Anyone who has visited us here at BBC Science Focus will know our desks are piled high with science books. We’ve seen all the good ones in our time, but we always look forward to seeing what pops up on the prestigious The Royal Society Science Book Prize 2019 shortlist.
This year the collection is another excellent selection of books, covering a wide range of topics, from gender politics to proving the existence of impossible forms of matter. You’ll have to wait until 23 September to find out who the overall winner is, but until then, here’s the shortlist in full, as well as a few features by the authors to whet your appetite before you read them yourself.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that half the world’s population are women, and that 50 per cent have probably recognised that everything around them seems to have been designed in a world run by men.
For example, drug trials are almost always done on men and don’t have the desired effect on women. Or that car seats that designed without taking into consideration the female body, leading to a 47 per cent greater chance of serious injury if you’re a woman.
In her book Invisible Women, award-winning campaigner Caroline Criado Perez explores the way women have been forgotten almost everywhere, from government policy, medical research, technology design and even urban planning.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (£16.99, Chatto & Windus)
Read more about women in science:
- Why aren’t there more women in science?
- 10 amazing women in science history you really should know about
- As history proves, women in science need more than just a lab coat
Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World
Quantum physics is not something that immediately springs to mind a ‘thrilling read’, but it is a surprisingly strange realm, filled with mysteries.
How can a particle be in two places at once? And what about when that particle is actually a wave? These are questions that we first began pondering before the 1920s, but since then even more weird theories and interpretations have popped up.
If anybody is well equipped to unwrap these mysteries, it’s John Gribbin, who has penned more than 100 science books, 10 science fiction novels, a couple of features for sciencefocus.com (about quantum physics and time travel), and even a biography of Buddy Holly.
Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World by John Gribbin (£9.99, Icon Books)
Read more about quantum physics:
- Quantum theory: the weird world of teleportation, tardigrades and entanglement
- What is Schrödinger’s Cat?
The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface
What is the body’s largest organ? Yep, it’s the skin. You’d be forgiven for thinking this tough outer layer is just for keeping both your guts in and creepy crawlies out, but there is a whole lot more scurrying across the surface (quite literally, you don’t want to mess with a demodex).
In Dr Lyman’s book, he explores the science, sociology and history of this wildly underrated organ, and is packed with tales about weird skin care routines, such as Princess Elizabeth of Austria’s sperm whale skin lotion followed by a bedtime routine of raw veal to the face.
Whether this had any hope of soothing the skin and bringing a youthful complexion to even the hardiest of European leaders is explored in the book, as well as other mysteries of the skin that we live in.
The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface by Monty Lyman (£20, Bantam Press)
Read more about the skin:
Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution
How many people die as a result of air pollution every year? According to the WHO, the figure is a staggering 4.2 million people. It’s a figure that is hard to ignore, but one we hear so little about, especially as there are far fewer deaths attributed to issues that regularly hit the headlines.
So what can be done about it? In his wide ranging book Clearing the Air, Tim Smedley travels to some of the most polluted cities in the world, finding out how these cities became so affected by air pollution, why indifferent corporations and governments turning a blind eye, and the inspiring stories about how people are tackling the problem head on.
The book comes with high praise indeed. How could you ignore it when Arnold Schwarzenegger himself recommends you “read this book and join the effort to terminate pollution.”
Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley (£16.99, Bloomsbury Sigma)
Read more about air pollution:
- Air pollution is killing us, here’s how you can stop it
- By making air pollution interesting, perhaps Dieselgate did us a favour after all
The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter
Not many people can lay claim to the fact that they have discovered a new type of matter, never before known to science. But then not many people are the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University Paul Steinhardt.
The Second Kind of Impossible documents his journey, from his early prediction of a so-called ‘quasicrystal’ in the early 1980s, its creation in a lab, to its discovery in nature some 20 years later.
We know what you’re thinking: what is a quasicrystal? These enigmatic clusters of atoms come in an array of mind-bending patterns, but each unique, and allows for materials harder than steel and as slippery as Teflon. But more importantly, as this books describes in a surprisingly thrilling way, Steinhardt shows that questioning the very nature of science and pursuing curiosities can lead to fantastic new discoveries, forever changing our understanding of the world around us.
The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul Steinhardt (Simon & Schuster)
Read more about material science:
- Could there be materials on other planets that we don’t have on Earth?
- Three famous chemists who changed our understanding of the central science
Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus
Calculus. The very thought of it can bring chills to the spine of anybody who took on A-Level maths at school. But really, the story behind one of the most important mathematical concepts is a rip-roaring ride with some of the most interesting characters in science history.
As Strogatz eloquently explains in the book, without calculus there would be no GPS, no computers, no microwaves and certainly no Moon landing. But it took three millennia to get to the point that we could harness this wonderful concept to achieve the world we have become accustomed to.
If you need any proof that this is going to be a wonderfully written history (as if being nominated for the Royal Society Book Prize wasn’t enough), you should read his biography of one of the most important physicists that you (probably) haven’t heard of, John Bardeen.
Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus by Steven Strogatz (£20, Atlantic Books)
Read more about maths: