Biology for Dummies?
January 7, 2011 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a resource to help me get a better layman's understanding of natural biology.

"...students may leave an introductory biology course with the ability to recite the reactions in the Calvin cycle but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere, that plants photosynthesize but do not respire, or that the mass of a decomposing organism will primarily return to the soil." (via Slashdot)

I must admit to harboring such biological misconceptions. Anyone know of a good book for getting a correct layman's understanding of such things? I can handle some complexity but I'm not looking for a textbook with equations and formulas.
posted by Tubes to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A textbook without much math is Campbell's Biology, of which I still have fond memories from late High School. It's well-written and well-illustrated and covers a huge range of stuff, and could easily be used as a general reference. The international edition (Amazon UK) is even almost affordable.

(Campbell's has since been supplanted by Robbins' Pathology as best textbook ever. Probably not so great for the layman, though.)
posted by monocyte at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2011

Seconding Campbell's Biology. It's well-structured so you can read it at different levels - if you want more detail, it's there, but they do a good job of summarizing, too. There are a few equations, but only relating to genetics (Hardy-Weinberg) and ecology (population dynamics) - and you don't have to learn them at all to understand, maybe just notice what gets factored in. They do a great job of covering the basics, and the chapter summaries are great for getting an overview of the chapter content. They include a lot of great examples of real, historic experiments and how they were designed & analyzed.

There are lots of great videos too - the Planet Earth series is great for general ecology knowledge, and there are tons of similar documentaries that cover a lot of good stuff (including cell biology, animal evolution, etc). I'm not familiar with many popular resources that cover plant biology, but I'm sure they're out there.
posted by dialetheia at 3:33 PM on January 7, 2011

Guess what book I came to recommend?

Check out the CD of videos that comes with Campbell's too. The clear and easy to understand diagrams Campbell is famous for are animated.
posted by fontophilic at 5:11 PM on January 7, 2011

This might not help much but it is very pretty. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a great research going on, you could try making friends with a biologist? Most would love to talk your ear off, particularly after a beer or two.

Campbell's really is an excellent book for an introduction and if you find yourself wanting more then go for Freeman.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:30 PM on January 7, 2011

The Shape of Life is a great series if you can find it at a library (it's a bit spendy on Amazon). It's an 8-part series on animal origins and evolution, and I found it invaluable during that part of my biology sequence.
posted by dialetheia at 12:51 AM on January 8, 2011

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