The 10 Best Biology Textbooks

Updated May 22, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best Biology Textbooks
Biology MindTap Course List 11th Edition
Human Biology 15th Edition
The Essentials 2nd Edition
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Studying the sciences can be challenging, but rewarding, as well, if you enhance your studies with the right materials, such as these informative biology textbooks. We've included editions specifically written for the education of high school students, undergraduates, and graduates pursuing a professional career in the field. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best biology textbook on Amazon.

10. The Core 2nd Edition

The Core 2nd Edition uses concise modules that focus on the most important concepts in the field without unnecessary information, making it easier for beginners to understand. The text has a modular organization that makes it a great teaching tool.
  • contains detailed visuals
  • supports flipped classroom method
  • not suitable for advanced students
Publisher The Core 2nd Edition
Model n/a
Weight 1.8 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. Biological Science 6th Edition

Biological Science 6th Edition is an introductory text that aims to equip students with a strategy to assess their own level of understanding and then learn how to improve. This new edition has streamlined the content with an emphasis on core concepts.
  • lots of experimental evidence
  • promotes active engagement
  • study guides aren't that helpful
Publisher Biological Science 6th
Model n/a
Weight 7.3 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

8. The Essentials 2nd Edition

The Essentials 2nd Edition was designed by an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma who takes a cross-disciplinary approach to help students relate to the subject. It has pedagogical tools engineered to demonstrate its points.
  • strong focus on evolution
  • summaries for each chapter
  • some of the content seems remedial
Publisher McGraw-Hill Education
Model n/a
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

7. Essential Cell Biology, 4th Edition

Essential Cell Biology, 4th Edition features clear and easily digested text written in an engaging manner that makes learning about this potentially difficult topic less tedious. It is at a level appropriate for undergraduate students who may have a limited knowledge base.
  • touches on some biomedical subjects
  • electron micrograph photos
  • minimal changes from the 3rd edition
Publisher Essential Cell Biology,
Model n/a
Weight pending
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. Life on Earth

Life on Earth takes a real-world approach by incorporating true stories relevant to the subject in every chapter in the form of case studies. It is written in a conversational, question-and-answer style to make it more engaging than other options.
  • meant for non-majors
  • learning goals are clearly outlined
  • significant focus on health science
Publisher Benjamin Cumming
Model n/a
Weight 5.4 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

5. Biology MindTap Course List 11th Edition

Biology MindTap Course List 11th Edition is often referred to as the best major's level coursebook, which is probably because of its inquiry-based teaching system. It starts out each chapter with a breakdown of key concepts and learning objectives.
  • thorough section summaries
  • reinforces learned knowledge
  • lots of checkpoint questions
Publisher Brooks
Model n/a
Weight 6.5 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

4. Campbell Biology 11th Edition

Campbell Biology 11th Edition is written by a collaboration of six authors who are all either practicing biologists or professors. In addition to in-depth explanations, it contains excellent review quizzes so you can check how well you have understood the subject matter.
  • integrated media resources
  • required by many universities
  • high-quality graphics and pictures
Publisher Ingramcontent
Model n/a
Weight 7.7 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

3. Biology By Sylvia S. Mader

The 12th edition of Biology By Sylvia S. Mader focuses on large themes, like the nature of science and biological systems, and encourages students to take learning into their own hands. It's a good choice for non-biology majors to study before starting class.
  • written in a lucid narrative style
  • includes thematic feature readings
  • comprehensive chapters
Publisher Mader, Sylvia S.
Model n/a
Weight 4.9 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

2. Biology 11th Edition

In Biology 11th Edition by Peter Raven and George Johnson, the authors encourage students to look at the field with a specific emphasis on evolution and scientific inquiry into the slow, steady development of species. It is written in a style that is clear and engaging.
  • solid teaching framework
  • covers many genomics topics
  • 59 extensive chapters
Publisher Biology 11th Edition
Model n/a
Weight 6.5 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

1. Human Biology 15th Edition

Human Biology 15th Edition is a surprisingly readable book that combines traditional and modern pedagogical teaching methods to impart a deep understanding of its concepts to students. It gives a big picture overview of physiology to help readers build a good foundation.
  • covers most of the human anatomy
  • explains many technical terms
  • lots of detailed diagrams
Publisher Human Biology 15th Edit
Model n/a
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

Brief History Of Biology

Biology can trace its beginnings all the way back to the 5th century B.C. when Alcmaeon of Croton made the first significant contribution. He is the first known scientist to practice dissection in his studies. He didn't actually have an anatomical goal, but is credited with making first scientific discoveries in the field.

