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:Guns, Germs and Steel

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Jared Diamond

A global account of the rise of civilization that is also a stunning refutation of ideas of human development based on race.

Until around 11,000 b.c., all peoples were still Stone Age hunter/gatherers. At that point, a great divide occurred in the rates that human societies evolved. In Eurasia, parts of the Americas, and Africa, farming became the prevailing mode of existence when indigenous wild plants and animals were domesticated by prehistoric planters and herders. As Jared Diamond vividly reveals, the very people who gained a head start in producing food would collide with preliterate cultures, shaping the modern world through conquest, displacement, and genocide.

The paths that lead from scattered centers of food to broad bands of settlement had a great deal to do with climate and…[more]

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.

Book:Wonderful Life

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History

Stephen Jay Gould

Tucked into the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. Discovered early in the century, the shale holds the remains of an ancient sea that nurtured more varities of life than can be found in all of our modern oceans.

Darwinian theory says that animals living so long ago were necessarily simple in design and limited in scope. But more recent interpretations unexpectedly reveal the great diversity locked in the shale.

Explosive stuff, for it blasts the belief that the history of life has been a broadening of options and challenges the idea that humans crown the evolutionary process.

Stephen Jay Gould advocates the role played in this process by chance. Things could easily have gone differently. It makes the reader wonder what might have been, and lets each of us provide our own answer.

Book:The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth

Paul Hoffman

Paul Erdos, the most prolific and eccentric mathematician of our time, forsook all creature comforts—including a home—to pursue his lifelong study of numbers. He was a man who possessed unimaginable powers of thought yet was unable to manage some of the simplest daily tasks. For more than six decades, Erdos lived out of two tattered suitcases, crisscrossing four continents at a frenzied pace, chasing mathematical problems and fresh talent. Erdos saw mathematics as a search for lasting beauty and ultimate truth. It was a search Erdos never abandoned, even as his life was torn asunder by some of the major political dramas of our time.

In this biography, Hoffman uses Erdos’s life and work to introduce readers to a cast of remarkable geniuses, from Archimedes to Stanislaw Ulam, one of the chief minds behind the Los Alamos nuclear project. He draws on years of interviews with Ronald…[more]

Book:The Wisdom of the Bones

The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins

Alan Walker, Pat Shipman

In 1984 a team of paleoanthropologists on a dig in northern Kenya found something extraordinary: a nearly complete skeleton of Homo erectus, a creature that lived 1.5 million years ago and is widely thought to be the missing link between apes and humans. The remains belonged to a tall, rangy adolescent male. The researchers called him “Nariokotome boy.”

In this immensely lively book, Alan Walker, one of the lead researchers, and his wife and fellow scientist Pat Shipman tell the story of that epochal find and reveal what it tells us about our earliest ancestors. We learn that Nariokotome boy was a highly social predator who walked upright but lacked the capacity for speech. In leading us to these conclusions, The Wisdom of the Bones also offers an engaging chronicle of the hundred-year-long search for a “missing link,” a saga of folly, heroic dedication, and inspired science.

Book:Plague's Progress

Plague's Progress: A Social History of Man and Disease

Arno Karlen

The Black Death, the Great Plague, leprosy, smallpox: the very names now have a historical—almost a mythological—ring. With our space-age hospitals and wonder drugs, surely we’ve consigned pestilence to the past! Even AIDS hasn’t succeeded in persuading us otherwise…In this shocking, scintillating book, biohistorian Arno Karlen questions this complacent conspiracy, tracing the continuities of contagion from ancient times to the present day. An epic of epidemic, the story is, he says, anything but over: indeed we may well be standing on the brink of disaster.

Book:The Consumer's Good Chemical Guide

The Consumer's Good Chemical Guide: A Jargon-Free Guide to the Chemicals of Everyday Life

John Emsley

This guide exposes the misinformation and disinformation that surrounds many of the controversial chemicals in every-day life. It uses non-technical language to explain the science behind the chemicals which are claimed to be dangerous, polluting or unhealthy, and argues that many are far less dangerous than shock-horror newspaper headlines would have us believe.

Book:The Language of Genes

The Language of Genes

Steve Jones

Displaying a remarkable ability to convey complex ideas in an entertaining and illuminating way, geneticist Steve Jones takes the reader on a fascinating tour of the world of human genetics, explaining how the field began, the darker uses genetics has been put to in history, the role genes play in shaping who and what we are, and the effects that new genetic discoveries have had on our basic theories of evolution.

Over the last decade, the study of the human genetic code has granted us unparalleled insights into our species’ past, present, and future. The Human Genome Project—a massive scientific effort to map out each of the three billion elements in a strand of DNA—is but one example of the explosion of knowledge in recent years. Gradually, the origins of some of the most crippling and mysterious illnesses are beginning to come to light, as scientists locate the specific genes linked to hemophilia, cystic…[more]

Book:The Making of Memory

The Making of Memory: From Molecules to Mind

Steven Rose

Combining a richly detailed account of scientists at work with a highly readable explanation of cutting-edge neuroscience, this book offers fascinating new insights on the cellular mechanisms of memory and learning.

Book:The Emperor's New Mind

The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics

Roger Penrose

For decades, proponents of artificial intelligence have argued that computers will soon be doing everything that a human mind can do. Admittedly, computers now play chess at the grandmaster level, but do they understand the game as we do? Can a computer eventually do everything a human mind can do?

In this absorbing and frequently contentious book, Roger Penrose—eminent physicist and winner, with Stephen Hawking, of the prestigious Wolf prize—puts forward his view that there are some facets of human thinking that can never be emulated by a machine. Penrose examines what physics and mathematics can tell us about how the mind works, what they can’t, and what we need to know to understand the physical processes of consciousness. He is among a growing number of physicists who think Einstein wasn’t being stubborn when he said his “little finger” told him that quantum mechanics is incomplete, and he concludes that laws…[more]

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