A few notes about what’s below
- As Dobzhansky said, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Hence, any biology book that’s worth reading will be, to some degree, about evolution. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to place books and articles in other categories as well.
- This is (so far) a very personal list: for the most part, it only includes articles and books that I’ve personally read or listened to (I’m a big consumer of Audiobooks). The only exceptions are books and articles recommended by my BHS colleague Johannah Bearg (with whom my biology reading list has overlapped to an astonishing degree).
If you have a recommendation for a book or an article that you think would be great for AP Biology students, please let me know about it. In your email, please include a link to the article, or to a summary of the book).
Unit 1: The Chemistry of Life
Unit 2: Cell Structure and Function
- Scientists create artificial mitochondria
- Extracellular Ribosomes (Scientific American)
- On the Origin of the Eukaryotes (Carl Zimmer)
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The human and scientific story of the origin of the HeLa cell line, widely used in biological research.
Unit 3: Cellular Energetics
- It’s Cold in the Ocean but It’s Hotter Inside Sea Otters. From the NY Times. Learn about how sea otters use proton leakage to maintain their body temperature.
- Why are Cells Powered by Proton Gradients? by Nick Lane at Nature’s Scitable. If you want to understand the deep origins of ATP production (deeply linked to the origin of life) read this. From the overview: “The proton gradients that power respiration are as universal as the genetic code itself, giving an insight into the origin of life and the singular origin of complexity.”
- Lizard body temperature shift in response to snake predation (NY Times)
Unit 4: Cell Communication
Unit 5: Heredity
- The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogotá. From the NY Times. “After a hospital error, two pairs of Colombian identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. This is the story of how they found one another — and of what happened next.”
- Ivory Poaching and the Rapid Evolution of Tusklessness in African Elephants. From Science Magazine (but not behind their paywall). Poaching has created strong selection for tuskless elephants. This article explains the underlying genetics. If you don’t want to go quite as deep, you can read this article in the NY Times (Tuskless Elephants Escape Poachers, but May Evolve New Problems).
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (the movie lacks most of science; so read the book)
Unit 6: Gene Expression
- Discovery of DNA Structure and Function (Nature education, Scitable)
- DNA Jumps Between Animal Species: No one knows how often (Horizontal Gene Transfer in fish)
- A Splice of Life (how spliceosomes work, from the Royal Society’s Chemistry World)
- When a Virus is the Cure (article about phage therapy in the New Yorker)
- The Origins of Form (a great article in Natural History Magazine about evo-devo from Sean Carroll).
- A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna
- The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson (about Jennifer Doudna)
- Flu by Gina Kolata
- Photograph 51, by Anna Zeigler. This is a play about the human side of the discovery of DNA’s structure, focusing on the relationships between Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, and Francis Crick. For an article that captures just the science, you can also read this https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/photograph-51-rosalind-franklin-1952
Human Nature: Amazing Documentary about CRISPR and ethical issues about human gene therapy/genetic modification. Beautifully filmed and told (available on Netflix)
Unit 7: Evolution
- The Genetic Basis of Adaptive Melanism in Pocket Mice
- Peacock Tail Feathers increase mating success
- Attack of the Superweeds (NY Times)
- Looks Like Bird Dung. But It’s Really a Predatory Spider. The previous link takes you a a NY TImes article. Use this link to go to the original article in Current Zoology, which has some great data sets.
- Female Hummingbirds Avoid Harassment by looking like males. Here’s the summary in the NY Times. Here’s a link to the actual research study in Current Biology.
- Extreme Autotomy and Whole Body Regeneration in Photosynthetic Sea Slugs in Current Biology . Or you can read the NY Times summary, Meet the Sea Slugs that Chop Off their Heads and Grow New Bodies.
- How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution (NY Times)
- Why Has the African Elephant Been Split into Two Species (The Guardian)
- Origin of Life: The Chicken and the Egg Problem (a report about research about self-assembling modified tRNAs). If you’re more ambitious, try the original article by Dieter Braun, a leading origin of life researcher.
- Cradle of Life. An article by biochemist Nick Lane about alkaline undersea vents.
- Genetics and the Origin of Bird Species. This article by Peter and Rosemary Grant, explains speciation of finches in the Galapagos Islands
- Why Evolution Goes Wild on Islands: All about adaptive radiation in birds in island chains. From the Cornell Ornithology Lab.
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Note that this book is the reason why I became a biology teacher.
- Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
- Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo by Sean B Carroll
- Tangled Tree by David Quammen.
- Red Queen by Matt Ridley
- The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond
Unit 8: Ecology
- The Social Life of Forests (about mycorrhizal fungi)
- Protecting Lions Helps the Whole Food Chain? Actually, We Don’t Know (from the NY Times)
- Reeling in Answers to the Freshwater Fish Paradox. From the National Academies of Sciences. Looks at why freshwater lakes (like Lake Victoria) have such high rates of Biodiversity).
- Has the Earth’s Sixth Extinction Already Arrived (peer-reviewed journal article in Nature). Or read journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction in the New Yorker. Kolbert later expanded this article into a book.
- Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer
- Serengeti Rules by Sean B Carroll (the documentary on PBS focuses more on ecology)
- I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong.
- Tangled Tree by David Quammen. Focuses on Carl Woese and the discovery of the three domain system (and so much more).
Cross Topic readings
- Life Up Close. This is an amazing collection of biology-related articles from The Atlantic Magazine.
- CRISPR and the Splice to Survive, by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. Amazing article about using CRISPR to protect endangered species, and to use gene drives to wipe out invasive species.
- Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane. Nick Lane is a British biochemist. Life Ascending focuses on the core adaptations/features of living things, including the origin of life, the origin of eukaryotes, photosynthesis, movement, sex. I’ve profited immensely by reading this book (and other’s by Professor Lane). You can also check out numerous articles by Lane at his website, https://nick-lane.net/. Reading Lane takes a bit of effort, but it’s worth it!
- Venomous, by Christie Wilcox. In her discussion of venomous animals, Wilcox hits on every topic in biology.
- Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
- EVOLVED: Cases for evolution education: Six cross-unit case studies. These cases have some combination of Powerpoints, case studies from NCCTS, question guides, and simulation games.
- Tales of Science: Summaries of the key discoveries of about a dozen important biologists.
- How the Coronavirus Infects Cells (from Nature)
- Dissecting the Unusual Biology of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant
- A Visual Guide to SARS-CoV-2 (Scientific American)
- How the Coronavirus Hijacks Your Cells (NY Times)
- Moderna’s mRNA vaccine in The Conversation
- Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine in Massive Science
- How the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine works (NY times)
- The Plague Year: Lawrence Wright’s history of the COVID-19 pandemic in the New Yorker
- The Pandemic, from the Viruses Point of View, by David Quammen
- An Evolutionary Biologist Looks at SARS-CoV-2 (Youtube video, USCF Grand Rounds).