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June 26, 2003

Good introductory textbooks

Recently, I've been reading good introductory textbooks on major fields. I just finished a book on population genetics that several people have independently recommended to me (and read it several times). It really clarified my thinking and it was pretty accessible. I think that most intelligent people could get a lot out of reading introductory texts because even if they don't familiarize themselves with the details, they will understand the broad outlines and not be intimidated by terminology.

So here are my contributions:

Population genetics - Principles of Population Genetics by Daniel Hartl & Andrew Clark.
Biochemistry - Biochemistry by Voet & Voet.
Programming - Learning Perl by Schwartz (please no religious diatribes because of this suggestion).

I'm curious about philosophy, economics, linguistics, psychology and statistics introductory texts for my next subject areas of inquiry. Also, any other fields of course. Please post suggestions in the comments box.

There is a lot of specialized knowledge out there-but I don't think reading introductory texts is out of reach for most people.

Posted by razib at 10:33 PM

A few suggestions, including some for fields you didn't specify. I hope these aren't too infantile for you, as you seem to think at a fairly high level.

General Chemistry-
Principles of Modern Chemistry by Oxtoby and Nachtrieb

Immunobiology by Charles Janeway (recently deceased)

Hartl and Jones wasn't bad, but it was most appropriate for my course because Hartl taught it. There's also Hartl's Essential Genetics, a shorter version.

Microeconomics -
1)Mankiw - basic intro text
2)Microeconomic Theory: Basic Principles and Extensions by Walter Nicholson. This is an intermediate-level text requiring knowledge of multivariable calculus
3)Game Theory with Economic Applications by Bierman and Fernandez

Organic Chemistry-

Moore and McCabe is a very, very basic intro text.

Posted by: anon at June 26, 2003 11:31 PM

Arthur Holmes's 'Principles of Physical Geology' is one of the most interesting books I ever read.

Begon, Harper and Townsend's 'Ecology' is also very good.

I have never yet found a good introduction to statistics - they are all either too advanced or too babyish. Bulmer's 'Principles of Statistics' started well, but my eyes glazed over when he got onto moment-generating-functions!

Posted by: David B at June 27, 2003 06:10 AM

i can second principles of modern chemistry. was pretty intro.

Posted by: razib at June 27, 2003 06:14 AM


By failing to list Andrew Clark as a co-author, your post leaves a certain ambiguity - it is unclear whether it was Hartl and Clark's "Principles of Population Genetics" you read, or just Hartl's "A Primer of Population Genetics".

I expect it was the former, as reading the latter hardly counts as an impressive achievement.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite at June 27, 2003 09:56 AM

As far as I know, there's no introductory textbook of philosophy. I would recommend Stephen Toulmin's "Cosmopolis" and Rorty's "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature", however. They will convince you not to waste your time with analytic philsophy. Toulmin's is an extraordinarily good book.

Posted by: zizka at June 27, 2003 11:04 AM

i added andrew clark-i don't think hartl & clark's work is "impressive" in terms of being too technical to read. if you've never read pop genetics before i assume that 3-4 read-throughs would allow you internalize most of the general principles.... (to be fair, i had some undergraduate population genetics background-so i didn't come into as a neophyte)

Posted by: razib at June 27, 2003 11:29 AM

re economics - agree with the Mankiw, also Stiglitz. but also see Hal Varian's intermediate, very first principle algebra approach and quite good. But do also read economic classics like Marshall's Principles which is available online

for philosophy see Scruton's Modern Philosophy.

Posted by: Jason Soon at June 27, 2003 03:38 PM

For programming I'd suggest How to Design Programs. Full html text for free at that URL, dead tree by MIT Press linked to from there too.

It's written for non-programmers, and uses Scheme as it's programming language. It's a gentler intro to programming in general that Learning Perl, and has more foundational theory to boot, from a practical perspective (WHY would you do things in a certain way, etc. A nice grounding in abstractions as actually applied).

Posted by: David Mercer at June 27, 2003 05:01 PM

For Discrete Math I'd recomment Rosen,
Katsuhiko Ogata for Control Systems,
George Stephanopoulos for Chemical Process Control, Oppenheim and Willsky for Signals and Systems & Millman and Halkius for Electronic Circuits.

There's also the sublime compendium of a whole range of Math problems from the elementary to the Olympiad level titled "Selected Problems and Theorems in Elementary
Mathematics" written by Shklyarsky, Chentsov and Yaglom.

Posted by: king kong at June 28, 2003 12:19 AM