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The debate is on: the best science book ever is announced

Science books

Over 150 people joined the debate as leading figures in the science world argue for their best read - <em>News</em>

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What is the best science book ever? From Dawkins' The Selfish Gene to Pluto's Republic by Peter Medawar and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, members of the public and a leading biologist, writer and publisher have joined the debate to find the ultimate winner.

Great science writing spans the centuries and celebrates the wonder of the world around us. Primo Levi's The Periodic Table was voted the best science book ever last night followed closely behind by Stoppard's Arcadia.

Former Guardian science and literary editor Tim Radford, Imperial biologist Dr Armand Leroi and Sara Abdulla of MacMillan Science made up the panel at the Royal Institution event. Chaired by Jon Turney of Imperial's Science Communication Group, the event allowed the panellists to each put forward three nominees and make their case for each in 15 minutes.

L-R, Dr Armand Leroi, Imperial biologist, Sara Abdulla, former editor of Nature News website and current book editor and Tim Radford, former Guardian science and literary editor join the debateAudience members were given the opportunity to suggest their favourite science books, and the eventual winner was decided by audience vote.

Tim Radford nominated The Double Helix by James Watson, Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman Mailer and The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, which went on to win the vote. He described Levi's work as "beautifully written" and emphasised that a great science read should entice you to read it again and again. He also added, a great science read such as Levi's should contain passages, which "pinion my awareness to the solidity of the world around me." The Periodic Table, written in 1975 by Levi, a chemist and a Jew who survived Auschwitz, is a series of essays based on his own personal life experiences.

Dr Leroi argued for Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst H.P.A. Haeckel, King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz and Pluto's Republic by Peter Medawar, while Sara Abdulla put forward As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem, The Life of Galileo by Bertold Brecht and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.

From the selected books open to debate, the majority seemed to focus on the process of science rather than on specific scientific discoveries, which change over time. Other factors the panel considered when arguing for their favourite read included the quality of writing and sentimental reasons.

Jon Turney, a lecturer on Imperial's MSc in Creative Non-Fiction Writing, commented: "The boom in popular science publishing in the last few decades makes this a good time to ask what we mean by good science writing. This debate was just for fun, but I hope it sparks other discussions."

To join the debate visit Jon Turney’s blog at http://sciencebooksblog.blogspot.com/ .

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