Five Must-Read Popular Evolution Books of 2020

By Nicole Barbaro


Every year is filled with many wonderful books, often more than we can manage to read. But each year there are stand-out books that focus on key topics of interest to those fascinated with the application of evolutionary theory to understanding human – and animal – behavior. In 2020, HBES re-vamped their regular newsletter to share and promote evolutionary research in the social sciences. Part of this initiative includes promoting popular books authored by evolutionary scientists and evolutionary science writers. It became even more important this year given that normal routes of promotion were cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.

It’s with great gratitude to these authors that we share and promote excellence in evolutionary writing. Below are five must-read evolution books of 2020, picked by HBES Communications Officer, Nicole Barbaro.



The Kindness of Strangers: How a Selfish Ape Invented A New Moral Code

By Michael E. McCullough

In The Kindness of Strangers, Michael McCullough manages to write about the evolutionary science of cooperation in a remarkably refreshing way that even the most senior of evolutionary scientists will surely enjoy. After the state of the science is laid out, McCullough transitions to showcasing the ways in which humanity has accelerated kindness in the modern era to the generous culture we inhabit today. With cooperation being such a hot topic this year, The Kindness of Strangers truly excelled and is the one to read.


The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer

By Athena Aktipis

In an epic crossover between evolutionary psychology and cancer biology, Athena Aktipis elucidates a fresh new view of cancer evolution within the body. With her engaging nature on complex science topics, Aktipis has truly written a classic on cancer evolution. A true interdisciplinary book, The Cheating Cell provides new approaches to an endemic disease that can only be illuminated by blurring the boundaries of disciplines.


The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

By Joseph Henrich

2020 has been an incredibly weird year overall, but it has been particularly WEIRD for HBES. A decade ago Joseph Henrich and colleagues brought attention to WEIRDness in psychology, and in 2020 HBES has revisited WEIRD problems in a special issue of Evolution and Human Behavior published in September, followed by a Roundtable Seminar event on the topic. In his book length theory, The WEIRDest People in the World, Henrich details what WEIRD is, why it matters, and how it came to be, highlighting how truly WEIRD the west is. This tour-de-force of a book is a must read for psychologists in any discipline.


The Slow Moon Climbs: The Science, History, and Meaning of Menopause

By Susan P. Mattern

Okay, so technically this one came out in late 2019 but rules have gone out the window this year and I feel that this book deserves more recognition. The Slow Moon Climbs is a beautiful and expertly written review of the science of menopause, detailing all the competing evolutionary theories of why women experience menopause. Using comparative and anthropological evidence, Mattern also covers the social and cultural history of menopause and how the west might be a bit – shall I say – weird about how menopause is viewed socially as compared to traditional societies.


The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think

By Jennifer Ackerman

Birds are a quintessential example of the power of evolution to shape extraordinary features, whimsical design, and astonishing colors. In The Bird Way, Jennifer Ackerman devotes full sections to each of the remarkable aspects of bird life – communication, work, play, parenting, and cognition. With vivid and diverse examples, The Bird Way will remind you why birds continue to capture our imagination and scientific interest.



Happy reading! I’m looking forward to the reading joys that 2021 will bring.




If you’re an author who has an evolutionary-focused book being published in 2021, please contact our Communications Officer Nicole Barbaro for consideration of book promotion via our newsletters and social media. We cannot guarantee that we will promote your book, but we guarantee that we will consider it.