Beginning Conbiology

From Sedes Draconis

Jump to: navigation, search

This is a recommended reading list for people wanting to get started on ConBiology, drawn from my own library and past reading. I believe that for getting started on ConBiology, there is no substitute to wide reading in past and present ecology and evolution. This will build your intuitions.

Resources marked with stars (*) are the "short list": my opinion of the best resources to start with and/or the resources to go for if you're limited in time/energy for research.



Dickinson, Terrence and Schaller, Adolf. Extraterrestrials: A Field Guide for Earthlings*. 1994.
A short, simple book intended for a broad audience, but good stuff. In terms of time-investment to pay-off, probably one of the best places to start. Particularly good coverage of the range of (more or less) Earth-like planets, and sensory apparati. And beautifully illustrated by Adolf Schaller.

Take pages 26-33 with a grain of salt, though. Especially when it's talking about the inevitability of the evolution of increased intelligence. "Inevitable result of evolution", ick. But after that and on, there's some really good stuff.

Bylinsky, Gene. Life in Darwin's Universe*. 1981.
Long out of print, and a bit out of date, but an excellent introductory work to speculative biology. He's got a couple of assumptions that I think are faulty, but on the whole a solid, accessible book. Also touches on Deep History and Biogeography.

Schimdt, Stanley. Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writer's Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life-Forms*. 1995.
I can't actually remember too much about this book at the moment, and my copy has been on loan for a long time, and it's been even longer since I read it. But Schmidt knows his stuff, and it's precisely on topic, I'm sure it'd be useful.

Jenkins, Susan and Robert. The Biology of Star Trek. 1999.
Likewise it's been a long time since I read this one. But I remember being pleasantly suprised. For the Trek-fan, this book offers extra grounding and points of reference for discussing xenobiology. Good stuff, if I recall correctly: a reconstruction of the evolutionary forces that shaped Ferengis, and the neurochemistry of synthahol.

Pickover, Clifford. The Science of Aliens. 1999.

Darling, David. Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology. 2002.
I have not yet read this book. But it's table of contents look promising. It's high on my list to read.

Deep History of Life

Attenborough, David. Life on Earth*. 1979.
A truly excellent introduction to the evolutionary story. Solid info across the board, including excellent stuff on oft-ignored groups like invertebrates and plants. It's few flaws mainly revolve around being hopelessly out of date regarding dinosaurs, and its horrid 70's special effects (luckily rarely used).
It's probably prohibitively difficult to find a copy to purchase at this point, but Attenborough is well-known enough that it should be in many public libraries. Also, the companion book shows up in used book stashes, I've ended up with two copies for $1, total. Update: "Life on Earth" has been re-released on DVD, along with most of Attenborough's other classic series.

Gould, Stephen Jay (ed.). The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth*. 1996.

Fortey, Robert. Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. 1998.

More Recent History of Life

The Mesozoic

The Mesozoic is, I think, an indispensable study for ConBio'ists. It's the major, advanced alien world that we have relatively comprehensive information on.

BBC Video. Walking with Dinosaurs*. 2000.
Part of the revolution in computer graphics, and really good presentation of the Mesozoic world, besides.

Colagrande, John, et al. In the Presence of Dinosaurs. 2000.
A similar piece to Walking with Dinosaurs, it fills in several gaps left by the former work, such as the lack of sufficient attention to hadrosaurs. And another gorgeous book.

The Cenozoic

BBC Video. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. 2001
Make sure you watch the BBC version, not the Discovery Channel version, the Americanization of the narration was truly horrible. The early and mid stuff of this series is excellent: Leptictidium, Diatryma, Ambulocetus, wonderful animals, these. The later stuff, mostly focused on hominids and saber-toothed tigers, is somewhat boring.

Flannery, Tim. The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples*. 2001.
From the KT Event to the modern day, it's been interesting times here in NA, these past 65 million years, and this is a well-told account of them.

Flannery, Tim. The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and Peoples. 1994.
Covers more than just the Cenozoic, but I'm adding it here with Flannery's other book, which is easier to classify. Flannery does an excellent job of telling the story of North America. But, Australia, well. No-one knows Australia quite like Flannery. Awesome implications across huge swathes of time, in this book.

Martin, Paul. Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America. 2005.
Paul Martin is perhaps the leading expert on the Pleistocene extinctions in North America, and he presents in this book a powerful argument for them being anthropogenic. Useful for its images of pre-human North America, and its insight into the interaction of sentient hunters and naive prey.


Zimmer, Carl. At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs*. 1999.
The classic popular work on macroevolution. An excellent discussion of how an animal lineage progresses through a major change. And a must for anyone who wants to understand whales.


Already mentioned, Life in Darwin's Universe and Flannery's books have excellent discussions of biogeographical principles.

Attenborough, David. The Living Planet. 1984.
A wonderful, informative world tour. Just re-released on DVD, so it should be relatively easy to find a copy to rent or buy.

Quammen, David. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. 1997.
A damn good book for anyone to read. Definitely useful to the ConBio'ist. And hilarious and moving prose from the master biology journalist.

Morris, Patrick, et al. Wild Africa. 2001.

Bateman, David. Wild Asia. 2000.

Both of these were originally video mini-series apparently, I only know them in book form. Beautiful photographic tours of the continents. The info is mostly anecdotal, rather than systematic, so they'll be most useful after you've laid down a framework understanding.

Hominid Evolution

Tattersall, Ian. Extinct Humans. 2001.

Tattersall, Ian. The Last Neanderthal : The Rise, Success, and Mysterious Extinction of Our Closest Human Relatives. 1999.

Diamond, Jared. The Third Chimpanzee : The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. 1993.

Shreeve, James. The Neandertal Enigma. 1995.

Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca. The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. 1995.

Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca. Genes, Peoples, and Languages. 2001.
Cavalli-Sforza is one of the founders of genetic archaeology.

Future Evolution

Dixon, Dougal and Adams, John. The Future is Wild. 2002.
See my full review.

Encyclopedic References

Plamer, Douglas, et al. Simon & Schuster Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. 1999.
One of my most frequently referenced books, up there with my AHD4.

Whitfield, Philip, et al. The Simon & Schuster Encyclopedia of Animals. 1998.

The Animal Diversity Web

That should about get one started ;) If anybody wants to recommend books they've read, I'd love to hear about it:

Fiction to Emulate

Vinge, Vernor. A Fire Upon the Deep. 1992.
There's some fascinating universe-building in this book. Most interesting for the purposes at hand are the Tines, an extremely well constructed species of pack-intelligences. No mysticism here, they use perceivable sound to think among their members, with all kinds of fascinating implications, well worked-out.
But the greatest brilliance is in the presentation, the Tines are first introduced through their own perspective, and his use of language to bring you into the world-view without ever stopping to explain anything is masterful.
And we meet them on their homeworld, seeing glimpses of their evolutionary relatives and ecology. This is quite a rarity in novels, to my disappointment and their impoverishment.

Cherryh, C.J. Foreigner: A Novel of First Contact. 1994.
Good alien mind building. In particular it brings up some subtleties of contact, of two species that really want to like each other, but have emotional hard-wirings that don't match up, and the havoc that can result when the people you connect with have a different gut understanding of what's happening than you do.
Many of Cherryh's other books are worth looking into, as well; for similar or related insight.

Personal tools