Year list – The Inquisitive Biologist’s top 5 reads of 2020

3-minute read

This year will probably go down in history as the one we would all rather forget. Fortunately, there were many amazing books being published to take your mind off things for a moment. As I expected, this was a somewhat less productive year, where I read and reviewed 74 books.

For those who do not feel like trawling through that many reviews, here is my personal top 5 of the most impactful, most beautiful, and most thought-provoking books I read during 2020.

1. Owls of the Eastern Ice: The Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl

Owls of the Eastern IceEasily the most entertaining, captivating, and unbelievable book I read this year. Owls of the Eastern Ice is a spellbinding memoir of conservation at the edge of the world, that was such a compelling epic I had to finish it in one sitting. Read more…

2. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures

Entangled LifeIt is rare that a book manages to make you see things in a truly new light, but Merlin Sheldrake managed to achieve just that for me. Without stepping off the edge of reason, the beautifully written Entangled Life is a truly mind-altering and perspective-shifting book on fungi. Read more…

3. Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Rings

Tree StoryThis year saw the publication of two amazing books about the palaeontology of trees and it was a hard choice between Zach St. George’s The Journeys of Trees and this one. Ultimately, Valerie Trouet’s Tree Story won the day. A dendrochronological delight, this beautifully written and illustrated book reveals the utterly fascinating world of tree-ring research and how it matters to archaeology, palaeoclimatology, and environmental history. Read more…

4. Army Ants: Nature’s Ultimate Social Hunters

281 Army Ants thumbnailHarvard University Press and its imprint Belknap Press have developed a reputation for serious books about ants, but they outdid themselves this year. Army Ants is simply spectacular! The first book in 25 years to describe this most fascinating of ant species, it is written and illustrated by professor of social evolution and noted insect photographer Daniel J.C. Kronauer. Read more…

5. On the Prowl: In Search of Big Cat Origins

263 On the Prowl thumbnailThis book impressed as soon I opened it. On the Prowl is a mind-bogglingly beautiful marriage of art and science that refines the rich and complex story of big cat evolution. I called it one of 2020’s must-buy palaeontology books when I wrote my review in July and I still stand by that statement. Read more…

Honourable mention – Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

240 Spillover thumbnailSix recommendations for the price of five! I would not normally include a book published eight years ago in my year overview, but 2020 was no ordinary year. Of all the books I read in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Quammen’s Spillover was surprisingly the most relevant for providing a longer-term perspective. This was the book I recommended to my parents to make sense of what was going on. It remains a magnificent piece of science reporting that weds exceptional clarity to spell-binding storytelling. Read more…


  1. I also enjoyed The inside out of flies which you reviewed and Mushroom at the end of the World. Would that I could afford to buy them all (and then find the time to read them)! Keep up the good work.


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