From the Moon and comets, to dragons and demons, this year’s top physics books are an eclectic mix
This year, Physics World‘s Book of the Year award is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Indeed, 2019 marks a decade of excellence in popular-physics books, and suffice to say that this year’s shortlist reflects this. We’ve based our choices on the 42 books we’ve reviewed over the last 12 months in Physics World, picking our favourite 10 using the same three criteria – that the books must be well written, novel and scientifically interesting to physicists – that have been in place since we launched our Book of the Year award in 2009.
As is the case every year, picking one winner from 10 such interesting and varied books is a tough task, but keep your eyes peeled on 17 December, when we will reveal this year’s award-winning book, via the monthly Physics World Stories podcast. Meanwhile, why not listen to last week’s Physics World Weekly podcast, where past and present reviews editors look back over the 100 books that have featured on our shortlists for the past 10 years. And if you’d like to remind yourself of some past winners, here are a few of the previous years’ shortlists: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.
The shortlist for Physics World’s 2019 Book of the Year
The Moon: a History for the Future by Oliver Morton
As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon-landings, Oliver Morton’s book tells the story of our Moon, from its origin to its role in humanity’s history and future.
The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes by Donald D Hoffman
Reality is more than meets the eye, and cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman makes the case for why this applies to everything from evolution to optics.
Fire, Ice and Physics: the Science of Game of Thrones by Rebecca C Thompson
From dragons to walls of ice, everyone’s favourite fantasy TV show has more physics fun hidden within than you would have thought; and Rebecca Thompson takes readers on an epic quest.
Underland: a Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
From dark matter to nuclear waste, Robert Macfarlane’s Underland will take you deep within the bowels of our planet, and our relationship with these hidden worlds.
The Demon in the Machine: How Hidden Webs of Information are Solving the Mystery of Life by Paul Davies
What exactly is life, how and why does it emerge, and what distinguishes the living from the non-living? Paul Davies’ latest book attempts to answer some of the biggest questions that we have long pondered over.
The Second Kind of Impossible: the Extraordinary Quest For A New Form of Matter by Paul J Steinhardt
A rip-roaring adventure tale, featuring a mild-mannered theoretical physicist who found himself leading an expedition to the mosquito-and-bear-infested wilderness of eastern Russia in search of tiny grains of rock from outer space.
Superior: the Return of Race Science by Angela Saini
After her award-winning book Inferior scientifically analysed the supposed differences between the sexes, Angela Saini now tackles the difficult topic of racism, and the erroneous belief that race, a social construct, has a basis in biology.
Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: the Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum by Lee Smolin
US theoretical physicist and author Lee Smolin presents a bold “realist” formulation of quantum mechanics, in which time is fundamental, but space is emergent.
The Universe Speaks in Numbers: How Modern Maths Reveals Nature’s Deepest Secrets by Graham Farmelo
In his latest book, Graham Farmelo offers a bracing defence of string theory, and the power of mathematics in making progress in physics.
Catching Stardust: Comets, Asteroids and the Birth of the Solar System by Natalie Starkey
Natalie Starkey shares her fascination with these cosmic visitors, detailing how scientists study comets and asteroids to understand the 4.6-billion-year history of the solar system.