Articles > General Biology > Biology: Understanding Life by S.Alters & B.Alters

Biology: Understanding Life by S.Alters & B.Alters

Biology: Understanding Life  



  • Sandra Alters
  • Brian Alters


  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (February 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0471433659
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 9.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.80 pounds


Book Description

Designed for a one or two semester non-majors course in introductory biology taught at most two and four-year colleges. This course typically fulfills a general education requirement, and rather than emphasizing mastery of technical topics, it focuses on the understanding of biological ideas and concepts, how they relate to real life, and appreciating the scientific methods and thought processes. Given the authors’ work in and dedication to science education, this text’s writing style, pedagogy, and integrated support package are all based on classroom-tested teaching strategies and learning theory. The result is a learning program that enhances the effectiveness & efficiency of the teaching and learning experience in the introductory biology course like no other before it.  

Book Info

Author is formerly from the Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis. Introductory textbook for undergraduates not majoring in biology. Goals of the text are to help students understand biological concepts, offer visuals to aid learning, make biology relevant, aid students gain an understanding of scientific processes, and review and assess student’s understanding at various levels.   

From the Back Cover

What’s all the buzz about?

In Sandra and Brian Alters’ years of teaching biology and training science teachers, they’ve worked to understand how to create the optimal learning environment and a buzz in the classroom. Biology: Understanding Life reflects this experience and dedication to teaching and learning by providing unique, classroom-tested examples, analogies, and explanation––along with pedagogy that points students to the important ideas in biology. Some of these unique, highly-praised pedagogical features include:

  • Analogies throughout the text help students visualize and understand concepts and processes by comparing them with readily recognizable, real-life examples.
  • Visual Thinking questions accompany many of the illustrations in this text, asking students to demonstrate understanding and application of what’s being depicted in a figure or table.
  • In The News chapter-opening stories, video clips, and end-of-chapter review questions place biology topics in the context of current events and students’ lives.
  • Just Wondering boxes placed throughout the text showcase and answer questions from students across the country. At the conclusion of each box, students are invited to submit their own questions to the authors by visiting the text‘s companion website.
  • Levels of Understanding Review Materialsat the end of each chapter include questions structured according to a three-level system, providing different types of questions designed to encourage students to think about different strategies for studying the chapter’s material.

About the Author(s)

Sandra Alters is formerly a tenured professor of biology and education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a professor of biology at Salem State College (MA). After teaching for over 25 years and teaching non-majors introductory biology for 10 years, Sandy left academia to write full time. She has over 20 years experience in science textbook writing in particular and science writing in general. She and her husband Brian are the only Ph.D. science educators currently authoring a non-majors college biology textbook. This book and its related ancillaries reflect their strong focus on science education.

 Brian Alters, Sir William Dawson Scholar, holds appointments internationally at McGill University, Montreal, where he recently won the university’s highest teaching award, and at Harvard University, Cambridge. Brian is founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Center, a joint involvement between professors of McGill and Harvard universities. He writes primarily about evolution education and teaching. 


A Good Introduction to Biology, April 8, 2000

This book is an attractive package that invites the reader to dive in. Not only does it discuss basic biological concepts but mentions concepts that are in the news today, such as genetic engineering and DNA sequencing.

Although the introduction implies that it’s appropriate for college-level courses, I think it could be used at the high-school level, too, especially since someone taking this course at the college level is someone who probably never took introductory biology in high-school, so the only difference between what would be covered in the college course and the high-school course is the number of chapters covered.

The book begins with an introduction to some basic concepts of life (what is biology? what are characteristics of life? how are forms of life classified? what are molecules? what is an organic molecule?) and then moves onto sections covering the structure of cells, systems in the human body and those of other animals. Next, it covers genetics, evolution, the five kingdoms, and social interaction of organisms.

I was surprised to see so much coverage of human anatomy (with many color drawings and some photographs, too) in a general introduction to biology (after all, biology is more than just humans), but I guess that the author included that to keep the reader interested, since it helps to relate each biological concept to a machine the reader already possesses—his body (see goal #3 below).

The goals that the author sets out for the text are these:

1. Help students understand biological concepts

2. Offer a range of visual learning aids to meet students’ diverse learning styles

3. Make biology relevant to student’s daily lives

4. Help students gain an understanding of scientifc processes

5. Review, test and assess student understanding

6. Integrate every aspect of the text into a comprehensive teaching package

The author meets each of these goals, and, particularly, the writing style and illustrations help to meet goal #2, in that, I believe, the author has specifically avoided complex sentence structure in order to make the text accessible to students with weak reading skills. That’s probably good, and it further supports my contention that the book is good for college and high-school students alike to read. Also, there are lists of relevant vocabulary words at the end of each chapter, and a glossary in the back of the book.

I like the book and will continue to refer to it myself to refresh some of my own biology knowledge.