High School Biology: Extended Reading

I think there is a great deal of value in reading books about science that aren’t textbooks.  That’s not to say I think students shouldn’t read textbooks… it’s just that good non-textbooks give completely different, and very valuable, exposure to scientific ideas.  For this reason, I have my high school biology students read a science book written for a popular audience.  This has consistently proven to be one of the most meaningful assignments that I give.  Below is a copy of the book list and assignment description that I gave to my high school biology students last year.

Note that my high school biology classes had low numbers of students last year.  With a larger class size, I’d structure the assignment a bit differently.

High School Biology Book List

I will expect everyone to read one of these books and give a 10 minute oral presentation on it this coming year. These books are very varied- the content, tone, and difficulty level of the books range enormously. There should be something here that will interest everyone, but it is also likely that most people would not like all of these books. (Or maybe that’s not true. I’ve read and enjoyed all of them.) With that in mind, I encourage you to read reviews of as many of these books as possible.

During the second week of class, I will ask each of you to give me a list of at least three books that you would like to read and three days when you would like to do your presentation. I will then take those lists and assign everyone a book and an oral presentation date. (I will make sure that everyone reads a different book and presents on a different day.)

We are fortunate to live in a golden age of science writing! There are an astonishing number of fabulous books that delve deeply into scientific stories available. Reading these books is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of how science actually works and what it is like to be a scientist. I hope that you enjoy reading the book required for this class so much that you elect to read many more of the books on this list.


Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
By Irene Pepperburg

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
By David Epstein

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
By Mary Roach

The Microbe Hunters
By Paul de Kruif

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
By Neil Shubin

The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture
By Matt Ridley

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
By Steven Johnson

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants
By Ruth Kassinger

Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
By Bernd Heinrich

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock
By Evelyn Fox Keller

What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses
By Daniel Chamovitz

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues
By Martin J. Blaser

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science
By Natalie Angier

A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life among the Baboons
Robert M. Sapolsky

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
By Atul Gawande

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Siddhartha Mukherjee

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe
By Jane Goodall

Charles Darwin and the Mystery of Mysteries
By Niles Eldredge and Susan Pearson


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