Best science reads of 2011

Is your family interested in science? Then one of these wonderful New Zealand books, shortlisted for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Science Book Prize, might make a good holiday read or Christmas present.

CoverIn North Pole South Pole: The  Epic Quest to Solve the Great Mystery of Earth’s Magnetism, I discovered that we’re magnetically challenged. No other species needs a compass. Humans on the other hand have spent millennia trying to figure out how to use magnetism. This pursuit began with the Chinese, who did in fact invented our compass. This is a beautifully written and illustrated book which the The Royal Society called a “compelling narrative”.

If you’re a fan of the down-to-earth common sense of Gareth Morgan and you can’t make up your mind about global warming, try another finalist – Poles Apart: Beyond the Shouting, Who’s Right about Climate Change? Here Gareth employed some good fundamental scientific method. He hired an top scientist to review the evidence and

wade through and unpack the complicated science of climate change, offering an educated layperson’s perspective on the public arguments that surround it.

Not an easy task given the emotive and contradictory opinions held by various factions of the scientific community. The result is a an “unusual insight into the challenges faced by the scientific process and the interpretation of results” which the Royal Society found both readable and admirable.

The last book and the winner of this year’s award, is about that wonderful bird the kakapo – a subject bound to have wide appeal. Kakapo: Rescued from the Brink of Extinction by Alison Balance, was  judged to be a book which

captures the passion of the relatively small number of brave, altruistic scientists and wildlife advocates, who set about trying to understand, and save from extinction, possibly the world’s most endearing bird.

This one’s bound to be a hit on Christmas Day.

The British Royal Society winners are also excellent lists to consult.