Annal: 2013 Royal Society Prize for Science Books

Results of the Royal Society Prizes in the year 2013.

Book:The Particle at the End of the Universe

The Particle at the End of the Universe

Sean B. Carroll

It was the universe’s most elusive particle, the linchpin for everything scientists dreamed up to explain how stuff works. It had to be found. But projects as big as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider don’t happen without dealing and conniving, incredible risks and occasional skullduggery. Award-winning physicist and science popularizer Sean Carroll reveals the history-making forces of insight, rivalry, and wonder that fuelled the Higgs search and how its discovery opens a door into the mind-boggling domain of dark matter and other phenomena we never predicted. Told with unrivalled ambition, authority, and access to the teams, this is the greatest science story of our time—riveting and irresistible.

Book:Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird

Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird

Tim Birkhead

What is it like to be a swift, flying at over one hundred kilometres an hour? Or a kiwi, plodding flightlessly among the humid undergrowth in the pitch dark of a New Zealand night? And what is going on inside the head of a nightingale as it sings, and how does its brain improvise?

Bird Sense addresses questions like these and many more, by describing the senses of birds that enable them to interpret their environment and to interact with each other. Our affinity for birds is often said to be the result of shared senses—vision and hearing—but how exactly do their senses compare with our own? And what about a bird’s sense of taste, or smell, or touch, or the ability to detect the earth’s magnetic field? Or the extraordinary ability of desert birds to detect rain hundreds of kilometres away—how do they do it? …[more]

Book:The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

Caspar Henderson

From medieval bestiaries to Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings, we’ve long been enchanted by extraordinary animals, be they terrifying three-headed dogs or asps impervious to a snake charmer’s song. But bestiaries are more than just zany zoology—they are artful attempts to convey broader beliefs about human beings and the natural order. Today, we no longer fear sea monsters or banshees. But from the infamous honey badger to the giant squid, animals continue to captivate us with the things they can do and the things they cannot, what we know about them and what we don’t.

With The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie. But whereas medieval bestiaries were often based on folklore and myth, the creatures that abound in Henderson’s book—from the axolotl to the zebrafish—are, with one exception, very much with us, albeit sometimes in depleted numbers. The…[more]

Book:Cells to Civilizations

Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life

Enrico Coen

Cells to Civilizations is the first unified account of how life transforms itself—from the production of bacteria to the emergence of complex civilizations. What are the connections between evolving microbes, an egg that develops into an infant, and a child who learns to walk and talk? Award-winning scientist Enrico Coen synthesizes the growth of living systems and creative processes, and he reveals that the four great life transformations—evolution, development, learning, and human culture—while typically understood separately, actually all revolve around shared core principles and manifest the same fundamental recipe. Coen blends provocative discussion, the latest scientific research, and colorful examples to demonstrate the links between these critical stages in the history of life.

Coen tells a story rich with genes, embryos, neurons, and fascinating discoveries. He examines the development of the…[more]

Book:Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea

Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea

Callum Roberts

In this revelatory book, Callum Roberts uses his lifetime’s experience working with the oceans to show why they are the most mysterious places on earth, their depths still largely unexplored. In The Ocean of Life we get a panoramic tour beneath the seas: Why do currents circulate the way do? Where exactly do they go? How has the chemistry of the oceans changed? How polluted are we making them? Above all, Roberts reveals the richness of their life, and how it has altered over the centuries.

The oceans are now under unprecedented threat. Not only does Roberts show how we are fishing our oceans to extinction, crucially, he explains how this directly affects our lives on land. Ninety-five percent of habitable space on earth lies in the oceans, and marine plants produce half the world’s oxygen; the oceans themselves absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide. The life they support is now in the balance.

The Ocean of Life should galvanise debate worldwide. Roberts shows how we can arrest and reverse the damage we are doing. Tantalisingly, it is within our grasp to restore the life of the oceans. There is still time.

Book:Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory

Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory

Charles Fernyhough

Leading psychologist Charles Fernyhough blends the most current science with literature and personal stories in Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts.

A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing fixed, unchanging memories, they have found that we create recollections anew each time we are called upon to remember. According to psychologist Charles Fernyhough, remembering is an act of narrative imagination as much as it is the product of a neurological process.

An NPR and Psychology Today contributor, Dr. Fernyhough guides readers through the fascinating new science of autobiographical memory, covering topics such as: navigation, imagination, and the power of sense associations to cue remembering. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, Pieces of Light brings together science and literature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to help us better understand our powers of recall and our relationship with the past.

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