You could fill libraries with books that focus solely on our oceans and the life within them – indeed I have visited such libraries. But whether you are studying marine biology or just have a keen interest, which books should you read that are both pleasurable and informative? Below, I’ve tried to pick out some of my favourite books (in no particular order) that I have read over the years to get you started.
Links to all books on Amazon can be found below the images. This is not an exhaustive list so if you think I have missed any great marine biology reads then please comment at the bottom of the page. Happy reading!
1. The Unnatural History of the Sea – Prof. Calum Roberts
Beautifully written by Professor Calum Roberts of Exeter University, this book eloquently examines the errors of our fishing past and hints at a scary future that lies ahead if we don’t change our ways. A truly inspiring read but one that is a little chilling…
2. Do fish feel pain? – Prof. Victoria Braithwaite
A slightly unusual book in this list but one which I have included because of its incredible scientific clarity. Prof. Braithwaite takes us through her own research on pain reception in fish by clearly describing her own experimental work. In doing so she not only sets out a clear standard by which all other science should measure itself but tackles a contentious issue that has serious moral implications. Do fish feel pain? Read this and judge for yourself.
3. Mapping the Deep – Robert Kunzig
This book was my first set reading when I started my Marine Biology undergraduate degree and what a perfect choice by my lecturers. So well written that I read it in a single sitting. Within this book Robert Kunzig explores what we think we know about our oceans and then takes us on a rollercoaster journey through the history of ocean exploration. A great text to set the scene for a career in marine science.
4. The secret life of sharks – Dr. Peter Klimley
Part memoir and part reference this book explores shark behaviour through the eyes of Dr Peter Klimley in a truly fascinating but highly entertaining fashion. With hilarious anecdotes taken from his own postgraduate days to his later research, this book makes a complex subject (animal behaviour) easily accessible for the lay reader. If you love sharks then this book is certainly one for you.
5. The end of the line – Charles Clover
Another examination of our fishing industry and its future. Not quite as eloquent as ‘The Unnatural History of the Sea’ and a little more doomsday but a good read nevertheless.
6. Spirals in Time – Dr. Helen Scales
For anyone that has marvelled at their myriad of forms on a seashore or admired their beauty as an item of jewellery. Spirals in time examines the history of human interaction with seashells as well as the fascinating creatures that make them. A wonderfully written book that is sure to be enjoyed.
7. Vanished Ocean: How Tethys Reshaped the World – Prof. Dorrik Stow
Another oddity in this list but one that I hope you will agree is deservedly here. Within its pages Prof. Stow lays bare the transitions and events that shaped a now all but forgotten ocean – Tethys. This ocean had a profound impact on the world we inhabit today as well as much of the life we see in the oceans. A fascinating reminder that the marine realm we study and enjoy is forever changing.
8. Sex in the Sea – Dr. Marah Hardt
Beyond its tongue in cheek title this book delves deep into the surprising reproductive habits of marine creatures. By subtly weaving in deeper lessons on overfishing, climate change and pollution this entertaining read is a great force for good in the marine biologists library. Enjoy and try not to blush!
9. The Empty Ocean – Richard Ellis
This haunting read will likely leave you feeling ashamed of our past and fearful for the future. Richard Ellis examines our exploitation of the oceans one charismatic animal at a time. Beautifully written and illustrated with the author’s own drawings this book is a wake up call for those of us who thought our impact on the seas was minimal.
10. Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world – Mark Kurlansky
Another fishing book in the list but this time examining only a single species – Cod. Cod is a riveting read and considerably eye-opening. From battles at sea to political muscle flexing this fish has had quite an impact on our civilization. Prepare for your Friday night ‘fish and chips’ to never be quite the same again.
11. Neptune’s Ark – David Rains Wallace
In a wonderful narrative that both entertains and informs Neptune’s Ark charts out the evolution of charismatic marine species along the West coast of North America. Intertwined with stories of the humans who discovered or studied them, this book feels a bit like an adventure in itself.
12. Voyage of the turtle: In pursuit of the Earth’s last dinosaur – Prof. Carl Safina
Prof. Safina is known for his excellent writing and this book doesn’t disappoint. By introducing the scientists who study the Leatherback Turtle in the Pacific we learn about this magnificent but elusive animal in a fascinating and entertaining manner.
13. Reflections on a Summer Sea – Prof. Trevor Norton
Charting a lifetime of work studying the marine life of Ireland’s sea loughs, this book is full of hilarious anecdotes and fascinating creatures. An account of true passion for a subject that is sure to ring bells in any marine biologist. This is a truly wonderful book and is highly recommended.
14. A Fascination for Fish – David C. Powell
Who has not visited an aquarium and wondered just how they put together such magnificent displays? In this memoir, looking back over a lifetime of work including as curator of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, David Powell entertains us with stories of fish on planes, handling White Sharks and much else.
15. Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World – Todd McLeish
This very well researched book that almost feels like travel writing as we follow the author around the Arctic meeting different people whom interact with Narwhals. With subtle warnings of the dangers of a rapidly changing world this book is both fascinating and meaningful.
16. The Billfish Story – Prof. Stan Ulanski
In a truly well rounded approach, Prof. Ulanski introduces us to the amazing world of billfishes with delightful insight. A tale told from many perspectives, the book is convincing in its argument that billfish have a unique significance in human culture.
17. A Life Underwater – Dr. Charlie Veron
Another memoir but this time by one of the worlds most accomplished coral reef scientists. This one makes the list for its important messages on academia and the need for scientists to have intellectual freedom. Full of entertaining anecdotes and incredible information that could only come from a lifetime of study.
18. The Seabird’s Cry – Adam Nicolson
People often forget that many birds fall under the remit of a Marine Biologist but this book reminds you with vigour. In examination of seabirds from across the globe the author highlights their growing plight and their staggering fall in numbers. Beautifully written and full of warning for our future.
19. Flotsametrics and the floating world – Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer & Eric Scigliano
Oceanography affects every aspect of marine biology but is so often loathed by marine biology undergraduate students so I’ve included Flotsametrics in this list. This book entertainingly explains our understanding of oceanography in an easy to understand manner through Dr Ebbesmeyer’s study of rubber ducks and other floating debris.
20. Feral – George Monbiot
Not technically a marine biology book but I’ve included this on the list for a very good reason. I’ve never read such a good description of the concept of ‘shifting baselines’ as Feral and I think it holds important messages for those of us working in marine conservation – should we be working to preserve the oceans in their current state or should we be aiming for something just a bit bolder?
As I said at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive list and there are many other great books out there, including some classics and others by authors already on the list, that I have purposefully left out. However, if you think there is a key read missing from this list then please do get in touch and let me know.
Now to find a cup of tea, a nice quiet spot to sit and my next book….