Annal: 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1996.

Book:The Demon-Haunted World

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Carl Sagan

How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today’s so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

Book:The Dying of the Trees

The Dying of the Trees

Charles E. Little

Most of us remember the magic of a certain forest, or a favorite tree. Our children, says writer and conservationist Charles E. Little, probably won’t. The forests are declining. The trees are dying. Little shows how logging in the Northwest is far from the whole story, how virtually everywhere in this country our trees are mortally afflicted—even before they are cut. From the “sugarbush” of Vermont and the dogwoods of Maryland’s Catoctin mountains to the forests of the “hollows” in Applachia, the oaks and aspens of northern Michigan, and the mountainsides and deserts of the West, a whole range of human-caused maladies—from fatal ozone, ultraviolet rays, and acid rain to the disastrous aftermath of clear-cutting—has brought tree death and forest decline in its wake. In his journeys to America’s forests and woodlands, Little exhaustively explores this phenomenon with scientists, government officials, and citizen leaders and recounts how they have responded (and in many cases failed to respond) to this threat to global ecological balance.

Book:Fermat's Last Theorem

Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem

Amir D. Aczel

Over three hundred years ago, a French scholar scribbled a simple theorem in the margin of a book.  It would become the world’s most baffling mathematical mystery.

Simple, elegant, and utterly impossible to prove, Fermat’s Last Theorem captured the imaginations of amateur and professional mathematicians for over three centuries.  For some it became a wonderful passion.  For others it was an obsession that led to deceit, intrigue, or insanity.  In a volume filled with the clues, red herrings, and suspense of a mystery novel, Dr.  Amir Aczel reveals the previously untold story of the people, the history, and the cultures that lie behind this scientific triumph.

From formulas devised for the farmers of ancient Babylonia to the dramatic proof of Fermat’s theorem in 1993, this extraordinary…[more]

Book:Fire in the Mind

Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order

George Johnson

Are there really laws governing the universe? Or is the order we see a mere artifact of the way evolution wired the brain? And is what we call science only a set of myths in which quarks, DNA, and information fill the role once occupied by gods?

These questions lie at the heart of George Johnson’s audacious exploration of the border between science and religion, cosmic accident and timeless law. Northern New Mexico is home both to the most provocative new enterprises in quantum physics, information science, and the evolution of complexity and to the cosmologies of the Tewa Indians and the Catholic Penitentes. As it draws the reader into this landscape, juxtaposing the systems of belief that have taken root there, Fire in the Mind into a gripping intellectual adventure story that compels us to ask where science ends and religion begins.

“A must for all those seriously interested in the key ideas at the frontier of scientific discourse.” —Paul Davies

Book:The Forgotten Pollinators

The Forgotten Pollinators

Stephen L. Buchmann, Gary Paul Nabhan

Consider this: Without interaction between animals and flowering plants, the seeds and fruits that make up nearly eighty percent of the human diet would not exist.

In The Forgotten Pollinators, Stephen L. Buchmann, one of the world’s leading authorities on bees and pollination, and Gary Paul Nabhan, award-winning writer and renowned crop ecologist, explore the vital but little-appreciated relationship between plants and the animals they depend on for reproduction-bees, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, bats, and countless other animals, some widely recognized and other almost unknown.

Scenes from around the globe—examining island flora and fauna on the Galapagos, counting bees in the Panamanian rain forest, witnessing an ancient honey-hunting ritual in Malaysia—bring to life the hidden relationships between plants and animals,…[more]

Book:Home from Nowhere

Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century

James Howard Kunstler

In his landmark book The Geography of Nowhere James Howard Kunstler visited the “tragic sprawlscape of cartoon architecture, junked cities, and ravaged countryside” America had become and declared that the deteriorating environment was not merely a symptom of a troubled culture, but one of the primary causes of our discontent.

In Home from Nowhere Kunstler not only shows that the original American Dream—the desire for peaceful, pleasant places in which to work and live—still has a strong hold on our imaginations, but also offers innovative, eminently practical ways to make that dream a reality. Citing examples from around the country, he calls for the restoration of traditional architecture, the introduction of enduring design principles in urban planning, and the development of public spaces that acknowledge our need to interact comfortable with one another.

Book:The Most Beautiful Molecule

The Most Beautiful Molecule: The Discovery of the Buckyball

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

The molecule, buckminsterfullerene, is beautiful physically and intellectually. Its qualities, and even some of its properties, can be appreciated instantly and intuitively by nonscientists. Its uniqueness is bound to lead to novel applications—superconductivity is the leading contender at the moment.
The commercial potential of buckminsterfullerene has heightened the excitement and controversy in recent years, while the exact nature of the discovery process in 1985 has been the subject of a heated feud between the British and American scientists involved.
—Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Ten years ago, the discovery of buckminsterfullerene, a previously unknown form of carbon, stunned the scientific community,…[more]

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