Biological sciences today has drawn from numerous traditions and practices dating back to antiquity, such as the practice of medicine, which started with ancient Greeks like Hippocrates, and the tradition of natural history, which dates back to Aristotle. In 300 B.C., Theophrastus can be said to have started Botany when he attempted to classify plants and describe their structures, habits, and uses.

Botany is one of the earlier biological studies to experience popular interest and research as it was closely linked with medical practices. Along with medicine, botany was vital in the study of natural history and is considered one of the earliest points of common focus between the two areas. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, it was often commonplace to see gardens maintained at centers of medical instruction with the professors not only caring for the gardens, but being experts of botany as well.

In 1543, Andreas Vesalius researched anatomy by performing detailed dissections on human cadavers, which was unusual at the time as most anatomists were only dissecting animals. He published a seven-volume atlas of human anatomy called the De Humani Corporis Fabrica that covered both muscular and skeletal anatomy and the body's major organ systems. In the 16th century, physiology began to flourish as well, but knowledge in this area didn't start accumulating rapidly until the 19th century with the appearance of cell theory.

By the 1900s many of these different areas of study were overlapping and the concept of biology as a single coherent field of study began to emerge.

Etymology Of The Word Biology

The word biology comes from combining two Greek words, βίος, translated as bios, which means life, and the suffix λέγειν, which can be roughly translated as -logy and means the study of, or science of. Thus, when combined it can mean the study of life or the science of life.

There is some debate as to the first use of the word biology. It is often cited as being coined either by Thomas Beddoes in 1799 or Karl Burdach in 1800, but there is also documented use of it in Volume 3 of Michael Christoph Hanow's Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae: Geologia, biologia, phytologia generalis et dendrologia, which was published in 1766 and in its Latin form, bilogi, in Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus' Bibliotheca botanica, published in 1736.

Tips For Reading A Textbook

Textbooks aren't like regular books that tell a story, rather they are designed to teach and inform. As such, a textbook shouldn't be read from front to back like a regular book. Instead the best strategy is to follow a preview, read, review format for each chapter. Don't worry about spoiling the ending, textbooks don't lead up to some climatic surprise as mystery thrillers do.

The preview step is designed to give you a broad overview of what you will be reading about, and the major topics or concepts you will be learning. To preview a textbook effectively, you will want to start at the very end of the chapter with the quiz questions. Try and answer them as best you can before you start reading the chapter. This will give you a breakdown of exactly what you should hope to learn in your readings and also make those key points stand out in your mind later when you are going through the chapter. Next, read the chapter's final summary, which will give you a background of the main ideas that will be covered. Finally go back and browse all of the headings and subdivisions of the chapter.

Now you can move on to reading the chapter. This should be active reading, unlike reading a story book, which is passive reading. In active reading you will take notes, ask questions, and highlight key points. The trick to doing this is not to stop and take notes or highlight as you read, but rather to do it at the end of each page or after a couple of paragraphs. Stopping to do it as you read will breakup your flow. You may also highlight the wrong key point as you highlight something that seems important and then a few sentences later you read something that is even more vital. If you highlight everything that seems important as you go, you will probably wind up with to much highlighted material making browsing your notes harder.

Writing questions about key concepts along the margins or on post-its after you read each page is a great way to set yourself up for later testing. Once you finish the chapter or a large section of it, you can go back and take a look at the questions. If you can answer them without having to reference the text, then you know you have comprehended your readings.

The final review step is just to ensure you have understood everything. Start by writing your own summary of the information in the chapter. This ensures you can expound on what you have learned and recall it for later use. Then move onto the chapter's review questions you started with and see how many you can answer correctly. If there are questions you can't answer, go back and study up on those areas.


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Last updated on May 22, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.


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