Royal Society Winton Book Prize


In Praise of Idleness

That was the title of a famous essay by Bertrand Russell. Being myself a lifelong victim of the protestant work ethic, I was impressed at the Royal Society last night when the prize for science books 2011, now sponsored by Winton Capital Management, went to Gavin Pretor-Pinney for The Wavewatcher’s Companion (Bloomsbury).


Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Although the book has a beach chair with sea waves on its cover (an icon of idleness) it covers waves of every kind you’d think of, and some you wouldn’t. Given the chance to read a passage from his book during the ceremonies, Pretor-Pinney chose the intricate waves of hungry amoebae. They assemble to make a slug-like object and then build a tower from which they send spores to look for happier hunting grounds.

Salutary point (1) This is only the second book that Pretor-Pinney has written. The previous one was The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which of course I have because of my interest in the Svensmark cloud-seeding connection.

Salutary point (2): Pretor-Pinney was a founder of The Idler magazine.

Perhaps my only claim to fruitful idleness is that a literary by-product of my family cruising under sail, The English Channel, won the Best Book of the Sea award at the London Boat Show.

Small world note: Gavin Pretor-Pinney also took part in the BBC-TV programme “The Secret Life of Waves”, which was made by David Malone, son of Adrian Malone who produced one of my BBC blockbusters “The Life Game” (1973). That programme took its title, and an important sequence, from a table game with nucleic acids played by biophysicists in Goettingen led by Manfred Eigen. Now Eigen has written the most interesting upcoming book that I know about just now. Due out soon from Oxford UP, it’s called From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity. Oxford asked me for an endorsement and here’s what I’ve offered them.

What a splendid antidote to the swagger of physicists and biologists who think they already understand the living universe! Manfred Eigen pulls back the carpet like a careful housekeeper and brings to light mind-wrenching questions that most scientists brush out of sight. His search for the physical roots of the logic of life is not an easy path to follow, but Eigen helps us all he can with his polymathic skill and lucid style.

I fear it may be too mind-wrenching for the general readers targeted by the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.


4 Responses to Royal Society Winton Book Prize

  1. FergalR says:

    Sorry to be off topic, Mr. Calder.

    You might have heard of new climategate emails that have been released.

    In #1359 Phil Jones is discussion selection of IPCC contributing authors with Kevin Trenberth. It’s sounds really quite despicable with a list of good/bad candidates based on their “usefulness” and biases. Here’s a snippet you might find interesting:

    “Benestad (written on the solar/cloud issue – on the right side, i.e

    The name Baldwin appears just before, but it may not be part of the same sentence.

    Thanks for all your hard work!

    • calderup says:

      Thanks, Fergal
      The smartest of the warmist scientists know that Svensmark is the chief threat to their hypothesis.

  2. Steve C says:

    ‘The Secret Life of Waves’ was an excellent programme. I think the main point it made, although it was not emphasised, was that all natural processes are cyclical – one to chew on for those who believe all those straight-line extrapolations in climate alarmism. Re. Svensmark, I think it’s a pity that Piers Corbyn is so quick to dismiss him, given Corbyn’s track record in embarrassing the ‘Melt Office’; it seems to me that both see aspects of the truth. A little Hegelian dialectic and some synthesis, please, gentlemen!

  3. BrianSJ says:

    In Praise of Idleness is on the web at
    Well worth a read – so many similarities between 1932 and 2012 alas.

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