Looking for your next non-fiction read? Check out these top science books

21 Sep 2019321 Views

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These six stories of science and discovery are in the running to win ‘the Booker Prize of science writing’.

Six writers are in the running for The Royal Society Science Book Prize 2019.

The annual award of £25,000 honours popular science books from around the world, all of which are aimed at non-specialist readers. Seen as ‘the Booker Prize of science writing’, past winners include Stephen Hawking and Bill Bryson.

‘These writers open up our understanding of the world in which we live and remind us of the important discoveries taking place around us every day’
– PROF NIGEL SHADBOLT

Commenting on this year’s shortlist, judging panel chair Prof Nigel Shadbolt said: “Each book on the list presents an area of science that is fascinating, enthralling and important: from the mysteries of the quantum universe to the air we breathe, from the way that data encodes bias to the skin that is our largest organ, from the infinite power of calculus to new kinds of matter – our shortlist will appeal to all.”

Shortlisted from more than 170 submissions, the select six ask readers to rethink the way they view both themselves and the world around them. “Within these titles we encounter triumph and tragedy, hope and despair, enlightenment and enduring mysteries. The writers share great stories, rooted in outstanding research. They open up our understanding of the world in which we live and remind us of the important discoveries taking place around us every day,” said Shadbolt.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

In Invisible Women, feminist writer and activist Caroline Criado-Perez explores the ways in which the world is designed for men, from the size of mobile phones to the design of car airbags. In examining how half the global population has been systematically ignored by design, the book also exposes the gender data gap and its profound effect on women through government policy, medical research, technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media.

Book cover for Invisible Women with male stick figures obscuring hidden female stick figures.

Criado-Perez previously found herself in the spotlight for her activism, having successfully campaigned to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage with a statue of Millicent Fawcett in London’s Parliament Square. The inspiration for both her cause and her book is apparent even in The Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist, as she is the only woman to receive a nomination this year.

Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution

Sustainability journalist Tim Smedley’s first book, Clearing the Air was chosen for its contribution to creating a cleaner future. In it, Smedley tells the full story of air pollution: what it is, which pollutants are harmful, where they come from and, most importantly, what we can do about them.

Book cover of Clearing the Air with an illustration of clouds growing darker and murkier.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Amid the terrifying statistics, Smedley manages to find hope for the planet through inspiring stories from those making lasting change and with a guide for readers to improve the situation themselves.

The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface

The second debut author on the list, Monty Lyman’s tribute to our largest and fastest-growing organ comes as a journey through science, sociology and history.

Book cover for The Remarkable Life of the Skin featuring handprints in a variety of skin tones.

Having travelled the globe to research The Remarkable Life of the Skin, Lyman’s efforts were labelled “an exciting introduction to a little-known microscopic universe and to a talented new writer” by The Sunday Times.

Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World  

Astrophysicist John Gribbin is no stranger to The Royal Society Science Book Prize, having been longlisted twice and shortlisted twice more. In all, he has authored more than 100 science books.

Book cover for Six Impossible Things featuring an abstract design of waves and coloured dots representing particles.

His latest, Six Impossible Things, is a short guide to the six theories that try to explain the weird, wild world of quantum physics. It can be hard to get your head around a discipline where something can be in two places at once, among other quirks, but Gribbin has put the work into providing a common sense explanation of this complex world.

The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter

Theoretical physicist Paul Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University and his book, The Second Kind of Impossible, is a first-hand account of a globetrotting journey to prove the natural existence of quasicrystals.

Book cover for The Second Kind of Impossible featuring a hand holding a colourful, multifaceted structure.

Steinhardt first proposed the existence of quasicrystals in the 1980s but this rare, mind-bending structure was thought to be impossible by many of his peers – until a team accidentally synthesised one in the lab. Then it became Steinhardt’s mission to discover a naturally occurring quasicrystal in the wild, and this research took him and his team to encounter smugglers, corrupt scientists and Russian security agents in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system.

Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus – The Language of the Universe

One of the world’s most highly cited mathematicians, Steven Strogatz, takes readers on a journey through three millennia to chart the development of calculus. It may not sound like a thriller, but the story of calculus includes centuries of controversy, competition and even death. And without it, there would be no computers, no microwave ovens, no GPS and no space travel.

Book cover for Infinite Powers filled with geometric shapes.

Strogatz offered a guide to maths that was witty and fascinating in The Joy of X, so if anyone can uncover the human drama behind calculus and shine a spotlight on its influence on nearly every aspect of modern civilisation, he’s the one for the job.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com