A Natural History of Australia

by Tim M Berra
San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1998. 256 pages.

This beautifully illustrated guide to Australia's geology, flora, and fauna includes not only explanations of the evolution of the continent and its inhabitants, but a natural history of the Great Barrier Reef, discussions of paleoanthropology and Aboriginal culture... even a glossary of Aussie slang! (Berra has also written Evolution and the Myth of Creationism.)

Biological Thermodynamics

by Donald T. Haynie
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 396 pages.

From the publisher: "Biological Thermodynamics provides an introduction to the study of energy transformations for students of the biological sciences. Donald Haynie uses an informal writing style to introduce this core subject in a manner that will appeal to biology and biochemistry undergraduate students. ... Each chapter provides numerous examples taken from different areas of biochemistry, as well as extensive exercises to aid understanding. Topics covered include energy and its transformation, the First Law of Thermodynamics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Gibbs Free Energy, statistical thermodynamics, binding equilibria and reaction kinetics, and a survey of the most exciting areas of biological thermodynamics today, particularly the origin of life on Earth."

Essential Cell Biology, third edition

Bruce Alberts and others
New York: Routledge, 2008. 860 pages.

A brand-new and thoroughly up-to-date edition of a classic textbook widely used in introductory classes in cell and molecular biology, supplemented with a DVD-ROM including over 130 animations and videos, all of the figures from the book, and a self-testing feature for students. "This book fills a critical niche in the pedagogical process of introducing cell biology and does an excellent job in reaching its objective," wrote a reviewer of The Quarterly Review of Biology. NCSE Supporter Bruce Alberts, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences, is Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and editor-in-chief of the journal Science.

Evolution as Entropy, second edition

by Daniel R. Brooks and E. O. Wiley
Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1988. 429 pages.

Originally published in 1986, with a second edition following in 1988, Evolution as Entropy ambitiously sought to argue that living systems manifest growing complexity and self-organization as a result of increasing entropy (contrary, of course, to the canard that evolution is thermodynamically impossible). Reviewing Evolution as Entropy for BioEssays, Niles Eldredge commented, "Though no one (probably including the authors themselves) will be inclined to think the book an unmitigated success, it will suffice to report that it is a provocative and stimulating exploration of a line of theoretical analysis that is sure to be followed up extensively in years to come."

Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

by Martin Gardner
New York: Dover Publications, 1957. 373 pages.

Published originally in 1957 as the revised edition of his In the Name of Science (1952), Martin Gardner's first book on pseudoscience is still as relevant — and as readable — as ever. A chapter is devoted to creationism, of course, but Gardner discusses a wide variety of bizarre pseudoscientific beliefs. "In the last analysis," he writes, "the best means of combating the spread of pseudo-science is an enlightened public, able to distinguish the work of a reputable investigator from the work of the incompetent and self-deluded." Through Fads and Fallacies and its sequels, Gardner helped, and continues to help, to enlighten the public accordingly.

Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESPs, Unicorns, and Other Delusions

by James Randi
Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988. 342 pages.

Published first in 1982 and still relevant today, Flim-Flam! explores — and debunks — a wide variety of paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, all in Randi's characteristic buoyant and charming style. Not merely a pleasurable read, the book serves in effect as a practical tutorial in evaluating the claims of pseudoscience. Randi is internationally famous not only as a debunker of the paranormal but as a magician and escape artist; he also runs the James Randi Educational Foundation (on the web at, which aims to "promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today."

Introduction to Cosmology

by Barbara Ryden
San Francisco: Benjamin-Cummings, 2002. 300 pages.

The publisher writes, "Introduction to Cosmology provides a rare combination of a solid foundation of the core physical concepts of cosmology and the most recent astronomical observations. The book is designed for advanced undergraduates or beginning graduate students and assumes no prior knowledge of general relativity. ... The book is unique in that it not only includes recent major developments in cosmology, like the cosmological constant and accelerating universe, but also anticipates key developments expected in the next few years, such as detailed results on the cosmic microwave background. For anyone interested in cosmology or astronomy."

Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution

by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith
New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 352 pages.

The companion volume to the NOVA special, Origins astonishingly compresses the fourteen-billion-year history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, in 288 fascinating pages. Michio Kaku describes it as "a remarkable text which is bound to set the gold standard for cosmology book for years to come. Clear, lucid, and up-to-date, this delightful book takes us on a grand tour of the mysteries of the universe." NCSE Supporter Neil deGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and author of The Pluto Files (New York: WW Norton, 2009).

Ornithology, third edition

by Frank B. Gill
San Francisco (CA): W. H. Freeman, 2005. 720 pages.

The leading textbook in its field, now in its third edition, Ornithology begins, appropriately, with a section on origins, discussing the diversity of birds, their evolutionary history, and their systematics. "The power of evolution by natural selection is the central theme of this book," Gill explains. "The adaptations of birds ranging from morphology and physiology to migration and mating systems are testimony to the pervasive role of Darwinian evolution in action through the millennia." The author is a former president of the American Ornithologists' Union and a former Senior Vice President and Director of Science for the National Audubon Society.

