Honor roll: Royal Society Prize for General Science Book

Each of these works has been nominated for one of these awards: Aventis Prize for General Science Book, Royal Society Prize for Science Books. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:The Wavewatcher's Companion

The Wavewatcher's Companion

Gavin Pretor-Pinney

One bright February afternoon on a beach in Cornwall, Gavin Pretor-Pinney took a break from cloudspotting and started watching the waves rolling into shore. Mesmerised, he wondered where they had come from, and decided to find out. He soon realised that waves don’t just appear on the ocean, they are everywhere around us, and our lives depend on them.

From the rippling beats of our hearts, to the movement of food through our digestive tracts and of signals across our brains, waves are the transport systems of our bodies. Everything we see and hear reaches us via light and sound waves, and our information age is reliant on the microwaves and infrared waves used by the telephone and internet infrastructure. From shockwaves unleashed by explosions to torsional waves that cause suspension bridges to collapse, from sonar waves that allow submarines to ‘see’ with sound to Mexican waves that sweep through stadium crowds… there were waves, it seemed, wherever Gavin looked. But what,…[more]

Book:Life Ascending

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution

Nick Lane

A renowned biochemist draws on cutting-edge scientific findings to construct the mosaic of life’s astounding history.

How did life invent itself? Where did DNA come from? How did consciousness develop? Powerful new research methods are providing vivid insights into the makeup of life. Comparing gene sequences, examining atomic structures of proteins, and looking into the geochemistry of rocks have helped explain evolution in more detail than ever before. Nick Lane expertly reconstructs the history of life by describing the ten greatest inventions of evolution (including DNA, photosynthesis, sex, and sight), based on their historical impact, role in organisms today, and relevance to current controversies. Who would have guessed that eyes started off as light-sensitive spots used to calibrate photosynthesis in algae? Or that DNA’s building blocks form spontaneously in hydrothermal vents?

Lane gives a gripping, lucid account of nature’s ingenuity, and the result is a work of essential reading for anyone who has ever pondered or questioned the science underlying evolution’s greatest gifts to man.

Book:Six Degrees

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

Mark Lynas

Possibly the most graphic treatment of global warming that has yet been published, Six Degrees is what readers of Al Gore’s best-selling An Inconvenient Truth or Ross Gelbspan’s Boiling Point will turn to next. Written by the acclaimed author of High Tide, this highly relevant and compelling book uses accessible journalistic prose to distill what environmental scientists portend about the consequences of human pollution for the next hundred years.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report projecting average global surface temperatures to rise between 1.4 degrees and 5.8 degrees Celsius (roughly 2 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. Based on this forecast, author Mark Lynas outlines what to expect from a warming world, degree by degree. At 1 degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance…[more]

Book:Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness

Daniel Gilbert

In this brilliant, witty, and accessible book, renowned Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Vividly bringing to life the latest scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. With penetrating insight and sparkling prose, Gilbert explains why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.

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]

Book:Critical Mass

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another

Philip Ball

Are there any “laws of nature” that influence the ways in which humans behave and organize themselves? In the seventeenth century, tired of the civil war ravaging England, Thomas Hobbes decided that he would work out what kind of government was needed for a stable society. His approach was based not on utopian wishful thinking but rather on Galileo’s mechanics to construct a theory of government from first principles. His solution is unappealing to today’s society, yet Hobbes had sparked a new way of thinking about human behavior in looking for the “scientific” rules of society.

Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill pursued this idea from different political perspectives. Little by little, however, social and political philosophy abandoned a “scientific” approach. Today, physics is enjoying a revival in the social, political and economic sciences. Ball shows how much we can understand of human behavior when we cease to try…[more]

Book:A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of the world’s most beloved and bestselling writers. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, he takes his ultimate journey—into the most intriguing and consequential questions that science seeks to answer. It’s a dazzling quest, the intellectual odyssey of a lifetime, as this insatiably curious writer attempts to understand everything that has transpired from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Or, as the author puts it, “…how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” This is, in short, a tall order.

To that end, Bill Bryson apprenticed himself to a host of the world’s most profound scientific minds, living and dead. His challenge is to take subjects like geology, chemistry, paleontology, astronomy, and particle physics and see if there isn’t…[more]

Book:Right Hand, Left Hand

Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms, and Cultures

Chris McManus

A labor of love and enthusiasm as well as deep scientific knowledge, Right Hand, Left Hand takes the reader on a trip through history, around the world, and into the cosmos, to explore the place of handedness in nature and culture. Chris McManus considers evidence from anthropology, particle physics, the history of medicine, and the notebooks of Leonardo to answer questions like: Why are most people right-handed? Are left-handed people cognitively different from right-handers? Why is the heart almost always on the left side of the body? Why does European writing go from left to right, while Arabic and Hebrew go from right to left? Why do tornadoes spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere? And how do we know that Jack the Ripper was left-handed?

McManus reminds readers that distinctions between right and left have been profoundly meaningful—imbued with moral and…[more]

Book:The Universe in a Nutshell

The Universe in a Nutshell

Stephen Hawking

One of the most influential thinkers of our time, Stephen Hawking is an intellectual icon, known not only for the adventurousness of his ideas but for the clarity and wit with which he expresses them. In this new book Hawking takes us to the cutting edge of theoretical physics, where truth is often stranger than fiction, to explain in laymen’s terms the principles that control our universe.

Like many in the community of theoretical physicists, Professor Hawking is seeking to uncover the grail of science—the elusive Theory of Everything that lies at the heart of the cosmos. In his accessible and often playful style, he guides us on his search to uncover the secrets of the universe—from supergravity to supersymmetry, from quantum theory to M-theory, from holography to duality. …[more]

Book:Mapping the Deep

Mapping the Deep: The Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science

Robert Kunzig

A vivid, up-to-date tour of the Earth’s last frontier, a remote and mysterious realm that nonetheless lies close to the heart of even the most land-locked reader.

The sea covers seven-tenths of the Earth, but we have mapped only a small percentage of it. The sea contains millions of species of animals and plants, but we have identified only a few thousand of them. The sea controls our planet’s climate, but we do not really understand how. The sea is still the frontier, and yet it seems so familiar that we sometimes forget how little we know about it.

Just as we are poised on the verge of exploiting the sea on an unprecedented scale-mining it, fertilizing it, fishing it out-this book reminds us of how much we have yet to learn. More than that, it chronicles the knowledge explosion that has transformed…[more]

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