2015 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award Nominees

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The nominees for the PEN/EO Wilson Literary Science Writing Awards have been announced. The winner is awarded for $10,000 (US) for a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences published in 2014. An interesting range of books have been nominated this year, click here for more information: http://www.pen.org/2015-pen-literary-awards-shortlist#Wilson

War of the Whales: A True Story by Joshua Horwitz

Two men face off against an all-powerful navy—and the fate of the ocean’s most majestic creatures hangs in the balance. War of the Whales is the gripping tale of a crusading attorney who stumbles on one of the US Navy’s best-kept secrets: a submarine detection system that floods entire ocean basins with high-intensity sound—and drives whales onto beaches. As Joel Reynolds launches a legal fight to expose and challenge the Navy program, marine biologist Ken Balcomb witnesses a mysterious mass stranding of whales near his research station in the Bahamas. Investigating this calamity, Balcomb is forced to choose between his conscience and an oath of secrecy he swore to the Navy in his youth. When Balcomb and Reynolds team up to expose the truth behind an epidemic of mass strandings, the stage is set for an epic battle that pits admirals against activists, rogue submarines against weaponized dolphins, and national security against the need to safeguard the ocean environment. Waged in secret military labs and the nation’s highest court, War of the Whales is a real-life thriller that combines the best of legal drama, natural history, and military intrigue.

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

In this illustrated history, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes—from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth—How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life. In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species—to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. Accompanied by a major six-part television series on PBS, How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes. Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era by Craig Nelson

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rocket Men and the award-winning biographer of Thomas Paine comes the first complete history of the Atomic Age, a brilliant, magisterial account of the men and women who uncovered the secrets of the nucleus, brought its power to America, and ignited the twentieth century. When Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller forged the science of radioactivity, they created a revolution that arced from the end of the nineteenth century, through the course of World War II and the Cold War of superpower brinksmanship, to our own twenty-first-century confrontation with the dangers of nuclear power and proliferation—a history of paradox, miracle, and nightmare. While nuclear science improves our everyday lives—from medicine to microwave technology—radiation’s invisible powers can trigger cancer and cellular mayhem. Writing with a biographer’s passion, Craig Nelson unlocks one of the great mysteries of the universe in a work that is tragic, triumphant, and above all, fascinating. From the discovery of X-rays in the 1890s, through the birth of nuclear power in an abandoned Chicago football stadium, to the bomb builders of Los Alamos and the apocalyptic Dr. Strangelove era, Nelson illuminates a pageant of fascinating historical figures: Marie and Pierre Curie, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Franklin Roosevelt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Harry Truman, Curtis LeMay, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. He reveals how brilliant Jewish scientists fleeing Hitler transformed America from a nation that created lightbulbs and telephones into one that split atoms; how the most grotesque weapon ever invented could realize Alfred Nobel’s lifelong dream of global peace; and how, in our time, emergency workers and low-level utility employees fought to contain run-amok nuclear reactors while wondering if they would live or die. Radiance defies our common-sense views of nature, with its staggering amounts of energy flowing from seemingly inert rock and matter pulsing in half-lives that transforms into other states over the course of decades or in the blink of an eye. Radiation is as scary a word as cancer, but it’s the power that keeps our planet warm, as well as the force behind earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, and so organic to all life that even our own human bodies are radioactive. By tracing mankind’s complicated relationship with the dangerous energy it discovered and unleashed, Nelson reveals how atomic power and radiation are indivisible from our everyday lives. Brilliantly told and masterfully crafted, The Age of Radiance provides a new understanding of a misunderstood epoch in history and restores to prominence the forgotten heroes and heroines who have changed all of our lives for better and for worse. It confirms Craig Nelson’s position as one of the most lively and skillful popular historians writing today.

Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers

Humans have been perfecting the science of alcohol production for ten thousand years, but modern scientists are only just beginning to distill the complex reactions behind the perfect buzz. In a spirited tour across continents and cultures, Adam Rogers puts our alcoholic history under the microscope, from our ancestors’ accidental discovery of fermented drinks to the cutting-edge laboratory research that proves why—or even if—people actually like the stuff. From fermentation to distillation to aging, Proof offers a unique glimpse inside the barrels, stills, tanks, and casks that produce iconic drinks. Rogers ventures from the whiskey-making mecca of the Scottish Highlands to the most sophisticated gene-sequencing labs in the world—and to more than one bar—introducing us to the motley characters and evolving science behind the latest developments in boozy technology. He uncovers alcohol’s deepest mysteries, chasing the physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry, and even metallurgy that power alcohol production, and the subtle mixture of psychology and neurobiology that fuels our taste for those products.With intoxicating enthusiasm, Rogers reveals alcohol as a miracle of science. If you’ve ever wondered how exactly your drink of choice arrived in your glass, or exactly what will happen to you once you empty it, Proof makes an unparalleled drinking companion.

[Image Credit: http://41.media.tumblr.com/0a8915adffdb35b1bb882638f663cb49/tumblr_nmx8cxgcTW1qdq50ro1_1280.jpg ]

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