Annal: 2006 Aventis Prize for General Science Book

Results of the Aventis Prize in the year 2006.

Book:Electric Universe

Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

David Bodanis

In his bestselling E=mc2, David Bodanis led us, with astonishing ease, through the world’s most famous equation. Now, in Electric Universe, he illuminates the wondrous yet invisible force that permeates our universe—and introduces us to the virtuoso scientists who plumbed its secrets.

For centuries, electricity was seen as little more than a curious property of certain substances that sparked when rubbed. Then, in the 1790s, Alessandro Volta began the scientific investigation that ignited an explosion of knowledge and invention. The force that once seemed inconsequential was revealed to be responsible for everything from the structure of the atom to the functioning of our brains. In harnessing its power, we have created a world of wonders—complete with roller coasters and radar, computer networks and psychopharmaceuticals. …[more]


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond

In his runaway bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond brilliantly examined the circumstances that allowed Western civilizations to dominate much of the world. Now he probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to fall into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates? Using a vast historical and geographical perspective ranging from Easter Island and the Maya to Viking Greenland and modern Montana, Diamond traces a fundamental pattern of environmental catastrophe—one whose warning signs can be seen in our modern world and that we ignore at our peril. Blending the most recent scientific advances into a narrative that is impossible to put down, Collapse exposes the deepest mysteries of the past even as it offers hope for the future.

Book:Empire of the Stars

Empire of the Stars: Obsession, Friendship, and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes

Arthur I. Miller

In August 1930, on a voyage from Madras to London, a young Indian looked up at the stars and contemplated their fate. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar—Chandra, as he was called—calculated that certain stars would suffer a strange and violent death, collapsing to virtually nothing. This extraordinary claim, the first mathematical description of black holes, brought Chandra into direct conflict with Sir Arthur Eddington, one of the greatest astrophysicists of the day. Eddington ridiculed the young man’s idea at a meeting of the Royal Astronomy Society in 1935, sending Chandra into an intellectual and emotional tailspin—and hindering the progress of astrophysics for nearly forty years.

Empire of the Stars is the dramatic story of this intellectual debate and its implications for twentieth-century science. Arthur I. Miller traces the idea of black holes from early notions of “dark stars” to the modern concepts of wormholes,…[more]

Book:Parallel Worlds

Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos

Michio Kaku

In this thrilling journey into the mysteries of our cosmos, bestselling author Michio Kaku takes us on a dizzying ride to explore black holes and time machines, multidimensional space and, most tantalizing of all, the possibility that parallel universes may lay alongside our own.

Kaku skillfully guides us through the latest innovations in string theory and its latest iteration, M-theory, which posits that our universe may be just one in an endless multiverse, a singular bubble floating in a sea of infinite bubble universes. If M-theory is proven correct, we may perhaps finally find answer to the question, “What happened before the big bang?” This is an exciting and unforgettable introduction into the new cutting-edge theories of physics and cosmology from one of the pre-eminent voices in the field.

Book:Power, Sex, Suicide

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life

Nick Lane

If it weren’t for mitochondria, scientists argue, we’d all still be single-celled bacteria. Indeed, these tiny structures inside our cells are important beyond imagining. Without mitochondria, we would have no cell suicide, no sculpting of embryonic shape, no sexes, no menopause, no aging.

In this fascinating and thought-provoking book, Nick Lane brings together the latest research in this exciting field to show how our growing insight into mitochondria has shed light on how complex life evolved, why sex arose (why don’t we just bud?), and why we age and die. These findings are of fundamental importance, both in understanding life on Earth, but also in controlling our own illnesses, and delaying our degeneration and death. Readers learn that two billion years ago, mitochondria were probably bacteria living independent lives and that their capture within larger cells was a turning point in the evolution of life, enabling…[more]

Book:The Truth About Hormones

The Truth About Hormones

Vivienne Parry

What’s going on when we’re tetchy, spotty, fearful, tearful or just plain awful? Hormones rule our internal world: they control our growth, our metabolism, weight, water balance, body clocks, fertility, muscle tone, mood, the speed of ageing, whether you want sex or not (and whether you enjoy it) and even who we fall in love with. Their effects may occur in seconds and be over in a flash, or take months and last for thirty years. While we can name some hormones we rarely know what they actually do. But that doesn’t stop us claiming that “it’s my hormones” whenever our behaviour seems erratic. As it happens, we’re right. It is our hormones. And yes, we are completely in the thrall of things we know nothing about.

In The Truth About Hormones Vivienne Parry explains how, exactly, these mysteriously powerful things affect us. The Truth About Hormones is also a treasure trove of fascinating stories. For example: Were Brad Pitt a true Trojan, he would…[more]

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