Annal: 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2009.

Book:The Strangest Man

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius

Graham Farmelo

Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, the most revolutionary theory of the past century, his contributions had a unique insight, eloquence, clarity, and mathematical power. His prediction of antimatter was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of physics. One of Einstein’s most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Dirac’s personality is legendary. He was an extraordinarily reserved loner, relentlessly literal-minded and appeared to have no empathy with most people. Yet he was a family man and was intensely loyal to his friends. His tastes in the arts ranged from Beethoven to Cher, from Rembrandt to Mickey Mouse.

Based on previously undiscovered archives, The Strangest Man reveals the many facets of Dirac’s brilliantly original mind. A compelling human story, The Strangest Man also depicts a spectacularly exciting era in scientific history.

Book:Catching Fire

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Richard Wrangham

Ever since Darwin and The Descent of Man, the existence of humans has been attributed to our intelligence and adaptability. But in Catching Fire, renowned primatologist Richard Wrangham presents a startling alternative: our evolutionary success is the result of cooking.

In a groundbreaking theory of our origins, Wrangham shows that the shift from raw to cooked foods was the key factor in human evolution. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity began. Once our hominid ancestors began cooking their food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Time once spent chewing tough raw food could be used instead to hunt and to tend camp. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created the household, and even led to a sexual division of labor. Tracing the contemporary implications of our ancestors’ diets, Catching Fire sheds new light on how we came to be the…[more]

Book:Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places

Bill Streever

From avalanches to glaciers, from seals to snowflakes, and from Shackleton’s expedition to “The Year Without Summer,” Bill Streever journeys through history, myth, geography, and ecology in a year-long search for cold—real, icy, 40-below cold. In July he finds it while taking a dip in a 35-degree Arctic swimming hole; in September while excavating our planet’s ancient and not so ancient ice ages; and in October while exploring hibernation habits in animals, from humans to wood frogs to bears.

A scientist whose passion for cold runs red hot, Streever is a wondrous guide: he conjures woolly mammoth carcasses and the ice-age Clovis tribe from melting glaciers, and he evokes blizzards so wild readers may freeze—limb by vicarious limb.

Book:The Day We Found the Universe

The Day We Found the Universe

Marcia Bartusiak

From one of our most acclaimed science writers: a dramatic narrative of the discovery of the true nature and startling size of the universe, delving back past the moment of revelation to trace the decades of work—by a select group of scientists—that made it possible.

On New Years Day in 1925, a young Edwin Hubble released his finding that our Universe was far bigger, eventually measured as a thousand trillion times larger than previously believed. Hubble’s proclamation sent shock waves through the scientific community. Six years later, in a series of meetings at Mount Wilson Observatory, Hubble and others convinced Albert Einstein that the Universe was not static but in fact expanding. Here Marcia Bartusiak reveals the key players, battles of will, clever insights, incredible technology, ground-breaking research, and wrong turns made by the early investigators of the heavens as they raced to…[more]

Book:Naming Nature

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science

Carol Kaesuk Yoon

The surprising, untold story about the poetic and deeply human (cognitive) capacity to name the natural world. Two hundred and fifty years ago, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus set out to order and name the entire living world and ended up founding a science: the field of scientific classification, or taxonomy. Yet, in spite of Linnaeus’s pioneering work and the genius of those who followed him, from Darwin to E. O. Wilson, taxonomy went from being revered as one of the most significant of intellectual pursuits to being largely ignored. Today, taxonomy is viewed by many as an outdated field, one nearly irrelevant to the rest of science and of even less interest to the rest of the world.

Now, as Carol Kaesuk Yoon, biologist and longtime science writer for the New York Times, reminds us in Naming Nature, taxonomy is critically important, because it turns out to be much more than mere science. It is also the latest incarnation…[more]

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