The 2015 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books nominees were announced in early August.
This year the judges of the book prize is chaired by Science Book a Day regular, Ian Stewart:
“While these books vary widely in their subject matter, they all excel at telling the human story, making science accessible and real without dumbing it down. Whether it’s through Gaia Vince’s reports of her ecological Adventures in the Anthropocene, finding out what it’s like to work at the Large Hadron Collider in Smashing Physics, or Bellos’s infectious enthusiasm in Alex Through the Looking-Glass, these books provide wonderfully engaging entry routes into complex topics.”
The winner will be announced at a ceremony on September 24, 2015. Click here for more information.
This book offers an intimate look at the power of intrusive thoughts, how our brains can turn against us and what it means to live with obsessive compulsive disorder. Have you ever had a strange urge to jump from a tall building, or steer your car into oncoming traffic? You are not alone. In this captivating fusion of science, history and personal memoir, writer David Adam explores the weird thoughts that exist within every mind, and how they drive millions of us towards obsessions and compulsions. David has suffered from OCD for twenty years, and The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is his unflinchingly honest attempt to understand the condition and his experiences. What might lead an Ethiopian schoolgirl to eat a wall of her house, piece by piece; or a pair of brothers to die beneath an avalanche of household junk that they had compulsively hoarded? At what point does a harmless idea, a snowflake in a clear summer sky, become a blinding blizzard of unwanted thoughts? Drawing on the latest research on the brain, as well as historical accounts of patients and their treatments, this is a book that will challenge the way you think about what is normal, and what is mental illness. Told with fierce clarity, humour and urgent lyricism, this extraordinary book is both the haunting story of a personal nightmare, and a fascinating doorway into the darkest corners of our minds.
From triangles, rotations and power laws, to fractals, cones and curves, bestselling author Alex Bellos takes you on a journey of mathematical discovery with his signature wit, engaging stories and limitless enthusiasm. As he narrates a series of eye-opening encounters with lively personalities all over the world, Alex demonstrates how numbers have come to be our friends, are fascinating and extremely accessible, and how they have changed our world.
He turns even the dreaded calculus into an easy-to-grasp mathematical exposition, and sifts through over 30,000 survey submissions to reveal the world’s favourite number. In Germany, he meets the engineer who designed the first roller-coaster loop, whilst in India he joins the world’s highly numerate community at the International Congress of Mathematicians. He explores the wonders behind the Game of Life program, and explains mathematical logic, growth and negative numbers. Stateside, he hangs out with a private detective in Oregon and meets the mathematician who looks for universes from his garage in Illinois.
Read this captivating book, and you won’t realise that you’re learning about complex concepts. Alex will get you hooked on maths as he delves deep into humankind’s turbulent relationship with numbers, and proves just how much fun we can have with them.
Smashing Physics: Inside the World’s Biggest Experiment by Jon Butterworth
The discovery of the Higgs boson made headlines around the world. Two scientists, Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, whose theories predicted its existence, shared a Nobel Prize. The discovery was the culmination of the largest experiment ever run, the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. But what really is a Higgs boson and what does it do? How was it found? And how has its discovery changed our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature? And what did it feel like to be part of it? Jon Butterworth is one of the leading physicists at CERN and this book is the first popular inside account of the hunt for the Higgs. It is a story of incredible scientific collaboration, inspiring technological innovation and ground-breaking science. It is also the story of what happens when the world’s most expensive experiment blows up, of neutrinos that may or may not travel faster than light, and the reality of life in an underground bunker in Switzerland. This book will also leave you with a working knowledge of the new physics and what the discovery of the Higgs particle means for how we define the laws of nature. It will take you to the cutting edge of modern scientific thinking.
Life’s Greatest Secret is the story of the discovery and cracking of the genetic code. This great scientific breakthrough has had far-reaching consequences for how we understand ourselves and our place in the natural world. The code forms the most striking proof of Darwin’s hypothesis that all organisms are related, holds tremendous promise for improving human well-being, and has transformed the way we think about life.
Matthew Cobb interweaves science, biography and anecdote in a book that mixes remarkable insights, theoretical dead-ends and ingenious experiments with the pace of a thriller. He describes cooperation and competition among some of the twentieth-century’s most outstanding and eccentric minds, moves between biology, physics and chemistry, and shows the part played by computing and cybernetics. The story spans the globe, from Cambridge MA to Cambridge UK, New York to Paris, London to Moscow. It is both thrilling science and a fascinating story about how science is done.
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe Mcfadden and Professor Jim Al-Khalili
Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we missing a vital ingredient in its creation? Like Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of life’s dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience of science at the cutting edge with unparalleled gifts of exposition and explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal the hitherto missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, they show how photosynthesis relies on subatomic particles existing in many places at once, while inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another. Each chapter in Life on the Edge opens with an engaging example that illustrates one of life’s puzzles – How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes manage to copy themselves with such precision? and then reveals how quantum mechanics delivers its answer. Guiding the reader through the maze of rapidly unfolding discovery, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate vividly the excitement of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and also offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.
We all know our planet is in crisis, and that it is largely our fault. But all too often the full picture of change is obstructed by dense data sets and particular catastrophes. Struggling with this obscurity in her role as an editor at Nature, Gaia Vince decided to travel the world and see for herself what life is really like for people on the frontline of this new reality. What she found was a number people doing the most extraordinary things.
During her journey she finds a man who is making artificial glaciers in Nepal along with an individual who is painting mountains white to attract snowfall; take the electrified reefs of the Maldives; or the man who’s making islands out of rubbish in the Caribbean. These are ordinary people who are solving severe crises in crazy, ingenious, effective ways. While Vince does not mince words regarding the challenging position our species is in, these wonderful stories, combined with the new science that underpins Gaia’s expertise and research, make for a persuasive, illuminating — and strangely hopeful — read on what the Anthropocene means for our future.