We’ve put together a list of possible reading and listening if you want to keep yourself going during the COVID-19 lockdown, or if you just want to get a better view of biology in the run up to starting your degree. These are books, podcasts and newspaper and magazine resources that we think are interesting and engaging, and which we would hope you’ll find the same. Please note that there is no obligation to read or to listen to any of these — there won’t be a test at the start of term — but if you have time and the inclination then please jump in. We’ve tried to put something in for everyone, so whether you’re interested in whole-organism biology, genetics, physiology or biomedicine you should find something of interest here.
A short list of interesting, relevant and engaging popular science books. There are many more excellent books out there but these are some which we think are especially good or important.
You’ve all heard of endorphins, the body’s own natural morphine: here Jeff Goldberg describes the riveting story of how they were discovered and how drug companies tried to cash in on them.
What are hormones, what do they do and how can we try to control them? A recommended read for anyone with an interest in endocrinology
In "Bad Science" Ben Goldacre skewers the alternative medicine trade and reveals its hollowness. In his other book, "Bad Pharma", he turns his eye on the pharmaceuticals industry and lambasts "Big Pharma" for its dishonesty and attempts to conceal the truth.
A terrific read by science journalist Ed Yong on how humans and other animals function not as single organisms but as entire ecosystems of symbiotic microorganisms.
How can studying the neurons in the lobster’s stomach tell us about neuroscience? A fantastic study of a dedicated scientist at work.
Life Ascending covers ten of the most important innovations in the history of life, from photosynthesis to sex to consciousness. Lane’s other books include Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life which tells the story of endosymbiosis and how important our "cellular batteries" are.
Carl Zimmer is one of the best writers currently working in the field of evolution and this is a great read on genetics and heredity. Also consider his book Parasite Rex, an eye-opening (and eye-watering) read on the world of parasites.
Before Richard Dawkins became a professional atheist and contrarian, he wrote some of the best books ever on evolution, drawing on the work of scientists like the late Bill Hamilton to explain the "gene-centred" view of evolution. These books are a little old now but are still very relevant and should be regarded as essential reading for anyone trying to understand biology, evolution and genetics.
The story of how a chance discovery in 1959 changed cancer research forever, and how the “Philadelphia Chromosome” was eventually found to be the sole cause of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, finally leading to a lifesaving treatment.
Erica McAlister is the Natural History Museum’s curator of Diptera (the true flies) and here she takes us on a fascinating and humorous tour through this incredible and hyper-diverse group of animals, featuring jaw-dropping sex lives, fearsome predators, grotesque parasites and, of course, the occasional pile of poo.
You all know that we evolved from fish, but do you know how much of our current biology is a consequence of that? Neil Shubin's book runs through palaeontology and developmental biology to show just how much of what we think is optimally evolved is really contingent on the biology of our long-ago ancestors. NB Shubin has just published another book, “Some Assembly Required” on the important transitions in the history of life. If it’s half as good as Your Inner Fish it’ll be great.
There are some excellent science podcasts available online. Here are some of the best.
A slightly different thing to think about but something that might be worth your time. Citizen science is a collective term for projects that engage professional scientists and non-specialists in the gathering and evaluating of data. The field of citizen science is exploding and offers not only a great way to engage the general public in science literacy through primary research, but also an avenue to engage you as future scientists in meaningful community research experiences. These projects can incorporate tracking animal and plant species, astronomy, climatology, genetics or analysing camera trap footage. Many of these projects are exclusively online and you can get involved during the current lockdown.
Two main websites to go to: