Honor roll: Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology

Each of these books has been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science & Technology. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:The Information (James Gleick)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

James Gleick

James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos and Genius, now brings us a work just as astonishing and masterly: a revelatory chronicle and meditation that shows how information has become the modern era’s defining quality—the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.

The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanishes as soon as it is born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer;…[more]

Book:The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Physician, researcher, and award-winning science writer, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years.

The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. Mukherjee recounts centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories, and deaths, told through the eyes of his predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary that, just three decades ago, was thought to be easily…[more]

Book:How the Mind Works

How the Mind Works

Steven Pinker

In this book, Steven Pinker explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. How the Mind Works explains many of the imponderables of everyday life. Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do “Magic-Eye” 3-D stereograms work? Why do we feel that a run of heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy?

The arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that human nature was shaped by natural selection. And he challenges fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational, that parents socialize their children, that creativity springs from the unconscious, that nature is good and modern society corrupting, and that art and religion are expressions of our higher spiritual yearnings.

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:The Beak of the Finch

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time

Jonathan Weiner

On a desert island in the heart of the Galapagos archipelago, where Darwin received his first inklings of the theory of evolution, two scientists, Peter and Rosemary Grant, have spent twenty years proving that Darwin did not know the strength of his own theory. For among the finches of Daphne Major, natural selection is neither rare nor slow: it is taking place by the hour, and we can watch.In this dramatic story of groundbreaking scientific research, Jonathan Weiner follows these scientists as they watch Darwin’s finches and come up with a new understanding of life itself. The Beak of the Finch is an elegantly written and compelling masterpiece of theory and explication in the tradition of Stephen Jay Gould.

Book:The Third Chimpanzee

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

Jared Diamond

Though we share 98 percent of our genes with the chimpanzee, our species evolved into something quite extraordinary. Jared Diamond explores the fascinating question of what in less than 2 percent of our genes has enabled us to found civilizations and religions, develop intricate languages, create art, learn science—and acquire the capacity to destroy all our achievements overnight. The Third Chimpanzee is a tour de force, an iconoclastic, entertaining, sometimes alarming look at the unique and marvelous creature that is the human animal.


Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

James Gleick

Richard Feynman’s life encompassed the most important discoveries and changes in science in this century. As a boy he tinkered with radios and as a scientist he looked at all things from an unusual and unique perspective. Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize, was an eccentric and hard-driven perfectionist—a genius indeed. Feynman’s career touched on every area of modern science: from the Manhattan Project to quantum mechanics, to the Space Shuttle Commission. Beyond the importance of the physicist, we learn of a man whose emotional demons made him all the more human. In the hands of gifted writer James Gleick, Richard Feynman is a man worth knowing.

Book:In Search of Memory

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind

Eric R. Kandel

Charting the intellectual history of the emerging biology of mind, Eric R. Kandel illuminates how behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology have converged into a powerful new science of mind. This science now provides nuanced insights into normal mental functioning and disease, and simultaneously opens pathways to more effective healing.

Driven by vibrant curiosity, Kandel’s personal quest to understand memory is threaded throughout this absorbing history. Beginning with his childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna, In Search of Memory chronicles Kandel’s outstanding career from his initial fascination with history and psychoanalysis to his groundbreaking work on the biological process of memory, which earned him the Nobel Prize.

A deft mixture of memoir and history, modern biology and behavior, In Search of Memory traces how a brilliant scientist’s intellectual journey intersected with one of the great scientific endeavors of the twentieth century: the search for the biological basis of memory.

Book:The Whale and the Supercomputer

The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change

Charles Wohlforth

Scientists and natives wrestle with our changing climate in the land where it has hit first—and hardest.

A traditional Eskimo whale-hunting party races to shore near Barrow, Alaska—their comrades trapped on a floe drifting out to sea—as ice that should be solid this time of year gives way. Elsewhere, a team of scientists transverses the tundra, sleeping in tents, surviving on frozen chocolate, and measuring the snow every ten kilometers in a quest to understand the effects of albedo, the snow’s reflective ability to cool the earth beneath it.

Climate change isn’t an abstraction in the far North. It is a reality that has already dramatically altered daily life, especially that of the native peoples who still live largely off the land and sea. Because nature shows her footprints so plainly here, the region is also a lure for scientists intent on comprehending the complexities of climate change. In this gripping account,…[more]

Book:Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Brenda Maddox

In March 1953, Maurice Wilkins of King’s College, London, announced the departure of his obstructive colleague Rosalind Franklin to rival Cavendish Laboratory scientist Francis Crick. But it was too late. Franklin’s unpublished data and crucial photograph of DNA had already been seen by her competitors at the Cambridge University lab. With the aid of these, plus their own knowledge, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule that genes are composed of—DNA, the secret of life. Five years later, at the age of thirty-seven, after more brilliant research under J. D. Bernal at Birkbeck College, Rosalind died of ovarian cancer. In 1962, Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize for their elucidation of DNA’s structure. Franklin’s part was forgotten until she was caricatured in Watson’s book The Double Helix.

In this full and balanced biography, Brenda Maddox has been given unique access to Franklin’s personal correspondence…[more]

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