Books

I, Superorganism

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This is the first popular book to synthesise all the new research on the human microbiome. It is published by Icon in Feb 2015. The subtitle, Learning to Love your Inner Ecosystem, indicates that I am hedging my bets on metaphors. I do really think we are superorganisms, though. On the other hand, so is every other complex species…  Amazon page is here. And you can read a shortened version of the introduction here!

Early comments include: “a really important milestone in our understanding of the complexity and variability of our inner landscape, and as such is a must-have addition to the popular science bookshelf” (Brian Clegg);

and “I have read quite a few popular science books. Some are interesting, some enlightening, some enjoyable. This book has all of these qualities and it does something that good popular science books should do: it makes us think about the world, and in this case ourselves, in new ways; it makes us see ourselves as something else.” (Brigitte Nerlich).

And some other reviews:

“a terrific romp through our non-human inhabitants” (Helen Bynum, Times Higher)

“if you’ve heard the term ‘microbiome’ and wondered what all the fuss is about, I, superorganismis a good place to start” (Hayley Simon, Chemistry World)

This one was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology book prize in 2015.

Seeing Further – The story of science and the Royal Society

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Why is this here, with Bill Bryson’s name on the cover? I was the managing editor for this splendid 350th anniversary project for the Royal Society. So I got to commission and edit all the great writers here, and do the blurbs for their pieces. The result is richly illustrated and very handsome.

I also learnt, when we discussed one or two of the, er, less completely brilliiant drafts that B. Bryson is a fearsomely good copy-editor.

Sci-Tech Report

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An anglo-makeover of a massive French project on contemporary science, technology and politics, which I edited for Pluto Press. I seem to recall I ended up (re)writing quite a lot of it.

Ancient history; cool format for 1984.

Fifty Years at the Heart of Health

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This is the book Dr Julie Clayton and I co-wrote for the British Heart Foundation’s 50th anniversary in 2011. The development of treatment and prevention for heart disease in that time has been pretty staggering and is, I believe, under-appreciated, so it was a satisfying project to be involved in. Beautifully produced, too.

Darwin Now

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This is the text of the Darwin Year travelling exhibition in 2009, but as it runs to 60 pages and looks beautiful, I’m counting it as a book. It was printed separately. Not for sale but if you ask the BC nicely they may give you a copy, and downloadable as a PDF from here… (link to my academia.eu pages as the original is no longer on the BC website).

Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture

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This came out from Yale back in 1998 and was a kind of academic/popular crossover. That is, I was working in a university department at the time. Those things don’t usually work, but this one seemed to be received OK – it even won an award from the BMA for “popular medical book of the year”.

It is also still my main (only?) claim to academic fame – an examination of the Frankenstein frame as the governing myth for debates about life creation and biotechnology over two centuries. The same examination has been done a few times since by others, but I prefer my version – which is still in print. University Presses are good that way.

Winner of the British Medical Association prize for popular medical book of the year in 1999.

Reviews: (lots of reviews for this one)

“An important book, elegantly written”. Lewis Wolpert, The Times

“A serious and fascinating contribution to cultural history”. Mary Warnock, THES

“Jon Turney tries to extract lessons from some great examples of popular culture, a task he undertakes with insight, scholarship and courage…. Turney has to pick and choose his examples from the flood of recent biological developments, but his narrative maintains continuity and makes for a gripping, if terse and disturbing, read”. — Brian Goodwin, New Scientist.

“With lucidity and serenity, Turney re-tells the Frankenstein story as a history of apocalyptic anxieties and preposterous prognostications. His narrative provides good cause for alert calm.”—Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkley”With lucidity and serenity, Turney retells the Frankenstein story as a history of apocalyptic anxieties and preposterous prognostications. His narrative provides good cause for alert calm.”—Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkeley

“In this thought-provoking treatment, Jon Turney demonstrates that Mary Shelly’s classic novel and the myth it spawned have provided images incorporated into popular debates about advances in biology from the early 19th century to the contemporary furor over genetic engineering.”—Paul Northam, American Scientist

“The book provides a lucid and useful precis of popular attitudes and cultural artifacts regarding humanity’s real and potential manipulations of life, from the Golem to the genome and beyond.”—Philip Gold, Washington Times

“Turney has many interesting things to say about how biological science is communicated to the public, how the story of Frankenstein has conjured up in popular culture certain images of science and scientists, and how those images have changed over time. That we can learn from something how sf and film influence public perceptions of science is a very good notion and an important one to consider, especially in light of recent experiments on monkey head transplants and sheep cloning.”—Library Journal

“Jon Turney’s Frankenstein’s Footsteps offers a history of public images of biology organized around the image, myth and use of the story and metaphor of Shelly’s Frankenstein. . . . [Turney] gracefully and incisively traces the use of Frankenstein and subsequent popular works explicating the hazards of science. His close readings of the texts provide new understanding about the power of the Frankenstein myth and its relevance to the promises and threats of the new genetics.”—Peter Conrad, Society

