Wednesday, 20 October 2010

And the winner is...

Tomorrow night is popular science's equivalent of the BAFTAs - the Royal Society Prize for Science Books will be awarded. There's a interesting  shortlist:

We need to talk about Kelvin Marcus Chown Uses everyday observations to plunge into quantum theory, thermodynamics and cosmology. Great fun and very readable. Shortlist
Why Does E=mc2 Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw Explanation of the derivation of the world's most famous equation, exploration of the standard model master equation and great exposition of Higgs - but too technical for the general reader. Shortlist
God's Philosophers James Hannam Highly informative and surprisingly readable book filling in just what developments were made in the history of science during the medieval period. Short list
Life Ascending Nick Lane Visit bookshop Visit bookshop        Short list
A World without Ice Henry Pollack Visit bookshop Visit bookshop        Short list

I have to say for me there are some oddities in there. In the table above you see the ratings of the ones we've reviewed on the Popular Science website (click the titles or summaries for a detailed review) - some, yes, are great. Some, frankly, rather less so. I can't help but think this is in part because of the odd nature of the judging panel. It is Maggie Philbin, Radio and television presenter (Chair); Professor Tim Birkhead, Fellow of the Royal Society; Tracy Chevalier, author; Robin Ince, stand-up comedian, writer and actor; Dr Janet Anders, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow. So, basically, a couple of academics, a couple of media types and a fiction writer. How many popular science writers? Well... none. Nothing like getting the experts in.

On the Popular Science website we also feature our 'extras' - books that were published in the right period and really should have been on the shortlist, rather than some of those weird choices. This year it looks like this:

Atomic: the first war of physics Jim Baggott Riveting and detailed history of the development of nuclear weapons in Germany, the UK, the US and Russia. Fascinating in its depth and the lost possibilities for alternatives to nuclear proliferation. Overview
Before the Big Bang Brian Clegg The latest ideas on how the universe began, the limitations of the Big Bang theory and more in excellent popular history of how humans understand the universe. Cosmology
Dazzled and Deceived Peter Forbes Excellent book on the fascinating topic of mimicry and camouflage, covering both the natural world and military attempts. Great insights into evolutionary mechanisms. Biology, technology
Heatstroke Anthony Barnosky Excellent exploration of the impact of climate change on species, and how the present global warming could devastate nature. Earth science, biology
Microcosm Carl Zimmer Fascinating study of the bacterium E. coli with plenty of lessons for the understanding of life as a whole, and our attitude to human genetic material. Biology

Any road up, good luck to all those attending tomorrow. For me, the obvious choice is Marcus Chown's book - but let's face it, book prize panels specialize in not going for the obvious choice.
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