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Vik

What are some good introductory texts for biology?

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Vik    8

Specifically I'm looking for books that follow hierarchical order better than any others and aids the reader in organizing material conceptually.

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I'm not really an expert in biology. The focus of my studies, at the college level, are mathematics and biology, however, so I have had introductory courses and I do do a lot of studying on my own. I do feel well qualified enough to give a decent answer to this. 

 

It largely depends on the topic of biology that you're interested in. Like most fields of science, biology is a heavily diversified field - there's a variety of subfields, and a broad knowledge of biology may not guarantee you enough knowledge in any one subfield to give an educated opinion on something in that field. That said, there's a number of broad sections of biology which are good to know about: general taxonomy [e.g. what the high level domains and kingdoms are], general cell structure and microbiology, basic biochemistry, basic ecological principles, general plant and animal systems, basic genetics and evolutionary principles. 

 

For these things, the best introduction you're going to get is going to be from a college level textbook. I've been exposed to several of them, and I would honestly recommend the textbook that I've had the most occasion to use - Campbell Biology, Ninth Edition. You can probably get earlier editions and be just fine, however, remember that even on the most basic levels, our biological knowledge is always evolving: for example, as of right now, the Kingdom Protista is undergoing some pretty major taxonomic changes, and may potentially be split into a number of separate kingdoms. We're still discovering new structures in the cell and new functions of previously known structures in the cell as well. So getting an up to date book may be very beneficial in terms of how current your knowledge is. 

 

For more specific knowledge, there are a number of domain specific books that offer good introductions. Botany for Gardeners, Third Edition, by Brian Capon is the most widely recommended book on botany - it goes pretty in-depth but assumes only a layman's knowledge of science. The college textbook Raven Biology of Plants is also widely recommended. I've always heard The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins recommended as a good read on evolution and natural selection - though, again, there's a solid introduction to that in pretty much any good college level biology textbook.  The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin is, of course, a good read on evolution, and most people who read it are surprised at it's accessibility and depth of coverage, as it was written to be readable by people who aren't biologists. Carl Zimmer has a number of good books on biology, including several on microbiology - A Planet of Viruses has a lot of information about, well, viruses. One book I've heard widely recommended on microorganisms and health is Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World by Jessica Sachs.Just googling a little finds The Naming of Names by Anna Pavord, an apparently well rated book about the origins of taxonomy. Isaac Asimov also wrote a good historical introduction to biology, titled A Short History of Biology, so if you like Asimov, which you should, you may like that. 

 

Again, though, I really think you'd be best off just getting a college level textbook on biology. Most such books are very heavily invested in making sure you can understand the ideas conceptually. Thankfully, a lot of biology at the most basic levels is process based - understanding the basics of biochemistry and microbiology is largely just getting a conceptual understanding of a number of processes, such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration (and their respective subprocesses, such as, for example, the Calvin cycle, the Citric acid cycle, et cetera). Biology is also one field where having access to good illustrations can be incredibly useful in understanding what's going on.

 

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