Popular Science Books on Information Theory, Biology, and Complexity

Previously, I had made a large and somewhat random list of books which lie in the intersection of the application of information theory, physics, and engineering practice to the area of biology.  Below I’ll begin to do a somewhat better job of providing a finer gradation of technical level for both the hobbyist or the aspiring student who wishes to bring themselves to a higher level of understanding of these areas.  In future posts, I’ll try to begin classifying other texts into graduated strata as well.  The final list will be maintained here: Books at the Intersection of Information Theory and Biology.

Introductory / General Readership / Popular Science Books

These books are written on a generally non-technical level and give a broad overview of their topics with occasional forays into interesting or intriguing subtopics. They include little, if any, mathematical equations or conceptualization. Typically, any high school student should be able to read, follow, and understand the broad concepts behind these books.  Though often non-technical, these texts can give some useful insight into the topics at hand, even for the most advanced researchers.

Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell (review)

Possibly one of the best places to start, this text gives a great overview of most of the major areas of study related to these fields.

Entropy Demystified: The Second Law Reduced to Plain Common Sense by Arieh Ben-Naim

One of the best books on the concept of entropy out there.  It can be read even by middle school students with no exposure to algebra and does a fantastic job of laying out the conceptualization of how entropy underlies large areas of the broader subject. Even those with Ph.D.’s in statistical thermodynamics can gain something useful from this lovely volume.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (review)

A relatively recent popular science volume covering various conceptualizations of what information is and how it’s been dealt with in science and engineering.  Though it has its flaws, its certainly a good introduction to the beginner, particularly with regard to history.

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

One of the most influential pieces of writing known to man, this classical text is the basis from which major strides in biology have been made as a result. A must read for everyone on the planet.

Information, Entropy, Life and the Universe: What We Know and What We Do Not Know by Arieh Ben-Naim

Information Theory and Evolution by John Avery

The Touchstone of Life: Molecular Information, Cell Communication, and the Foundations of Life by Werner R. Loewenstein (review)

Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life by Hubert P. Yockey

The four books above have a significant amount of overlap. Though one could read all of them, I recommend that those pressed for time choose Ben-Naim first. As I write this I’ll note that Ben-Naim’s book is scheduled for release on May 30, 2015, but he’s been kind enough to allow me to read an advance copy while it was in process; it gets my highest recommendation in its class. Loewenstein covers a bit more than Avery who also has a more basic presentation. Most who continue with the subject will later come across Yockey’s Information Theory and Molecular Biology which is similar to his text here but written at a slightly higher level of sophistication. Those who finish at this level of sophistication might want to try Yockey third instead.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life  by Jeremy Campbell

Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos by Peter M. Hoffmann

Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, May 10, 2016) 

In the coming weeks/months, I’ll try to continue putting recommended books on the remainder of the rest of the spectrum, the balance of which follows in outline form below. As always, I welcome suggestions and recommendations based on others’ experiences as well. If you’d like to suggest additional resources in any of the sections below, please do so via our suggestion box. For those interested in additional resources, please take a look at the ITBio Resources page which includes information about related research groups; references and journal articles; academic, research institutes, societies, groups, and organizations; and conferences, workshops, and symposia.

Lower Level Undergraduate

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most with a freshmen or sophomore university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering will usually presume knowledge of calculus, basic probability theory, introductory physics, chemistry, and basic biology.

Upper Level Undergraduate

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by those at a junior or senor university level. Coursework in math, science, and engineering may presume knowledge of probability theory, differential equations, linear algebra, complex analysis, abstract algebra, signal processing, organic chemistry, molecular biology, evolutionary theory, thermodynamics, advanced physics, and basic information theory.

Graduate Level

These books are written at a level that can be grasped and understood by most working at the level of a master’s level at most universities.  Coursework presumes all the previously mentioned classes, though may require a higher level of sub-specialization in one or more areas of mathematics, physics, biology, or engineering practice.  Because of the depth and breadth of disciplines covered here, many may feel the need to delve into areas outside of their particular specialization.

Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution

Bookmarked Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution (Springer, 2008, 2nd Edition) by Rick Durrett (math.duke.edu)
While browsing through some textbooks and researchers today, I came across a fantastic looking title: Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution by Rick Durrett (Springer, 2008). While searching his website at Duke, I noticed that he’s made a .pdf copy of a LaTeX version of the 2nd edition available for download.   I hope others find it as interesting and useful as I do.

