Major Transitions in Evolution
    John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmary
    Freeman 1995			ISBN 0-7167-4525-9			346 pages

    Another very theoretical and mathematical book. Have not read. May not read.

  14. Steps Toward Life: A Perspective on Evolution
    Manfred Eigen					$26.00 Amazon
    Oxford 1992			ISBN 0-19-854752-8			173 pages

    Have not read yet. Manfred Eigen is famous for setting up model systems in which RNA molecules can "evolve" in the laboratory. The book is short but appears very dense and theoretical.

  15. Lives of a Cell
    Lewis Thomas
    Viking 1974			ISBN 670-4344206			153 pages

    This is an old book, listed here mainly because of Thomas's very nice essay on the symbiotic origin of chloroplasts and mitochondria.

  16. The Ages of Gaia
    James Lovelock, Princeton 	QH331 .L688 1990
    Bantam 1988			ISBN 0-553-34816-7			252 pages

    Have not read. Lynn Margulis goes on about Gaia, and perhaps it would be interesting to see what Lovelock has to say about the subject.

    Wonderful Life -- Annotated Bibliography Frank Deis