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Natural Sciences Tripos


Suggested Reading List for Prospective Students

We are often asked to make suggestions for preparatory reading and for introducing new subjects that you might be considering. There is no pre-requisite reading that needs to be done, but you may find the following books interesting and informative at a general level.  Please note that the books present an initial view of the subject and may not include material covered by the undergraduate course.

You are NOT expected to purchase any of the books on this suggested reading list.

* Indicates which books are considered best to read.


Biology of Cells


Lewis Wolpert

How we live and why we die: the secret lives of cells

Faber and Faber (paperback)

For those wishing to look at a suitable course textbook beforehand we suggest:

B. Alberts et al

Molecular Biology of the Cell

Garland (paperback) (2022) 7th Edition

Although A level Biology is not a requirement for the Biology of Cells Course, if you have done little or no biology before, you may find it helpful to begin with a less advanced textbook. We suggest: Alberts, B. et al (2014) Essential Cell Biology, 6th Edition (Garland) In addition, some knowledge of Chemistry beyond GCSE is assumed and those who have not done A level Chemistry may find helpful explanations of chemical principles in a biological context in the following book: Biochemistry, 8th edition, Jeremy M. Berg, John L. Tymoczko and Lubert Stryer.

Evolution and Behaviour


Coyne, J.

Why Evolution is True

Oxford University Press (2011)

Dawkins, R. & Wong, Y.

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life (2nd Edition)

Weidenfield & Nicholson (2016)

Carroll, S.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom

Quercus (2011)

Roberts, A. The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being Heron (201)
Davies, N. Cuckoo, Cheating by Nature Bloomsbury (2015)

For those wishing to look at a suitable course textbook beforehand we suggest:

Futuyma, D.J. & Kirkpatrick, M.

Evolution (4th Edition)

Oxford University Press (2017)




*J Keeler & P Wothers

Why Chemical Reactions Happen


P.W Atkins Molecules Scientific American

Earth Sciences


Langmuir, C. & Broecker, W.

How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind

Princeton University Press, 2012

For those wishing to look at a suitable course textbook beforehand we suggest:

*Press, F. & Siever, R.

Understanding earth

W. H. Freeman; 4th edition, c2004


Materials Science


*Miodownik, M.

Stuff Matters


Ball, P.

Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century.

Princeton University Press

Gordon, J.E.

New Science of Strong Materials




We do not recommend any particular books, although you are encouraged to read widely on subjects that interest you. The most important thing you can do by way of preparation for the Part IA Physics course is to revise your A-level (or equivalent) courses in physics and mathematics. After results day, colleges notify accepted students about a revision and preparation programme called STEMbridge. We recommend that students who are interested in taking Physics in the first year work through the mathematics and physics problems in this programme.

Practice problems in physics and maths (and chemistry and biology) are always available on the Isaac Physics website. There are problems ranging in stage (e.g. A level, Further A level and University) and difficulty (practice level 1 to 3 and challenge level 1 to 3). Additionally, you may find the Richard Feynman lectures available at interesting.


Physiology of Organisms


Ashcroft, F.

The Spark of Life


King, J. Reaching for the Sun C.U.P (2nd edition)

Physiology is a challenging subject, and we don't recommend that you attempt to work through a university-level textbook just yet.  These books will be available to you in College libraries, so you may not need to purchase one for yourself.  However, if you do wish to look at a textbook which covers the first term's materials, the best one to choose would be:

Hill, R.W., Cavanaugh, D.J. & Anderson, M. (2022) Animal Physiology, 5th ed. New York: Sinauer Associates.




Gowers, T.

Mathematics: a very short introduction

O.U.P. (2002)

Körner, T.W.

The Pleasures of Counting

C.U.P. (1996)

*Sivia, D.S. & Rawlings, S.G.

Foundations of Science Mathematics


Web links:

Plus magazine:

Stem_nrich for Natural Science Maths:

Mathematical Biology

In addition to the books and websites suggested above for Mathematics, the following may be of interest in getting a sense of how mathematics and statistics are particularly important in biology:

  • David Spiegelhalter, The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data, Pelican Books
  • Ian Stewart, Mathematics of the Life: Unlocking the Secrets of Existence, Profile Books
  • Edward Beltrami, What is Random? Chance and Order in Mathematics and Life, Copernicus Books

We also recommend you remind yourself of certain topics from A Level Mathematics (or equivalent) including exponentials, logarithms, differentiation, integration and curve sketching. Some additional information is available here.

If you have studied any probability or statistics it would also make sense to look over your notes (but if not, do not worry as these topics will be taught assuming no prior knowledge).

If you have not studied mathematics at A level or equivalent, you must do the preparatory reading and work through the online course as described at