I’ll also give him a shout out for being a mathematician with a fledgling blog: Rick’s Ramblings.

Book Cover of Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution by Richard Durrett
Probability Models for DNA Sequence Evolution by Richard Durrett

BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory | Storify Stream

Over the span of the coming week, I’ll be updating (and archiving) the stream of information coming out of the BIRS Workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory.

Editor’s note: On 12/12/17 Storify announced they would be shutting down. As a result, I’m changing the embedded version of the original data served by Storify for an HTML copy which can be found below:

BIRS: Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory

A 5 Day workshop on Biology and Information Theory hosted by the Banff International Research Station

  1. Wishing I was at the Gene Regulation and Information Theory meeting starting tomorrow  http://bit.ly/XnHRZs  #ITBio
  2. Mathematical and Statistical Models for Genetic Coding starts today.  http://www.am.hs-mannheim.de/genetic_code_2013.php?id=1  @andreweckford might borrow attendees for BIRS
  3. Mathematical Foundations for Information Theory in Diffusion-Based Molecular Communications  http://bit.ly/1aTVR2c  #ITBio
  4. Bill Bialek giving plenary talk “Information flow & order in real biological networks” at Feb 2014 workshop  http://mnd.ly/19LQH8f  #ITBio
  5. #ITBio http://t.co/Ty8dEIXQUT"/>

    CECAM Workshop: “Entropy in Biomolecular Systems” starts May 14 in Vienna.  http://jhu.md/1faLR8t  #ITBio pic.twitter.com/Ty8dEIXQUT
  6. Last RT: wonder what the weather is going to be like at the end of October for my @BIRS_Math workshop
  7. @JoVanEvery I’m organizing a workshop in Banff in October … hopefully this isn’t a sign of weather to come!
  8. Banff takes its name from the town of Banff, Scotland, not to be confused with Bamff, also Scotland.
  9. Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains? http://t.co/mxYBNz7yzl

    Good morning from beautiful Banff. How can you not love the mountains? pic.twitter.com/mxYBNz7yzl
  10. “Not an obvious connection between utility and information, just as there is no obvious connection between energy and entropy” @BIRS_Math
  11. Last RT: a lot of discussion of my signal transduction work with Peter Thomas.
  12. Live now: Nicolo Michelusi of @USCViterbi on Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables  http://www.birs.ca/live  #ITBio
  13. Nicolo Michelusi (University of Southern California), A Stochastic Model for Electron Transfer in Bacterial Cables  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271450-Michelusi.mp4 
  14. Listening to the always awesome @cnmirose talk about the ultimate limits of molecular communication.
  15. “Timing is fundamental … subsumes time-varying concentration channel” @cnmirose @BIRS_Math
  16. Standard opening quote of these talks: “I’m not a biologist, but …” @BIRS_Math
  17. Stefan Moser (ETH Zurich), Capacity Bounds of the Memoryless AIGN Channel – a Toy-Model for Molecular Communicat…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271610-Moser.mp4 
  18. Weisi Guo (University of Warwick), Communication Envelopes for Molecular Diffusion and Electromagnetic Wave Propag…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410271643-Guo.mp4 
  19. .@ChrisAldrich @andreweckford @Storify @BIRS_Math Sounds like a fascinating workshop on bioinformation theory in Banff.
  20. Toby Berger, winner of the 2002 Shannon award, speaking right now. @BIRS_Math
  21. Naftali Tishby (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Sensing and acting under information constraints – a principled a…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281032-Tishby.mp4 
  22. “…places such as BIRS and the Banff Centre exist to facilitate the exchange and pursuit of knowledge.” S. Sundaram  http://www.birs.ca/testimonials/#testimonial-1454 
  23. We’re going for a hike tomorrow. Many thanks to Lukas at the @ParksCanada info centre in Banff for helpful advice! @BIRS_Math
  24. Alexander Dimitrov (Washington State University), Invariant signal processing in auditory biological systems  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281416-Dimitrov.mp4 
  25. Joel Zylberberg (University of Washington), Communicating with noisy signals: lessons learned from the mammalian v…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281450-Zylberberg.mp4 
  26. Robert Schober (Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg), Intersymbol interference mitigation in diffusive molecular communi…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281549-Schober.mp4 
  27. Rudolf Rabenstein (Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU)), Modelling Molecular Communication Cha…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410281627-Rabenstein.mp4 
  28. THis week @BIRS_Math ” Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory ” @thebanffcentre #biology #math @NSF
  29. “Your theory might match the data, but the data might be wrong” – Crick @BIRS_Math
  30. So information theory seems to be a big deal in ecology. @BIRS_Math
  31. Tom Schneider (National Institutes of Health), Three Principles of Biological States: Ecology and Cancer  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410290904-Schneider.mp4 
  32. “In biodiversity, the entropy of an ecosystem is the expected … information we gain about an organism by learning its species” @BIRS_Math
  33. Seriously, I’m blown away by this work in information theory in ecology. Huge body of work; I had no idea. @BIRS_Math
  34. I encourage @BIRS_Math attendees at Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory to contribute references here:  http://bit.ly/1jQwObk 
  35. Christoph Adami (Michigan State University), Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin and Evolutio…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410291114-Adami.mp4 
  36. #ITBio http://t.co/VA8komuuSW"/>

