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Get up to speed with the most popular developments in science, with everything from the tiniest atom to the farthest flung findings of the universe, and every scientific discovery in between. Our selection of books in this category will keep you up to date.
Across the road from where I live a house has a new plaque, recording that Thomas Bayes, preacher and mathematician lived there. He is, I learn from Bill Bryson’s introduction, his favourite Royal Society fellow. Bayes died in 1761 and a friend sent his theorem to the Royal Society after his death – a theorem that had no practical use in his lifetime but is now of prime importance in computer calculations. In keeping and publishing such work, it sums up the importance of the Royal Society, the oldest such scientific society in the world, now celebrating its 350th birthday. And here you have a splendid, really well illustrated tribute, a gathering of some of the top names in the field contributing essays celebrating science and the Society.Like for Like Reading:The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, Richard Holmes
There are a lot of surprises in Celia Kellett’s compendium, one that particularly astonished me, the poetry of the poisons – one especially has joined my list of favourite words, orpiment, the very poisonous arsenic trisulphide. There’s a lot of historical enlightenment to be had too, some useful to know like the ingredients of Indian ink - others such as the medieval penchant for reusable laxatives, I rather wish I didn’t know. You’ll learn what really happened at Bhopal, the details of every famous poisoning case, what’s in your cosmetics and a myriad of other fascinating facts. Like for Like Reading:Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee – The Dark History of the Food Cheats, Bee Wilson
Winner of the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Richard Holmes describes his book as a relay race, set on the cusp of the 1800’s with discovery following after discovery, our own planet, the sky above us and the universe beyond. And interweaved throughout is the literary reaction to this exciting new world with perhaps Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being the most well-known. Of all the books shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Science prize this year Richard Holmes’ history stands out a mile; for the exciting story he has to tell, the skill with which he writes and explains the science involved and not least the way he so beautifully conveys the ferment of the times. Comparison: Joseph Banks by Patrick O’Brian, The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel’s Astronomical Ambition by Claire Brock, Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future by Jenny Uglow
At the start of each school term, at the age of about 10, I did something that I suppose a million other 10-year-olds have done! The Address Book starts with some of the fundamental questions asked by everyone, in every culture since the beginning of civilisation. Who am I? Where am I? Where am I going? Tim Radford attempts to answer them by drafting in a technique he first used as a school-boy, when he wrote his address in the inside front cover of his exercise book every term, starting with the house number, the street name, the town, and proceeding upwards through levels of scale - the hemisphere, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy - until he reached the final line, the universe itself. So - this is a book written on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis. We open with Tim in the present day, in Hastings, sitting at his desk, thinking about his house, his possessions, how they have shaped him and how he has affected them, how a house becomes part of our identity and what binds us to the objects in it. The next chapter deals with Hastings itself; the town as a unit of scale, why we associate ourselves with one place rather than another. And so on, upwards through levels of magnitude. As the units of space grow larger, so Tim himself dwindles and the bigger, colder forces of astronomy and astrophysics come into play. By the time we reach the address's final line we are beginning to understand that there is no final answer to the question Where am I? - behind every answer lies a new question, receding into unthinkable distance, to the spectacle of galaxies falling away from each other into nothingness. The Address Book is fascinating, entertaining, unsettling and insatiably curious.
Shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Found in a shipwreck on the rocky coast of Greece, a corroded lump of bronze has intrigued and obsessed archaeologists and scientists for over 100 years. Now the whole truth about this intricate mechanism can be told and Jo Marchant unfolds her tale like a detective story with emerging scientific processes finally allowing a detailed picture of its internal workings. This one mechanism reveals both the process of scientific deduction and how little we really know about the ancient world. Comparison: The Archimedes Codex by Reviel Netz
Shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. A sharp and occasionally very funny guide to the effects Randomness has on our lives showing how our need to find patterns in the external world can lead us astray. Leonard Mdlodinow packs his text with some startling examples such as the trial of O J Simpson, Hollywood winners and clunkers and the success rates of company executives. Amazing facts, a thorough tour of all the theories of chance, it will give you a great insight into the problems of our random world. Comparison: The Logic of Life by Tim Harford, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland
Shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Ben Goldacre targets medical charlatans, quacks, frauds and cons with great relish. His medical expertise allowing him to dissect each one proving the case against them, pulling no punches, his often witheringly funny comments make this an exhilarating read. Funny he can be but his serious purpose is to show how we are being deceived, with any luck giving readers the ammunition to spot future deceptions for themselves. Comparison: Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro July 2009 Guest Editor Louise Wener on Bad Science by BEN GOLDACREA simple, witty debunking of the junk science that has taken root in our culture; from the myth of detoxing and homeopathic cure alls, to our fear of the MMR vaccine. Goldacre skillfully examines how the media whips us into a frenzy about non-existent bogeymen and makes us all the poorer as a consequence. At a time when we seem to be rejecting scientific fact and seeking solace in instant, gobbledygook solutions, it feels like vital stuff.
Shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. For anyone wanting to understand evolution – Your Inner Fish is a revelation showing we may be closely related to the apes but further back, fish, anemones, sea-worms – they’re all our very distant relations. Puzzling perhaps, we can see the similarities between apes and ourselves but fish? But that’s where Neil Shubin shines - with a text that explains and enlightens; his wonder at the intricacy and beauty of the evolutionary process positively infectious. Comparison: The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkin
Featured on The Book Show on Sky Arts on 8 January 2009. As close to a virtual tour as you can get without moving pictures. Richard Fortey is the tour-guide, taking us down the dark, echoing passages of the Natural History Museum, behind the public doors, introducing us to colleagues past and present. It’s an unusual history, full of great stories; the author is an engaging and great twinkly presence throughout and leaves us in no doubt as to the importance of the Natural History Museum, past, present and future. Comparison: Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey
Shortlisted for the 2009 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Our noses hoover up an amazing range of scents yet sense of smell and its place in our sensory life is still something of a mystery. Avery Gilbert takes a tour through our olfactory senses showing the astonishing range of smells – good and bad we can detect, how we do it and even why. Comparison: The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin, The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, the Last of the Senses by Chandler Burr
What if humankind disappeared from the face of the world – overnight? What would happen, how long would the world take to recover, how long before evidence of our existence disappears beneath the vegetation? There are many different answers to this question, with different time frames and scenarios and Alan Weisman’s questioning of people in the know, the experts and scientists has thrown up some amazing (and terrifying) facts. He knits all this together into an engrossing story that whilst the stuff of fantasy, has roots in the environmental damage inflicted on the planet today. Comparison: The Earth After Us by Jan Zalasiewicz, The Last Generation by Fred Pearce, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive by Jared Diamond
By no means the first book by Richard Dawkins delving into the subject of religion, but his first tackling this subject exclusively. This is probably one the best presented arguments for the non-existence of a supernatural god that has ever been put to paper. Dawkins presents his case with clear scientic explanation combined with equal measures of wit, making this book not only rewarding, but also highly entertaining. Whether you are a believer, a non believer or one of the great undecided this book will certainly give you something to talk about. A "Piece of Passion" from the publisher... ‘Richard Dawkins explains the wonders and complexities of science with unmatched clarity and enthusiasm. He is an awesome thinker and his writing is vivid, imaginative, witty and exhilarating. Quite simply he is the best science writer of our time’. Sally Gaminara, Publishing Director at Transworld
Science has never been more popular. You don’t have to understand it to love it. We live in a golden age where we know more about the world and its origins than ever before. Here, some of the biggest questions ever asked find answers, as well as some of the smallest. This is a section bursting from its nucleus with protons of knowledge especially compiled for the lay enthusiast and the curious. Accessible science is no longer the domain of the scientist. We can all have a go at broadening our minds … and what’s more, we can do it from the relative comfort of our favourite chair. Relative comfort, because the chair is merely a mass of vibrating particles on a planet, hurtling through space and time, bending both as it goes in a Universe that may itself just be one of an infinite number of possible universes in an undefinable dimension of matter.
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