Annal: 2009 Royal Society Prize for General Science Book

Results of the Royal Society Prizes in the year 2009.

Book:The Age of Wonder

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes

A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.

When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’s original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.

Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives…[more]

Book:Bad Science (Ben Goldacre)

Bad Science

Ben Goldacre

Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we’re fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an ‘Aqua Detox’ footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he’d try the same at home. ‘Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’, using his girlfriend’s Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: ‘before my very eyes, the world’s first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend’s immorality.’ Dr Ben Goldacre is the author of the ‘Bad Science’ column in the Guardian and his book is about all the ‘bad science’ we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own ‘bad science’ moments—from the…[more]

Book:Decoding the Heavens

Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer—and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets

Jo Marchant

The bronze fragments of an ancient Greek device have puzzled scholars for more than a century after they were recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, where they had lain since about 80 BC. Now, using advanced imaging technology, scientists have solved the mystery of its intricate workings. Unmatched in complexity for a thousand years, the mechanism functioned as the world’s first analog computer, calculating the movements of the sun, moon, and planets through the zodiac.

In Decoding the Heavens, Jo Marchant details for the first time the hundred-year quest to decode this ancient computer. Along the way she unearths a diverse cast of remarkable characters—ranging from Archimedes to Jacques Cousteau—and explores the deep roots of modern technology, not only in ancient Greece, but in the Islamic world and medieval Europe. At its heart, this is an epic adventure story, a book that challenges our assumptions about technology development through the ages while giving us fresh insights into history itself.

Book:The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Leonard Mlodinow

With the born storyteller’s command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.

By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives us the tools we need to make more informed decisions. From the classroom to the courtroom and from financial markets to supermarkets, Mlodinow’s intriguing and illuminating look at how randomness, chance, and probability affect our daily lives will intrigue, awe, and inspire.

Book:What the Nose Knows

What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life

Avery Gilbert

Everything about the sense of smell fascinates us, from its power to evoke memories to its ability to change our moods and influence our behavior. Yet because it is the least understood of the senses, myths abound. For example, contrary to popular belief, the human nose is almost as sensitive as the noses of many animals, including dogs; blind people do not have enhanced powers of smell; and perfumers excel at their jobs not because they have superior noses, but because they have perfected the art of thinking about scents.

  • How many smells are there? And how many molecules would it take to create every smell in nature, from roses to stinky feet?
  • Who was the bigger scent freak: the perfume-obsessed Richard Wagner or Emily Dickinson, with her creepy passion for flowers? …[more]
Book:Your Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Neil Shubin

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today’s most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik—the “missing link” that made headlines around the world in April 2006—tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

Shubin makes us see ourselves and our world in a completely new light. Your Inner Fish is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible, and told with irresistible enthusiasm.

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