Annal: 2004 Aventis Prize for General Science Book

Results of the Aventis Prize in the year 2004.

Book:A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, he takes his ultimate journey—into the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer. It’s a dazzling quest, the intellectual odyssey of a lifetime, as this insatiably curious writer attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Or, as the author puts it, “…how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” This is, in short, a tall order.

To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world’s most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn’t…[more]

Book:The Backroom Boys

The Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin

Francis Spufford

A rapturous history of British engineering, a vivid love-letter to quiet men in pullovers, Backroom Boys tells the story of how this country lost its industrial tradition and got back something else.

Book:In the Beginning Was the Worm

In the Beginning Was the Worm: Finding the Secrets of Life in a Tiny Hermaphrodite

Andrew Brown

This is the story of how three men won the Nobel Prize for their research on the humble nematode worm C. elegans; how their extraordinary discovery led to the sequencing of the human genome; how a global multibillion-dollar industry was born; and how the mysteries of life were revealed in a tiny, brainless worm.

In 1998 the nematode worm—perhaps the most intensively studied animal on earth—was the first multicellular organism ever to have its genome sequenced and its DNA mapped and read. “When we understand the worm, we will understand life,” predicted John Sulston, one of the three Nobel laureates, and his prediction proved astonishingly accurate. Four years later, the research that led to this extraordinary event garnered three scientists a Nobel Prize. Along with Robert Horvitz and Sydney Brenner, Sulston discovered the phenomenon of programmed cell death in the worm, an essential concept that helps explain how biological development…[more]

Book:Magic Universe

Magic Universe: The Oxford Guide to Modern Science

Nigel Calder

As a prolific author, BBC commentator, and magazine editor, Nigel Calder has spent a lifetime spotting and explaining the big discoveries in all branches of science. In Magic Universe, he draws on his vast experience to offer readers a lively, far-reaching look at modern science in all its glory, shedding light on the latest ideas in physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, and many other fields.

What is truly magical about Magic Universe is Calder’s incredible breadth. Migrating birds, light sensors in the human eye, black holes, antimatter, buckyballs and nanotubes—with exhilarating sweep, Calder can range from the strings of a piano to the superstrings of modern physics, from Pythagoras’s theory of musical pitch to the most recent ideas about atoms and gravity and a ten-dimensional universe—all in one essay. The great virtue of this wide-ranging style—besides its liveliness and…[more]

Book:Mutants

Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body

Armand Marie Leroi

“Who are the mutants? We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others.”

Variety, even deformity, may seem like an unlikely route by which to approach normality, even perfection. Yet much of what we know about the mechanisms of human development, growth, and aging comes from the study of people who are afflicted with congenital diseases, most of which have genetic causes. Congenital abnormalities reveal not only errors within the womb, but also our evolutionary history.

In Mutants, Armand Marie Leroi gives a brilliant narrative account of our genetic grammar and the people whose bodies have revealed it, balancing both the science and the stories behind some of history’s most captivating figures-including a French convent girl who found herself changing sex upon puberty; children who, echoing Homer’s Cyclops, are born with a single…[more]

Book:Nature Via Nurture

Nature Via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human

Matt Ridley

In February 2001 it was announced that the human genome contains not 100,000 genes, as originally postulated, but only 30,000. This startling revision led some scientists to conclude that there are simply not enough human genes to account for all the different ways people behave: we must be made by nurture, not nature. Yet again biology was to be stretched on the Procrustean bed of the nature-nurture debate. Matt Ridley argues that the emerging truth is far more interesting than this myth. Nurture depends on genes, too, and genes need nurture. Genes not only predetermine the broad structure of the brain, they also absorb formative experiences, react to social cues, and even run memory. They are consequences as well as causes of the will.

Published fifty years after the discovery of the double helix of DNA, Nature via Nurture chronicles a revolution in our understanding of genes. Ridley recounts the hundred years’ war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. Nature via Nurture is an enthralling,up-to-the-minute account of how genes build brains to absorb experience.

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