"When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
One fancies a heart like our own must be beating
in every crystal and cell...
(John Muir, from My First Summer in the Sierra, 1869
Boaz, Noel (1997). Ecohomo. Basic Books, New York, NY.
My personal favorite treatment of the evolution of humankind. Boaz divides human advances into logical steps, then examines multiple theories to explain each. It's so unbiased it's impressive, yet doesn't read like a thesis.
Darwin, Charles (1859). The Origin of Species
(Choose from a variety of publishers.)
Somewhat difficult reading due to its Victorian phraseology, but worth it for Darwin's review of his own meticulous experimentation and comparison of natural and domestic variation. Includes detailed definitions of terminology. Much of Darwin's "theorizing" here is based on direct observation of experimental results. If you've only read Darwin in citation, reading this will do a lot to explain why even today he is held in such high regard by many in the scientific world.
Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
A modern theory to explain the mechanics of evolution. Dawkins lays out his theory, which he was aware would cause controversy, meticulously. If you get an updated version like the one cited here, Dawkins provides rebuttals to many of the arguments in notations to the text.
Dawkins, Richard (1982). The Extended Phenotype. Oxford University Press.
The Selfish Gene theory expanded. Much more detailed, assumes some knowledge of biology, basic genetics and reproduction. Read "The Selfish Gene" first; then, if it grabs you, go on to this book. You'll be amazed at the reach of the gene.
Dawkins, Richard (1996). Climbing Mount Improbable. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.
Dawkins deals with the evolution of seemingly improbable adaptations such as eyes and wings. He also discusses computer biomorphs, computerized simulations of evolutionary changes through time.
Diamond, Jared (1992). The Third Chimpanzee: the Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. Harper/Collins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY.
Non-technical treatment of everything from the evolution of human sexuality to extraterrestrials. It doesn't cover the mechanics of evolutionary theory in much detail, but sketches the possibilities in easily readable format. Other writers in this genre include Stephen Jay Gould and Ian Tattersall. (Note: if you read all of these, you'll find that they don't necessarily agree with each other!)
Gould, Stephen Jay (1981, 1996).The Mismeasure of Man. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, NY.
Gould refutes evolutionary theories regarding intelligence that suggest that intelligence is unalterable and based entirely on genetics, with little emphasis on environment.
Quammen, David (1996). The Song of the Dodo:Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. Touchstone, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY.
Islands, according to Quammen, make perfect laboratories for the study of evolution and biodiversity. Many of them have fairly well-documented origins, sequences of population and depopulation of species, and the records of the beginnings of human population. Quammen tends to ramble, approaching his subjects circuitously, digressing into species lists and biographical sketches. He spends nearly an eighth of the book on a travelogue of Alfred Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin. Although you'll have a thorough overview of biogeography by the end, don't pick this up without background. Try Wilson, Gould, Dawkins first to establish a baseline.
Wilson, E.O. (1992).The Diversity of Life. Harvard University Press, Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY.
The archetypal ant biologist presents some seldom-realized biological facts. Wilson particularly tests the questions: why does biodiversity occur? and how do species occur?
Nature and Environmental Philosophy
"So again it is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature;
but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of
many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as
ascertained by us."
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Darlington, David (1996 ). The Mojave: A Portrait of the Definitive American Desert. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York, NY.
Each chapter addresses a different topic, ranging from cattle grazing to water rights, from Joshua Tree ecology to nuclear testing. Written in the style of John McPhee, incorporating interviews with experts in whichever field is at hand, with a natural, conversational flow. A good sprinkling of biology/botany, a lot of history. Though Darlington allows his interviewees to speak in their own voices, a personal environmental philosophy begins to become apparent by the second chapter.
McPhee, John (1981). Basin and Range. The Noonday Press, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, NY.
The geology of the basin and range province of the U.S., presented in the form of conversations and travelogue with a geology professor. Includes the history of the geologic time scale, plus more recent history of the settlement of the west. If you want to get excited about landforms, read McPhee.
McPhee, John (1971). Encounters with the Archdruid. The Noonday Press, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, NY.
A series of conversations and travelogues with a diverse set of individuals, including David Brower (conservationist), Charles Fraser (resort developer), Floyd Dominy (dam architect), and Charles Park (mineral engineer), and their encounters with each other as well as with McPhee (as chronicler). McPhee very carefully allows those he interviews to speak in their own voices and present their own views. He doesn't interject his own opinions (as does, for example, David Darlington). You are left with an understanding of the issues in nuances of gray.
Muir, John (1912). The Yosemite. Yolla Bolly Press, in association with The Sierra Club, 730 Polk Street, Oakland, CA.
John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and devoted much of his energy to working for preservation of the Sierra Nevadas. His writings in general highlight his philosophies of the creation of the earth and its lifeforms. Other notable works by Muir: John of the Mountains, published in 1938; My First Summer in the Sierra, published in 1911; Stickeen, which is about his travels with his dog; and Studies in the Sierra, published posthumously in 1950 (Muir died in 1914, so anything past that date is a posthumous publication).
Evolution and Biodiversity