This page contains a list of the best books on Darwinism. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Darwinism. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Darwinism. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on Darwinism in no particular order.
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea – Daniel C. Dennett
Publisher description: In a book that is both groundbreaking and accessible, Daniel C. Dennett, whom Chet Raymo of The Boston Globe calls “one of the most provocative thinkers on the planet,” focuses his unerringly logical mind on the theory of natural selection, showing how Darwin’s great idea transforms and illuminates our traditional view of humanity’s place in the universe. Dennett vividly describes the theory itself and then extends Darwin’s vision with impeccable arguments to their often surprising conclusions, challenging the views of some of the most famous scientists of our day.
The Cambridge Companion to Darwin – Jonathan Hodge & Gregory Radick
Publisher description: The naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin (1809-82) ranks as one of the most influential scientific thinkers of all time. In the nineteenth century his ideas about the history and diversity of life – including the evolutionary origin of humankind – contributed to major changes in the sciences, philosophy, social thought and religious belief. The Cambridge Companion to Darwin has established itself as an indispensable resource for anyone teaching or researching Darwin’s theories and their historical and philosophical interpretations. Its distinguished team of contributors examines Darwin’s main scientific ideas and their development; Darwin’s science in the context of its times; the influence of Darwinian thought in recent philosophical, social and religious debate; and the importance of Darwinian thought for the future of naturalist philosophy. For this second edition, coverage has been expanded to include two new chapters: on Darwin, Hume and human nature, and on Darwin’s theories in the intellectual long run, from the pre-Socratics to the present.
Philosophy After Darwin: Classic and Contemporary Readings – Michael Ruse
Publisher description: Wittgenstein famously remarked in 1923, “Darwin’s theory has no more relevance for philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science.” Yet today we are witnessing a major revival of interest in applying evolutionary approaches to philosophical problems. Philosophy after Darwin is an anthology of essential writings covering the most influential ideas about the philosophical implications of Darwinism, from the publication of On the Origin of Species to today’s cutting-edge research.
Michael Ruse presents writings by leading modern thinkers and researchers–including some writings never before published–together with the most important historical documents on Darwinism and philosophy, starting with Darwin himself. Included here are Herbert Spencer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Henry Huxley, G. E. Moore, John Dewey, Konrad Lorenz, Stephen Toulmin, Karl Popper, Edward O. Wilson, Hilary Putnam, Philip Kitcher, Elliott Sober, and Peter Singer. Readers will encounter some of the staunchest critics of the evolutionary approach, such as Alvin Plantinga, as well as revealing excerpts from works like Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Ruse’s comprehensive general introduction and insightful section introductions put these writings in context and explain how they relate to such fields as epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and ethics.
An invaluable anthology and sourcebook, Philosophy after Darwin traces philosophy’s complicated relationship with Darwin’s dangerous idea, and shows how this relationship reflects a broad movement toward a secular, more naturalistic understanding of the human experience.
On the Origin of Species – Charles Darwin
Publisher description: It took Charles Darwin more than twenty years to publish this book, in part because he realized that it would ignite a firestorm of controversy. On the Origin of Species first appeared in 1859, and it remains a continuing source of conflict to this day. Even among those who reject its ideas, however, the work’s impact is undeniable. In science, philosophy, and theology, this is a book that changed the world.
In addition to its status as the focus of a dramatic turning point in scientific thought, On the Origin of Species stands as a remarkably readable study. Carefully reasoned and well-documented in its arguments, the work offers coherent views of natural selection, adaptation, the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, and other concepts that form the foundation of modern evolutionary theory. This volume is a reprint of the critically acclaimed first edition.
The Descent of Man – Charles Darwin
Publisher description: In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin refused to discuss human evolution, believing the subject too ‘surrounded with prejudices’. He had been reworking his notes since the 1830s, but only with trepidation did he finally publish The Descent of Man in 1871. The book notoriously put apes in our family tree and made the races one family, diversified by ‘sexual selection’ – Darwin’s provocative theory that female choice among competing males leads to diverging racial characteristics. Named by Sigmund Freud as ‘one of the ten most significant books’ ever written, Darwin’s Descent of Man continues to shape the way we think about what it is that makes us uniquely human.
In their introduction, James Moore and Adrian Desmond, acclaimed biographers of Charles Darwin, call for a radical re-assessment of the book, arguing that its core ideas on race were fired by Darwin’s hatred of slavery. The text is the second and definitive edition and this volume also contains suggestions for further reading, a chronology and biographical sketches of prominent individuals mentioned.
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