Physics, the Human Adventure

by Gerald Holton and Stephen G. Brush
New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press, 2001. 598 pages.

The third edition of a classic text, Physics, the Human Adventure presents the content and nature of physical science while emphasizing its history as well. As the authors explain, "Our purpose in this book is to tell the story of the major ideas that have led to our current understanding of how the physical universe functions. At the same time we also aim to show that the growth of science was part of the general development of our civilization, as it is to this day." NCSE Supporter Stephen G. Brush is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Maryland.

Present at the Flood

by Richard E. Dickerson
Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates, 2005. 307 pages.

Present at the Flood chronicles a scientific revolution — the rise of structural molecular biology — by providing forty-two key scientific papers together with informed commentary to place their accomplishments in context. The reviewer for the Journal of Structural Biology wrote, "The book will clearly serve its intended purpose as an outline for a graduate course on the origins and methods of structural molecular biology, but it is also highly recommended for its insights into the lives and thought processes of those who laid the foundations of the field." Richard E. Dickerson is Professor Emeritus in the Molecular Biology Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Prometheus Bedeviled

by Norman Levitt
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999. 416 pages.

In Prometheus Bedeviled, Norman Levitt attempts to "analyze the standing and the prospects of science in a society that is steeped in a democratic ethos, professes to admire science, and expects great things of science, but which, notwithstanding a massive educational system, comprehends science rather poorly," decrying the prospect of "the supplanting of science by a mélange of viewpoints and methods in which populist enthusiasm or even quasi-religious dogma will be anointed with the cultural authority of the 'scientific'." Richard Dawkins describes Levitt as "a new enlightenment hero, a post-postmodern Prometheus bringing fire to the bellies of scholars and students intimidated by obscurantist intellectual bullies and needing encouragement to fight back."

Relatively Speaking

by Eric J. Chaisson
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990. 254 pages.

Written by an astrophysicist for general readers, Relatively Speaking explains the special and general theories of relativity and what they imply about the origins and structure of the universe. "An authoritative, gracefully written synopsis of modern relativity theory that should be accessible to a wide audience", writes Frank Wilczek.

Skeptical Odysseys

edited by Paul Kurtz
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2001. 430 pages.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of CSICOP — the Committee for Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal — Paul Kurtz invited 35 prominent skeptics either to provide autobiographical reflections on their skeptical activities or to report on the current state of research on the areas in which they specialize. Contributors include Steve Allen, Martin Gardner, Philip J. Klass, Joe Nickell, Michael Shermer, Victor J. Stenger, and NCSE's very own Eugenie C. Scott. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote, "Here are writers who love to stir the stewpot of scientific controversy, adding investigative insights to the intrigue and serving up informative, educational essays that are accessible and entertaining."

Skeptics and True Believers

by Chet Raymo
New York: Walker & Company, 1999. 288 pages.

Drawing on his own quest for a rapprochement between science and religion, Chet Raymo, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Stonehill College and a science columnist for the Boston Globe, suggests that religion ought to embrace the findings of science and science ought to acknowledge and nourish the spiritual side of humanity. Praising Skeptics and True Believers, Stephen Jay Gould wrote, "These confessions of a wise religious humanist who also loves, practices, understands, and lives by the ideals and findings of science show us how to heal the false and unnecessary rifts in our intellectual cultures, and to bridge the gap between knowledge and morality."

Speciation in Birds

by Trevor Price
Greenwood Village (CO): Roberts and Company, 2007. 480 pages.

Peter R. Grant writes, "Trevor Price takes up the challenge to explain how birds speciate, and succeeds magnificently. It is a comprehensive review of all the major ideas, beautifully illustrated with pictures of birds. More than 1300 works are cited, but more impressive is the range of subjects, from genetics to biogeography, from the reconstruction of phylogeny to ecology and the causes of reproductive isolation, all discussed with admirable clarity. If they were alive today Ernst Mayr would bestow patrician approval on this work of scholarship, and Theodosius Dobzhansky would applaud from the side-lines." The author is Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago.

The Big Bang, 3rd edition

by Joseph Silk
New York: Times Books, 2000. 512 pages.

The publisher writes, "Our universe was born billions of years ago in a hot, violent explosion of elementary particles and radiation — the big bang. What do we know about this ultimate moment of creation, and how do we know it? Drawing upon the latest theories and technology, the new edition of The Big Bang is a sweeping, lucid account of the event that set the universe in motion. Award-winning astronomer and physicist Joseph Silk begins his story with the first microseconds of the big bang, on through the evolution of stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, quasars, and into the distant future of our universe." Silk is the Head of Astrophysics and Savilian Professor of Astronomy in the Department of Physics at Oxford University.

The Borderlands of Science

by Michael Shermer
New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 368 pages.

