Honor roll: Science/Technology books

Each of these Science/Technology books has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:The Age of Wonder

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Richard Holmes

A riveting history of the men and women whose discoveries and inventions at the end of the eighteenth century gave birth to the Romantic Age of Science.

When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’s original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.

Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives…[more]

Book:Team Moon

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon

Catherine Thimmesh

Here is a rare perspective on a story we only thought we knew. For Apollo 11, the first moon landing, is a story that belongs to many, not just the few and famous. It belongs to the seamstress who put together twenty-two layers of fabric for each space suit. To the engineers who created a special heat shield to protect the capsule during its fiery reentry. It belongs to the flight directors, camera designers, software experts, suit testers, telescope crew, aerospace technicians, photo developers, engineers, and navigators.

Gathering direct quotes from some of these folks who worked behind the scenes, Catherine Thimmesh reveals their very human worries and concerns. Culling NASA transcripts, national archives, and stunning NASA photos from Apollo 11, she captures not only the sheer magnitude of this feat but also the dedication, ingenuity, and perseverance of the greatest team ever — the team that worked to first put man on that great gray rock in the sky.

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:American Prometheus

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb,” the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation–one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.

He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials–an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force’s plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI…[more]

Book:Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Deborah Heiligman

Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.

Deborah Heiligman’s new biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers.  

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 Golden Spruce

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

John Vaillant

As vividly as Jon Krakauer put readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America’s last great forest, where trees grow to eighteen feet in diameter, sunlight never touches the ground, and the chainsaws are always at work.

When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night’s work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.

The tree, a fascinating puzzle to scientists, was sacred to the Haida, a fierce seafaring tribe based in the Queen Charlottes. Vaillant recounts the bloody history of the Haida and the early fur trade, and provides harrowing details of the logging industry, whose omnivorous violence would claim both Hadwin and the golden spruce.

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]

Book:The Longitude Prize

The Longitude Prize

Joan Dash, Dusan Petricic

By the start of the eighteenth century, many thousands of sailors had perished at sea because their captains had no way of knowing longitude, their east-west location. Latitude, the north-south position, was easy enough, but once out of sight of land not even the most experienced navigator had a sure method of fixing longitude. So the British Parliament offered a substantial monetary prize to whoever could invent a device to determine exact longitude at sea.

Many of the world’s greatest minds tried — and failed — to come up with a solution. Instead, it was a country clockmaker named John Harrison who would invent a clock that could survive wild seas and be used to calculate longitude accurately. But in an aristocratic society, the road to acceptance was not a smooth one, and even when Harrison produced not one but five elegant, seaworthy timekeepers, each an improvement on the one that preceded it, claiming the prize was another battle.

Set in an exciting historical framework — telling of shipwrecks and politics — this is the story of one man’s creative vision, his persistence against great odds, and his lifelong fight for recognition of a brilliant invention.

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