Aventis Prize 2006

The contenders for the 2006 Aventis Prize have now been announced and are listed below. I intend to write 200 word reviews for each of these with longer reviews for some, including all of those which appear on the shortlist.

The Aventis prize is an Annual prize awarded to the author of the best science book, as considered by a panel of five judges. Further information can be found on the Aventis prize website.

Aventis prize winner 2006
TitleAuthorPublisherMore information
Electric universeDavid BodanisLittle, BrownAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk

Aventis prize shortlist
TitleAuthorPublisherMore information
The truth about HormonesVivienne Parry Atlantic Books Amazon.com     Amazon.co.uk
Empire of the Stars Arthur I. MillerLittle, Brown Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Parallel worldsMichio KakuAllen LaneAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or surviveJared DiamondPenguin BooksAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Power, sex, suicideNick LaneOxford University PressAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk


So which of the six shortlisted book will the judges choose as the final winner on the 16th May? I don't claim to be able to read the judges minds, but I do have my own ideas on which books are likely to do well. But first a comment on the books that didn't make the shortlist. Two subjects seem to be popular this year, in that similar topics appeared in more than one book. Poisons, in particular arsenic, are dealt with in both The Elements of Murder and Venomous Earth. Also Seven Deadly Colours and The Gecko's Foot both related structures occurring in nature to those created by humans, for instance photonic crystals in butterflies' wings. It seemed unlikely to me that the judges would shortlist two similar books, but I thought they might take the similarity as an indication of a popular subject, and so choose one from a pair. In fact none of these books were chosen, so possibly the judges were looking more for books that distanced themselves from the norm.

Moving on to the shortlist, there are a couple of books that I feel might do well in general terms, but don't meet my criteria for a good popular science book. Firstly The Truth about Hormones seemed to be more of a 'Health' book, for those wanting a more balanced view of medical treatments hyped by the media, rather than to find out about the science. Secondly, although Jared Diamond could be classified as an ecologist or anthropologist, Collapse : how societies choose to fail or survive relates more to the subjects of history and geography. That book is full of factual information, and at the other end of the scale is Kaku's Parallel Worlds seems to verge on science fiction. Power, sex, suicide contains much up to the minute science, but I think that some readers might find it a bit of a struggle. I felt Electric universe was too much of a collection of different stories, rather than forming a coherent whole. So my choice for this year's winner would be Empire of the Stars, which I thought did well in getting over the important scientific points of its story without being to technical. But I have to say that last year I thought The Ancestor's Tale was likely to win, while the judges chose Critical Mass, which I thought took too long to get to the point. If the judging is similar this year - they don't mind books on the longish side - then possibly Collapse or Parallel Worlds have the best chance.

Other longlisted books
TitleAuthorPublisherMore information
Stalking the Riemann HypothesisDan RockmoreJonathan CapeAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
The Fruits of WarMichael WhiteSimon & SchusterAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Venomous earthAndrew MehargPalgraveAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
The elements of murderJohn EmsleyOxford University PressAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Seven deadly colours Andrew ParkerFree Press Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
The Gecko's FootPeter ForbesFourth EstateAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk
Silicon EyeGeorge GilderNortonAmazon.com   Amazon.co.uk

2005 prize shortlist