    .@ChristophAdami talk Some Information-Theoretic Musings Concerning the Origin of Life @BIRS_Math this morning #ITBio pic.twitter.com/VA8komuuSW
  37. ICYMI @ChristophAdami had great paper: Information-theoretic Considerations on Origin of Life on arXiv  http://bit.ly/1yIhK2Q  @BIRS_Math
  38. Baez has a post on Tishby's talk "Sensing &  Acting Under Information Constraints" http://t.co/t1nPVI1pxa @BIRS_Math http://t.co/dFuiVLFSGC

    Baez has a post on Tishby’s talk “Sensing & Acting Under Information Constraints”  http://bit.ly/1yIDonR  @BIRS_Math pic.twitter.com/dFuiVLFSGC
  39. INFORMATION THEORY is the new central ...

    INFORMATION THEORY is the new central …
  40. I’m listening to a talk on the origin of life at a workshop on Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory. …  https://plus.google.com/117562920675666983007/posts/gqFL7XY3quF 
  41. Now accepting applications for the #Research Collaboration Workshop for Women in #MathBio at NIMBioS  http://ow.ly/DzeZ7 
  42. We removed a faulty microphone from our lecture room this morning. We’re now fixing the audio buzz in this week’s videos, and reposting.
  43. Didn’t get enough information theory & biology this week @BIRS_Math? Apply for NIMBioS workshop in April 2015  http://bit.ly/1yIeiWe  #ITBio
  44. Amin Emad (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Applications of Discrete Mathematics in Bioinformatics  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301329-Emad.mp4 
  45. Paul Bogdan (University of Southern California), Multiscale Analysis Reveals Complex Behavior in Bacteria Populati…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301401-Bogdan.mp4 
  46. Lubomir Kostal (Institute of Physiology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic), Efficient information transmi…  http://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170/videos/watch/201410301534-Kostal.mp4 
  47. Banff ☀️❄️🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲❤️
  48. @conservativelez I’m a big fan of your dad’s research & was reminded of much of it via a workshop on Biological Information Theory
  49. @conservativelez Though he may not have been able to attend, he can catch most of the talks online if he’d like  https://www.birs.ca/events/2014/5-day-workshops/14w5170 
  50. Depressed that @BIRS_Math Workshop on Biological & Bio-Inspired Information Theory is over? Relive it here:  http://bit.ly/1rF3G4B  #ITBio
  51. A few thoughts about that workshop while I wait for my flight back to Toronto.
  52. 1/ Everyone I talked to said it was the best workshop they’d ever been to, and they’d like to do a follow-up workshop @BIRS_Math
  53. 2/ There is an amazing diversity of work under the umbrella of “information theory”. @BIRS_Math
  54. 3/ Much of this work is outside the IT mainstream, and an issue is that people use different terms for related concepts. @BIRS_Math
  55. 4/ Some community building is in order. I think this workshop was a good first step. @BIRS_Math
  56. 5/ Many many thanks to @BIRS_Math and huge kudos to @NGhoussoub for excellent service to the Canadian scientific community. BIRS is a gem.
  57. 6/ Also many thanks to the participants for their excellent talks, and to @ChrisAldrich for maintaining a Storify.