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Pop Science/History like Botany of Desire?
January 9, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books about the history or evolution of different plants or animals? Overblown metaphor aside, I really liked Michael Pollan's 'The Botany of Desire' and would be interested in learning the history of other domesticated plants like roses or oranges. Or books on evolution that get into things like insects or whales.
posted by Caravantea to Science & Nature (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might like The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. It's not about just evolution, but there is a lot in there about coevolution between insects and orchids.
posted by richyoung at 9:15 AM on January 9, 2011


Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex is an entertaing look at various topics on the evolution of sex. Please do not be afraid or hesitant because of the title -- instead, the author presents the material as different animals / plants / microbes writing in to a sex advice columnist about their sex problems. The answers then go into the "why" of biology, such as why the tails of male (but not female) peacocks are ridiculously large.
posted by Peter Petridish at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011


I liked Seeds of Change by Henry Hobhouse.
posted by shothotbot at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011


Don't worry Peter, I also really loved Mary Roach's 'Bonk' so I'm not likely to be thrown off. I'll definitely check it out!
posted by Caravantea at 9:23 AM on January 9, 2011


A friend who is currently resisting the urge to join Metafilter (I have no idea why) wants me to pass on the following: "I'd recommend any of Richard Dawkins' earlier books (especially Climbing Mount Improbable and The Ancestor's Tale) - he includes lot of specific examples of evolutionary lineages, including some plants and cetaceans. And they're pretty well-written, too."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:30 AM on January 9, 2011


Check out Oranges by John McPhee.
posted by reren at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2011


Parasite Rex.
kinda creepy but also awesome.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tulip Fever and The Tulip.
posted by paduasoy at 9:35 AM on January 9, 2011


Oh, Leviathan, by Philip Hoare. About whales. A really great book. He did a television series too but I don't expect you will be able to get it if you are in the US.
posted by paduasoy at 9:37 AM on January 9, 2011


And I haven't read this, but there is also Cod
posted by paduasoy at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2011


Dawkins's Climbing Mount Improbable had an interesting chapter on the evolution of fig wasps, as well as a nice chapter on the evolution of the eye in various species.

E O Wilson's various books on ants are also very nice.
posted by painquale at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2011


Guns, Germs, and Steel has a lot of interesting stuff about the development of domesticated plants.
posted by Zed at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2011


Cod isn't really about the evolution or biology of cod, at all. It's about the contributions of cod to human culture, especially its use as a technology that allowed Europeans to travel further and colonize so much of the world.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on January 9, 2011


Can't beat a bit of Dawkins on this subject. Given the details of your question/request I'd say The Ancestor's Tale would be the way to go.
posted by Decani at 11:01 AM on January 9, 2011


Re Sara C.'s comment on Cod - OP, I thought when you said the history of a plant or animal you meant the ways in which that plant or animal had interacted with / been used by humans ... so if I've got it wrong and you are only interested in evolution, please ignore.
posted by paduasoy at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2011


Single subject nonfiction! One of my favorite categories of books.

I really enjoyed The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson and the aforementioned Cod.

You might also like Rising from the Plains or other books by John McPhee -- these are geology, but very well written and engaging.
posted by rosa at 12:53 PM on January 9, 2011


Thanks everyone for the recs, I have a lot of new stuff to check out!

Paduaso & Sara C. I think Cod would normally be right up my alley, but I'm still mentally scarred by all the stuff about Cod in 'Salt.' It just went on and on forever! I don't think I could do a whole book.
posted by Caravantea at 12:54 PM on January 9, 2011


Yeah, if the Cod stuff in Salt left you cold, I'd give Cod a pass. It was the cod passages in Salt that got me interested in reading Cod, and by the end I was ready to throw the book across the room.

If you're interested in the environmental impact of fisheries, though, it's interesting stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 1:03 PM on January 9, 2011


Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World sound like exactly the kind of book you're looking for.
posted by eiramazile at 1:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll second the recommendation of Oranges by McPhee. An excellent book that not enough people read.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:12 PM on January 9, 2011


Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World sound like exactly the kind of book you're looking for.

Written by a Metafilter member, in fact!
posted by painquale at 1:54 PM on January 9, 2011


The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen is a bit older (96) but was a pretty damned interesting read.
posted by Red Loop at 2:00 PM on January 9, 2011


If you want to get a little more broad in scope, go for Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. Does what it sez on the tin. It's also extremely readable, I couldn't put it down.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2011


I just got a May Berenbaum book for Christmas and I think several of her books would overlap with your interests.
posted by cnanderson at 7:29 PM on January 9, 2011


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