Annal: 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2005.

Book:Before The Fallout

Before The Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima

Diana Preston

On December 26, 1898, Marie Curie announced the discovery of radium and observed that “radioactivity seems to be an atomic property.” A mere 47 years later, “Little Boy”exploded over Hiroshima. Before the Fallout is the epic story of the intervening half century, during which an exhilarating quest to unravel the secrets of the material world revealed how to destroy it, and an open, international, scientific adventure transmuted overnight into a wartime sprint for the bomb.

Weaving together history, science, and biography, Diana Preston chronicles a human chain reaction of scientists and leaders whose discoveries and decisions forever changed our lives. The early decades of the 20th century brought Einstein’s relativity theory, Rutherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus, and Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics, and scientists of many nations worked together to tease out the secrets of the atom. Only 12 years before Hiroshima, one leading physicist dismissed the idea of…[more]

Book:Descent

Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss

Brad Matsen

In Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss, Brad Matsen brings to vivid life the famous deep-sea expeditions of Otis Barton and William Beebe. At a time when no one had traveled deeper than a few hundred feet, they took the world to a half mile down. At the height of the Depression, Beebe and Barton plumbed the depths of the ocean in nothing but a steel sphere, setting two records at once: it was also the first time a dramatic journey of discovery was broadcast live in America and Europe.

Beebe was an internationally acclaimed naturalist when he became obsessed with oceanography. He had an oceanographic research station on Nonsuch Island off Bermuda and a tug that could launch the craft. Beebe also had the support of many of the most famous financiers and industrialists of the day, the ability to drum up publicity wherever he went, and connections at the New York Zoological Society and National Geographic. …[more]

Book:Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo

Sean B. Carroll

For over a century, opening the black box of embryonic development was the holy grail of biology. Evo Devo—Evolutionary Developmental Biology—is the new science that has finally cracked open the box. Within the pages of his rich and riveting book, Sean B. Carroll explains how we are discovering that complex life is ironically much simpler than anyone ever expected.

Perhaps the most surprising finding of Evo Devo is the discovery that a small number of primitive genes led to the formation of fundamental organs and appendages in all animal forms. The gene that causes humans to form arms and legs is the same gene that causes birds and insects to form wings, and fish to form fins; similarly, one ancient gene has led to the creation of eyes across the animal kingdom. Changes in the way this ancient tool kit of genes is used have created all the diversity that surrounds us. …[more]

Book:Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance

Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance

Mariana Gosnell

Like the adventurer who circled an iceberg to see it on all sides, Mariana Gosnell, former Newsweek reporter and author of Zero Three Bravo, a book about flying a small plane around the United States, explores ice in all its complexity, grandeur, and significance.

More brittle than glass, at times stronger than steel, at other times flowing like molasses, ice covers 10 percent of the earth’s land and 7 percent of its oceans. In nature it is found in myriad forms, from the delicate needle ice that crunches underfoot in a winter meadow to the massive, centuries-old ice that forms the world’s glaciers. Scientists theorize that icy comets delivered to Earth the molecules needed to get life started, and ice ages have shaped much of the land as we know it.

Here is the whole world of ice, from the freezing of Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire to the breakup of a Vermont river…[more]

Book:The Republican War on Science

The Republican War on Science

Chris Mooney

In the tradition of What Liberal Media? and What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a stinging indictment of how one party has placed politics over science and embraced politically motivated pseudoscience

Science has never been more crucial to deciding the political issues facing the country. Yet science and scientists have less influence with the federal government than at any time since the Eisenhower administration. In the White House and Congress today, findings are reported in a politicized manner; spun or distorted to fit the speaker’s agenda; or, when they’re too inconvenient, ignored entirely. On a broad array of issues-stem cell research, climate change, missile defense, abstinence education, product safety, environmental regulation, and many others-the Bush administration’s positions fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus. Federal science agencies, once fiercely independent under both Republican and Democratic presidents, are increasingly…[more]

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