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Jerry Coyne's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Jerry Coyne recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Jerry Coyne's favorite book recommendations of all time.



What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

Donald R. Prothero's Evolution is an entertaining and rigorous history of the transitional forms and series found in the fossil record. Its engaging narrative of scientific discovery and well-grounded analysis has led to the book's widespread adoption in courses that teach the nature and value of fossil evidence for evolution. Evolution tackles systematics and cladistics, rock dating, neo-Darwinism, and macroevolution. It includes extensive coverage of the primordial soup, invertebrate transitions, the development of the backbone, the reign of the dinosaurs, and the... more
Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneIt is the one book that lays out in great detail some of the strongest evidence for evolution, which is the fossil record. (Source)

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Charles Darwin


Few lives of great men offer so much interest--and so many mysteries--as the life of Charles Darwin, the greatest figure of nineteenth-century science, whose ideas are still inspiring discoveries and controversies more than a hundred years after his death. Yet only now, with the publication of Voyaging, the first of two volumes that will constitute the definitive biography, do we have a truly vivid and comprehensive picture of Darwin as man and as scientist. Drawing upon much new material, supported by an unmatched acquaintance with both the intellectual setting and the voluminous... more
Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneThis may be the best scientific biography I have ever read. It’s just absolutely engrossing. (Source)

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The Mismeasure of Man

The definitive refutation to the argument of The Bell Curve.

How smart are you? If that question doesn't spark a dozen more questions in your mind (like "What do you mean by 'smart,'" "How do I measure it" and "Who's asking?"), then The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould's masterful demolition of the IQ industry, should be required reading. Gould's brilliant, funny, engaging prose dissects the motivations behind those who would judge intelligence, and hence worth, by cranial size, convolutions, or score on extremely narrow tests. How did scientists decide that...

Carol DweckI was raised in the heyday of the IQ craze. My sixth grade teacher seated us around the room in IQ order and assigned all privileges on the basis of IQ. This book made me realise the effect it had on us and I saw that my work could play a role in bringing that era to a close. (Source)

Jerry CoyneHe had this Marxist viewpoint towards biology which in the end made him almost reject natural selection. (Source)

Susan GelmanThis is a classic book. It was published in 1981 and got a lot of attention when it came out. Gould just does this beautiful job of laying out the ‘biology as destiny’ idea – and then ripping it to shreds. (Source)

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***30th Anniversary Edition***

Cover note: Each copy of the anniversary edition of The Blind Watchmaker features a unique biomorph. No two covers are exactly alike.

Acclaimed as the most influential work on evolution written in the last hundred years, The Blind Watchmaker offers an inspiring and accessible introduction to one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time. A brilliant and controversial book which demonstrates that evolution by natural selection - the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially...

James RandiThey talk about the blind watchmaker not being able to make a watch, but if you’re given an almost infinite number of combinations and permutations of materials and situations, the world will come about. Or it may not. In our case, it came about. You’re here, I’m here, and I’m very happy about that. (Source)

Jerry CoyneIf I had to pick just one self-contained book that lays out Dawkins’s philosophy and methodology, and shows his literary skills, I would have to pick this one. (Source)

Tom ClarkeDawkins brought Darwin up to date, explaining evolution in a way that incorporates our understanding of genetics and heredity. (Source)

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Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneHe wanted to model it on the European system, which by that time had become secular. Universities were originally, in the Middle Ages, religious institutions. Dickson White and Cornell agreed that they were going to make this university secular because only by insulating universities from the influence of religion could there be free inquiry. And he’s absolutely right about that. They put a... (Source)

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An innovative thinker tackles the controversial question of why we believe in God and how religion shapes our lives and our future.

For a growing number of people, there is nothing more important than religion. It is an integral part of their marriage, child rearing, and community. In this daring new book, distinguished philosopher Daniel C. Dennett takes a hard look at this phenomenon and asks why. Where does our devotion to God come from and what purpose does it serve? Is religion a blind evolutionary compulsion or a rational choice? In "Breaking the Spell," Dennett argues that...
Recommended by Julian Baggini, Jerry Coyne, and 2 others.

Julian BagginiIf people want to read a New Atheist book, they should read this one. (Source)

Jerry CoyneHe calls it Breaking the Spell for a reason. He thinks there is this sanctity about religion which prevents people from asking, “Where did it come from in the first place?” It’s a human construct, after all, it wasn’t given to humanity by God. It couldn’t have been, because we have thousands of different religions. So even religious people recognize the human contribution to religion. At the... (Source)

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God in the Age of Science? is a critical examination of strategies for the philosophical defence of religious belief. The main options may be presented as the end nodes of a decision tree for religious believers. The faithful can interpret a creedal statement (e.g. 'God exists') either as a truth claim, or otherwise. If it is a truth claim, they can either be warranted to endorse it without evidence, or not. Finally, if evidence is needed, should its evidential support be assessed by the same logical criteria that we use in evaluating evidence in science, or not? Each of these options has... more
Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneTheology is basically a warped form of philosophy. I’ll get in trouble for saying it, but it’s a fact. Theology is the kind of philosophy that’s applied to a non-existent object. So they use all the tools of philosophy. If you read sophisticated theology there’s even Bayesian analysis and mathematical logic in there. So it looks like philosophy but it all applies to a meaningless question... (Source)

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We can’t avoid the persistent questions about the meaning of life—and the nature of reality. But science is the only means of answering them. So declares philosopher Alex Rosenberg in this bracing, surprisingly sanguine take on a world without god. The science that makes us nonbelievers, he demonstrates, tells us the nature of reality, the purpose of everything, the difference between right and wrong, how the mind works, even the direction of human history. less
Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneLike what? What he says about free will? (Source)

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On the 10th anniversary of his death, brilliant astrophysisist and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sagan's prescient exploration of the relationship between religion and science and his personal search for God.

Carl Sagan is considered one of the greatest scientific minds of our time. His remarkable ability to explain science in terms easily understandable to the layman in bestselling books such as Cosmos, The Dragons of Eden, and The Demon-Haunted World won him a Pulitzer Prize and placed him firmly next to Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and Oliver Sachs as one...
Recommended by Jerry Coyne, and 1 others.

Jerry CoyneOf all these books, this is the one that resonates most for me. It was edited by his wife and published in 2006. It’s a distillation of the Gifford Lectures, a very prestigious series of lectures given in Scotland, endowed to give famous people a chance to talk about natural theology i.e. the relationship between science and religion. They’ve been going more than 100 years by now and they gave... (Source)

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Darwin's theory of natural selection issued a profound challenge to orthodox thought and belief: no being or species has been specifically created; all are locked into a pitiless struggle for existence, with extinction looming for those not fitted for the task.

Yet The Origin of Species (1859) is also a humane and inspirational vision of ecological interrelatedness, revealing the complex mutual interdependencies between animal and plant life, climate and physical environment, and—by implication—within the human world.

Written for the general reader, in a style...

Neil deGrasse TysonWhich books should be read by every single intelligent person on planet? [...] On the Origin of Species (Darwin) [to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth]. If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world. (Source)

Mark KurlanskyIt is one of the most important books written, and I always urge people to read it. (Source)

Darren Aronofsky[Darren Aronofsky recommended this book on the podcast "The Tim Ferriss Show".] (Source)

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