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Showing posts from November, 2013

Royal Society Winton Prize 2013

The winner of the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize, arguably a summary of the best popular science books published in 2012 (and now worth £25,000 for the winner) has been announced: Winner The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll (Oneworld Publications)Shortlist Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury)Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change that Shape Life by Enrico Coen (Princeton University Press)Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory by Charles Fernyhough (Profile Books)The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Granta)Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane)Rest of the Longlist The Spark of Life by Frances Ashcroft (Allen Lane)The Story of Earth by Robert Hazen (Viking)Life’s Ratchet by Peter Hoffmann (Basic Books)Air: The Restless Shaper of the World by William Bryant Logan (WW Norton)The Cosmic Tourist by Sir Patrick Moore, Brian May and Chris Lintott (Carlton Books)The Life of a Leaf by Steven Vogel (The University of Chicago Pressand here…

Undiluted Hocus-Pocus – Martin Gardner ***

I was delighted to see Martin Gardner’s autobiography, as he was a great science writer. I loved his mathematical columns (mostly encountered through collections like Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions) and his annotated versions of books by Lewis Carroll – and he wrote well on the matter of pseudoscience. I ought to say straight away that the book was a bit of a disappointment. In part this is simply because Gardner had a very ordinary sort of life. I don’t say that disparagingly – it’s just like most of us. When you read a book about someone like Richard Feynman you have both the opportunity to read about his amazing work, and his remarkable life. Gardner’s work is its own tribute, while the life of a science writer is not all that exciting, certainly in this case. The other problem I had is that a lot of what’s in the book doesn’t particularly resonate. There are long sections about subtle debates in obscure (and now mostly forgotten) versions of 20th century philosophy, plus the …