Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2010 shortlist announced

24 August 2010

As the UK parliament’s summer recess draws to a close, what should politicians, public figures and decision makers be reading to prepare them for the year ahead?

The six books that make up the shortlist for this year’s Royal Society Prize for Science Books are essential reading for anybody who needs to understand the significance of science in everyday life, and for this reason the Royal Society will today be sending Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg complete sets of this year’s shortlist. Science and technology affect almost every aspect of our lives – from healthcare to the country’s economic wellbeing – and there has never been a better time to ensure that key decision makers are aware of this.

Maggie Philbin, Chair of the judges said: “We hope that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister find these books as inspiring as we do.  This year’s shortlist is accessible, relevant and well written, and showcases the very best of this year’s science writing. It's never been more important to have a well informed picture of the world we live in and the role of science and technology. These books will tempt anyone curious about science but they should also be an essential reading list for politicians, public figures and decision makers who need to be across the very latest thinking.”

The six books shortlisted by the judges are:

A World Without Ice by Henry Pollack (Avery Books, Penguin Group)
Explores the relationship between ice and people – the impact of ice on Earth, its climate, and its human residents, as well as the reciprocal impact that people are now having on ice and the climate.
The judges said: “A thoughtful and refreshing book that brings ice to life. Well researched and with a personal feel this book is an excellent alternative route into understanding the issues around climate change. Fascinating, accessible and very powerful.”

Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic by Frederick Grinnell (Oxford University Press)
An insiders’ view of real-life scientific practice describing how scientists bring their own interests and passions to their work and illustrating the dynamics between researchers and the research community.
The judges said: “How is science done? This book looks behind the scenes and tells the story of what makes scientific minds tick and how scientific theories are made. A fascinating, personal account – essential reading for anyone with an interest in science, from pupil to politician.”

God’s Philosophers: How the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science by James Hannam (Icon Books)
Revives the forgotten philosophers, scientists, scholars and inventors of medieval Europe, revealing the Medieval Age to be responsible for inventions and ideas that would change the world forever.
The judges said: “A vibrant  insight into the medieval approach to science, full of wonderful anecdotes and personalities. Dispelling common myths about the ‘dark ages’, this is a very readable book about a neglected era in the history of science.  It very much fills a gap, making you realise that the great scientific achievements of the Renaissance are in debt to the "philosophers" prepared to sacrifice long held beliefs and frequently their lives for their ideas.”

Life Ascending by Nick Lane (Profile Books)
Charts the history of life on Earth by describing the ten greatest inventions of life, based on their historical impact, their importance in living organisms and their iconic power.
The judges said: “An elegant and adventurous step-by-step guide to what makes life the way it is.  With a pleasing overarching structure, it is a beautifully written book and an extremely rewarding read.”

We Need To Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown (Faber and Faber)
Takes familiar features of the world we know and shows how they can be used to explain profound truths about the ultimate nature of reality.
The judges said: “Your everyday world will never look the same again after reading this inspiring book.  Reflections in the window, the warm rays of the sun – all are used to explain ideas of advanced physics, from the atom to the big bang, and show how physics forms part of our everyday world.”

Why Does E=mc2? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw (Da Capo Press, Perseus Books Group)
An illuminating journey to the frontier of 21st century science to consider the real meaning behind Einstein’s most famous equation, E = mc2.
The judges said: “This book takes the world’s most famous equation apart and puts it back together again in a way that is lively and understandable.  We were delighted to find our knowledge of equations - long forgotten since leaving school for some of us – reinvigorated and felt ourselves rediscovering our enjoyment of mathematics.”

The winner will be announced on 21 October 2010 and the winning book will receive £10,000.  £1000 per book is awarded to the author(s) of the shortlisted books.

The judges on the judging panel are: 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.

William Hill’s odds for the shortlisted books are as follows:

3/1     God's Philosophers
4/1     We Need To Talk About Kelvin
4/1     Everyday Practice of Science
4/1     Why Does E=mc2?
5/1     A World Without Ice
5/1     Life Ascending

William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said: “If this were a horse race I'd be certain it would end in a photo-finish as it looks to close to call with any certainty. None of the runners can be ruled out and any one of them would be a worthy winner - I can't ever remember a closer betting market”.

The Royal Society is seeking support for the 2011 awards onwards.