Please visit our new site!

LabLit Tip

Science's ultimate page-turners

In search of the best science book ever

14 October 2006

Shelf life: evoking science in print

Why is the sequel to The Double Helix so unreadable?

What’s the best non-fiction science book ever written? There is no one right answer, but just thinking about this question is entertainment itself for those with a passion for the genre.

This coming Thursday at Imperial College London, you’ll have the chance to join in a lively debate on this topic, together with a panel comprised of evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi, former Guardian science editor Tim Radford and science book editor Sara Abdulla. Each panelist will be plugging for his or her own favorites, but it is the audience who will decide.

The best science book ever, a Royal Institution of Great Britain event, will take place at 6:30 PM on Thursday, 18 October. You can book your spot here – we are reliably informed that there are still a few tickets left, but act quickly to avoid disappointment.

In the meantime, a few associated happenings are brewing in the run-up to the debate. Jon Turney, of Imperial’s Science Communication Group and organizer of the RI event, has been blogging about the event, musing about the nominated titles and lamenting about some conspicuous absences. Meanwhile, the RI has just published the results of a survey in which the great and the good were asked to own up to their own favorites, and on Thursday, Radio 4’s Material World will weigh in and the Guardian has scheduled a podcast.

As a flavor for what to expect on the night, witness Turney’s blogged musings on one of Radford’s nominees, Jim Watson’s The Double Helix:

Still lots of questions to ask about Watson's memoir/non-fiction novel, or whatever we decide to call it, after all this time. Does it draw people to science or put them off, for example? Why was it such a success? Why is the sequel so unreadable?

For answers to these questions and more, we’ll see you at the RI event next Thursday!