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 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 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: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: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.

Book:The Better Angels of Our Nature

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Steven Pinker

This riveting, myth-destroying book reveals how, contrary to popular belief, humankind has become progressively less violent, over millenia and decades. Can violence really have declined? The images of conflict we see daily on our screens from around the world suggest this is an almost obscene claim to be making. Extraordinarily, however, Steven Pinker shows violence within and between societies—both murder and warfare—really has declined from prehistory to today. We are much less likely to die at someone else’s hands than ever before. Even the horrific carnage of the last century, when compared to the dangers of pre-state societies, is part of this trend.

Debunking both the idea of the ‘noble savage’ and an over-simplistic Hobbesian notion of a ‘nasty, brutish and short’ life, Steven Pinker argues that modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people. He ranges over…[more]

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