I'm a maths major and I have an interest in learning biology. I know very, very little; I know how babies are made and that's about it. Could anyone recommend a stimulating text to read for its own sake and also to use to learn biology?

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    $\begingroup$ What aspect of biology do you wish to learn? (Human biology, plant biology or Zoology? I'm guessing you are interested in human biology from your e-mail). For example are you looking to explore mathematical applications within biology?-e.g. mathematical biology or you just want to study biology in your leisure. $\endgroup$
    – John_dydx
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ I'm being deliberately vague here; I just want very basic biology and not specific at all. I am deliberately NOT looking for a mathematical perspective, however I would like a generally insightful and interesting view on the topic. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ I think Helena Curtis Biology is a quite interesting book. It was written many years ago and so does not involve really recent research but it is really insightful. Another book I would recommend is Campbell - it is both recently written and thought provoking. You should also read magazines like Scientific American to get insight into latest happenings. $\endgroup$
    – biogirl
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 12:42

5 Answers 5


I found the Campbell Biology textbook to be quite comprehensive and approachable. I think many introductory biology courses use it.


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    $\begingroup$ Yes. This one. By the time I graduated, I think I had 4 editions. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2015 at 4:31

There are tons of books and it is quite hard to find one that gives such a broad overview. Campbell Biology is a book that basically covered the first year of my Bachelor degree in biology. I am not sure it would be very stimulating though! If there is a specific branch of biology that interests you, let us know we'll be able to give you a better advice.

As a math Major you might enjoy some fields of biology that are highly mathematized. For example, system biology or theoretical evolutionary biology. For the latter, you might like to read Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life book from Martin Nowak. But I am afraid it might not be a nice idea to directly jump into some specific subject before having a good overview of the life sciences.

Otherwise you might appreciate some books of popular (but good level) science such as the Extended Phenotype from Richard Dawkins. This book is very stimulating and I think it starts with some basic definitions of biological concepts such those of "alleles" or "phenotype".

I gave you two examples of books from the field of theoretical evolutionary biology. For more recommendations in this field, please have a look at Books on population or evolutionary genetics?.

Hope this helps a bit!

  • $\begingroup$ Could you list the book title that you linked to? The link is now dead but I'd be interested in checking out the book. $\endgroup$
    – Addem
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Addem Thanks for highlighting my broken links. It was a link for the Campbell. The same one as suggested in xuanji's answer. See edit. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 22:18

You should check out Richard Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

It does focus heavily on evolution but it is an amazing book on biology in general. He covers a wide rage of other topics, from how birds flock so elegantly to dating fossils using dendrochronology. The chapter on embryology is fascinating.


@xuanji offers a good choice with Campbell Biology if you want a text solid biology textbook. I've got a copy in my library. I would suggest buying a previous edition if you're trying to save money. However, the book could be a bit dry. Reading semi-popular books on topics you are interested about would probably be better approach.

Both @ebrohman and @Remi.b provide good suggestions with Dawkins. I also like Ernst Mayr's What is evolution on the topic of evolution.

For ecology, check out books by E.O. Wilson or Jared Diamond.

If you want to learn more about environmental toxicology, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is a good book to start off with.

If you're looking for a mathematical biology book, Linda Allen has two biomath text books, one on deterministic models the other on stochastic models. Murry's also produced some classical mathematical biology books. Most people would consider these books dry, but as a mathematician, you might like them.

James Watson can be controversial but he's written some interesting books. His Double Helix is a good read.

If you provide what specific type of biology and mathematics you are interested in, I will provide more suggestions.


The Bible of biology is the Alberts' Molecular Biology of the Cell:


The Campbell is also pretty good and maybe easier to read..

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    $\begingroup$ Campell would provide a better overview if the OP wants to learn about more than molecular biology. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 15:38

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