The Song of the Dodo gets my vote

New Scientist magazine wants to know what the most underrated science books (written for a general audience) from the past 50 years are. Tell them your favourites and you could win some of the best science books of 2010.

The Song of the Dodo immediately sprang into my mind when I read the New Scientist magazine’s call for recommendations of top popular science books.

David Quammen’s book — subtitled Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction — describes vividly the history of an important but relatively new field of biology that has growing relevance in a world under intense human pressure.

Quammen is a compelling storyteller and he explains beautifully the complex ecological and evolutionary foundations for the way species are distributed. He combines the stories of the scientists who have done the research with tales from his own extensive travels and encounters with wildlife and biodiverse ecosystems around the world.

It is a long book but a quick and absorbing read — I’ve read it twice and thinking about it today makes me want to read it again. It reminds me of my time-rich youth when I could lounge around digesting such good writing at my leisure.

I doubt I will find time to read it again any time soon, so I hope that you will instead.

New Scientist is asking us to recommend our top reads because the UK Royal Society has just announced the shortlist for its 2010 Prize for Science Books. If you want a chance to win these six books, tell New Scientist what your own favourite science book from the past century is by commenting on their blog.

I’m interested too, so if you post a comment with your recommendations here too, I’ll be grateful. While we are at it, here are some other great popular science books that I recommend highly (the links will take you to Amazon pages).

A Neotropical Companion by John Kricher

Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo by Odoardi Beccari

The Diversity of Life by E. O. Wilson

Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World’s First Computer by Jo Marchant

Afterglow of Creation: Decoding the message from the beginning of time by Marcus Chown

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

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