Biology Reading List

As you may not have much time during term in Oxford for reading across the broad range of biology, we would rather you read some of the following popular books for fun rather than attempting to focus on the specific course texts we use in the first year of the degree. The books are generally about various aspects of evolutionary biology, an overarching theme of the degree and understanding of which will help you tie together the first year of teaching. They are in no particular order and don’t feel you have to read them all; start with the ones that look most interesting to you.

Carroll, S. (2005), Endless Forms Most Beautiful (an excellent introduction to the diversity of life and its genetic basis, from an eloquent writer on the subject)

Leroi, A. (2003), Mutants (an excellent introduction to genetics and the formation of the phenotype, illustrated with the extraordinary range of human mutations: it links together genes, cells and organismal form).

Darwin C. (1859), On the Origin of Species (needs no introduction! This is a long, dense read but of course a foundational text in the life sciences)

Holland, P. (2011), The Animal Kingdom: A very short introduction (this one is relatively close to the diversity of life strand of the first year course, or at least the zoological part of it, and provides an insightful yet accessible introduction to the diversity of animal life)

Dawkins, R. & Yang, W. (2004), The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (no Balliol Biology reading list is complete without a Dawkins. This one is a beautifully written journey through evolutionary history, from our own perspective as a species)

Coyne, J. (2009), Why Evolution is True, Oxford University Press (an authoritative account of the evolutionary process and its underlying evidential basis)

Davies, N. (2016), Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature, Bloomsbury (a lovely insight into animal behaviour)

Shubin, N. (2008Your Inner Fish, London: Penguin (this explores the evolutionary ancestry of vertebrates from an author who has combined expertise in palaeontology, genetics and embryo development)

Lane, N. (2002Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World, Oxford University Press (combines biochemistry, cell biology, physiology and evolution)

Course books

The first-year programme draws on a number of textbooks, but most are available in the College Library, so you don’t have to get your own copies. Some students find it more convenient to do so in the long run, but we do not recommend you do this before arrival.

R Coding Skills

Throughout your degree, coding skills will become more and more essential. In your first year, our aim is for you to develop familiarity with coding in the R Studio environment and basic data analysis. We’ll start off with basic data manipulation and presentation, then move onto more complex statistical analysis. Over the summer, you should aim to develop some basic familiarity with operating in R Studio, including downloading packages and basic syntax. We recommend you check out some of the tutorials offered by the Edinburgh Coding Club: https://​our​cod​ing​club​.github​.io/, specifically the tutorials in ‘R basics’, ‘Data manipulation’, and ‘Data visualisation’.

Seb Shimeld and Katrina Davis

July 2023