The Best Science

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Several big-name science authors published new books in 2005, and no one is bigger than Stephen Hawking. His A Brief History of Time (1988) stayed on the bestseller list for years, despite its reputation for being almost unreadable for anyone without a maths degree.

Recognising this, Hawking worked with physics populariser Leonard Mlodinow to bring out A Briefer History of Time: The Science Classic Made More Accessible (Bantam £15). Much of the maths has been cut but it is still hard going. Anyone who wants the essence of Hawking should try his better illustrated The Universe in a Nutshell (2001).

To mark the centenary of the publication of Albert Einstein’s first scientific papers, the year saw a flowering of books about the 20th century’s greatest thinker. The best of the bunch is John S. Rigden’s book Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness (Harvard University Press £14.95). Rigden provides an excellent no-frills overview of five papers that Einstein published within the space of six months, transforming our understanding of nature.

Dava Sobel, whose Longitude (1995) became a publishing phenomenon, brought out The Planets (Fourth Estate £15). The book covers the whole solar system from mythology to the latest scientific research.

Two of the big beasts of bioscience books are back too. In The 21st-century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind (Jonathan Cape £20), Stephen Rose looks at the issues in neuroscience that really matter. Geneticist Steve Jones, produced Single Helix: A Turn Around the World of Science (Little, Brown £12.99) - more a recycling of feature articles than an original work, but even so a delightful read.

This year has produced an unusually good crop of well illustrated science books.

Faces of Science (Norton £25) is a wonderfully evocative set of pictures by the photographer Mariana Cook of 77 prominent contemporary scientists - each accompanied by an autobiographical essay.

Space fans will adore Nasa: The Complete Illustrated History (Merrell £24.95), a superbly produced record by Michael Gorn. But the ultimate illustrated luxury is the Atlas of Human Anatomy and Surgery (Taschen £100), a facsimile of the most beautiful anatomical treatise in history, produced in France during the 1830s and 1840s by J.M. Bourgery and N.H. Jacob.

Clive Cookson is the FT’s science editor.

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