From the publisher: "As author of the bestselling Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe, and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer has emerged as the nation's number one scourge of superstition and bad science. Now, in The Borderlands of Science, he takes us to the place where real science (such as the big bang theory), borderland science (superstring theory), and just plain nonsense (Big Foot) collide with one another. ... [The Borderlands of Science] will help us stay grounded in common sense as we try to evaluate everything from SETI and acupuncture to hypnosis and cloning."

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

by E. O. Wilson
New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. 192 pages.

Composed as a series of letters to a Southern Baptist pastor, The Creation tries to rally the resources of both science and religion in the service of maintaining biodiversity. “I suggest that we set aside our differences in order to save the Creation,” Wilson pleads. “The defense of living Nature is a universal value. It doesn’t rise from, nor does it promote, any religious or ideological dogma. Rather, it serves without discrimination the interests of all humanity.” The reviewer for The New York Times Book Review describes The Creation as “[t]he wise and lovely work of a truly learned man.”

The First Three Minutes, updated edition

by Steven Weinberg
New York: Basic Books, 1994. 224 pages.

A classic exposition of the Big Bang by a winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, The First Three Minutes sought to explain "the new understanding of the early universe that has grown out of the discovery of the cosmic microwave radiation background in 1965." The afterword in the updated edition of 1988 discusses developments in cosmology since 1976. Writing in The New Yorker, Jeremy Bernstein remarked, "one comes away from his book feeling not only that the idea of an original cosmic explosion is not crazy but that any other theory appears scientifically irrational."

The Future of Life

by E. O. Wilson
New York: Vintage, 2003. 256 pages.

“The central thesis of this elegant manifesto is not unfamiliar: the impact of human population growth and ‘wasteful consumption’ on the biological diversity of our planet has been nothing short of disastrous,” writes the reviewer for The New Yorker. “What distinguishes Wilson’s book, though, is its nuanced and evocative explanation of just why biodiversity matters, and its surprisingly optimistic diagnosis of how this natural balance might be preserved.” “A civilization able to envision God and to embark on the colonization of space will surely find a way to save the integrity of this planet and the magnificent life it affords,” Wilson concludes.

The Origin of the Universe

by John D. Barrow
New York: Basic Books, 1997. 176 pages.

"How, why, and when did the universe begin? How big is it? What shape is it? What's it made of? These are questions that any curious child might as, but they are also questions that modern cosmologist have wrestled with for many decades," writes John D. Barrow in introducing his popular book on cosmology, one in the Science Masters series. Barrow is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Sussex and is the author of several popular books, of which the latest is The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless (New York: Pantheon, 2005).

The Second Law

by P. W. Atkins
New York: W. H. Freeman, 1994. 216 pages.

Out of print, but well worth the search, The Second Law presents a nonmathematical account of the second law of thermodynamics, teeming with vivid examples, ideas, and images. "Mention of the Second Law," Atkins notes, "raises visions of lumbering steam engines, intricate mathematics, and infinitely incomprehensible entropy. ... In this book I hope to go some way toward revealing the workings of the [Second] Law, and showing its span of application." Originally published in the Scientific American Library series in 1984, and republished, with updates, in 1994 as a paperback. The reviewer for Nature described it as "[a] lovely book, beautifully illustrated and presented."

The Speciation and Biogeography of Birds

by Ian Newton
London: Academic Press, 2003. 656 pages.

"This book is about the formation and diversity of bird species, their geographical distributions and their migration patterns," Ian Newton explains in his introduction. "It is an attempt at a fresh synthesis which draws from recent developments in the biological sciences, as well as in the earth sciences of geology and climatology." The reviewer for Trends in Ecology and Evolution described the book as "a readable, balanced and comprehensive review that will become a standard textbook for courses in avian biogeography," adding, "I believe that this book will be warmly welcomed by bird biologists and enthusiasts alike."

The Whole Shebang

by Timothy Ferris
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. 400 pages.

"We live in a changing universe, and few things are changing faster than our conception of it." So begins The Whole Shebang, in which Ferris, the author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way, provides an excellent popular synthesis of the state of the art in cosmology. James Gleick exults, "What luck that the universe has Tim Ferris to report on its condition!"

Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder

by Richard Dawkins
Boston: Mariner Books, 2000. 352 pages.

The author of Climbing Mount Improbable and The Selfish Gene argues, in his characteristically lively prose, that understanding science increases, rather than decreases, the sense of wonder that we feel in contemplating the world. The title alludes to the poem Lamia, in which Keats complained that "cold philosophy" proposes to demystify the world; in contrast, Dawkins insists, through a series of illuminating vignettes and reasoned discussions, that unweaving the rainbow is itself profoundly poetic.

What is Life?

by Lynn Margulis & Dorian Sagan
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. 208 pages.

With eighty illustrations ranging from the smallest known organism to the biosphere itself, this exploration of the meaning of "life" has been praised by E. O. Wilson as a "new and spirited explanation ... likely to influence future introductions to biology." Introduction by Niles Eldredge.