“Turney devotes most of Frankenstein’s Footsteps to a splendid, quirky history of the 19th and 20th-century life sciences. Turney keeps at least two balls in the air at all times, describing both contemporary biology and the public reaction to it as reflected by contemporary fiction and popular journalism. . . . Turney’s eye and hands are sure, and what emerges is a complexly layered story of struggles within the lab to comprehend life; and struggles outside the lab to comprehend just what the scientists were up to, and why.” —Noah J. Efron, Boston Book Review

“Turney produces a welcome contribution to the cultural history of images. . . . Turney writes in a clear and direct style to produce a narrative that flows smoothly among the scientific, literary, and social strands of his theme without bogging down in any one domain. . . . Turney gives valuable understanding of the historical links between biology and each of social concerns, literature and movies, the media, the political actions.”—Patrick Colgan, Science Education

“This is a fascinating book, interweaving accounts of literature and popular culture with accounts of the growth of modern biology. . . . If one role of history is to enable us to learn from the misunderstandings and mistakes of the past, then Turney’s well-researched and thoughtful account will be of real value to us in addressing the problems of the present.”—John Polkinghorne, Crucible (Quarterly Journal of the Board of Social Responsibility)

“This is a thought-provoking account of a controversial subject.”—Lorn Macintyre, Herald (Glasgow)

“Turney is admirably qualified to trace journalists’ responses to the intellectual and technological leaps biologists have made in this century. . . . Frankenstein’s Footsteps should be read by all who are concerned about the social and ethical implications of DNA experimentation and, even more importantly, by those who are not.”—Roslynn D. Haynes, Nature

“The work is thorough, and Turney is quite evenhanded in his treatment of the scientific community and the lay public.”—Russell F. Trimble, Science Books & Films

Frankenstein’s Footsteps is original, provocative, instructive, and consistently interesting. Its appeal to historians is self-evident, but molecular biologists, geneticist, and physicians with literary inclinations will find this book worthwhile.”—Robert S. Schwartz, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine“[An] innovative book.”—Robert Schwartz, New England Journal of Medicine

“An attractively produced and engaging study of popular images of the biological sciences in nineteenth and twentieth century America and Britain.”—M. Susan Lindee, Quarterly Review of Biology

“Jon Turney’s book is a heroic canter through the dark and muddy landscape in which myth, metaphor, and matters of fact seem to co-exist. . . . A valuable book.”—Tim Radford, Lancet

“[A] nuanced and highly informative account. . . . Turney has provided a valuable perspective on the powerful images and metaphors that continue to inform policy and public debates in the life sciences.”—Susan E. Lederer, ISIS

Frankenstein’s Footsteps is a great read. Turney has a wonderful ear for a telling quote, uses vivid metaphors and sustains the chronological narrative at a rattling pace. . . . The book presents readers with an exceptionally rich and diverse range of texts.”—Jacquelin Burgess,Public Understanding of Science

“A delightful book that evokes in a reader the need to answer back. This is one of the reasons it has been put on the syllabus of ‘Good Breeding’, the Open University’s course on the eugenics movement. The organizers are sure the students will want to read it, and will want to discuss what they have read.”—Pauline M.H. Mazumdar, Medical History

 

 

The Rough Guide to the Future

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This was a big project long pondered and then finally attempted – an effort to take stock of the mid-term (21st century) future and all its problems, topped and tailed with some reflection on the history of futures and stuff about more cosmic timescales. It was shortlsted for the Royal Society’s science book prize in the UK in 2011, though wasn’t a huge commercial success – I suspect because I try to take a measured view of both the (huge) problems and of more auspicious future prospects.

Anyhow, no longer in print the old fashioned way, though I daresay you can track down a copy, but still on offer as an e-book. The blog I began when the book was in progress has some marginal thoughts on the same topics, and still occasionally sees new entries when something relevant comes up.

Lots of reviews for this one:

“A thought-provoking and refreshingly optimistic view of the future across the whole range of the sciences, with a highly original style of brief and multi-focused presentations, that sets it apart from conventional scientific writing.“ Judges’ comment, Royal Society Book Prize shortlist.

“Reading this book will definitely make you feel smarter and give you a good basic grounding on the issues that will confront humanity in the decades ahead.” (from Library Thing)

“Turney has clearly done his homework and deftly uses quotes, facts and asides to enliven the text” New Scientist

“as comprehensive an analysis of forecast data and topical opinion that you’re likely to find, and one I heartily recommend.” Communicatescience.com/

“really very good”. Alex Evans, www.globaldashboard.org/

“Erudite, pithy, and frequently funny. A tour de force.” Five star review on Amazon UK

“Jon Turney’s writing … is great, wonderfully readable and well crafted” www.popularscience.co.uk/

“As a general introduction to thinking about the future—one which treats the domain of inquiry as a series of specific dimensions of the future, such as energy, population, food supply, water, health, and ecology/biodiversity—Turneyʼs book is the best I have ever encountered.” Centerforfutureconsciousness.com/

“an excellent, compelling, accessible overview of futurology that rewards both skimming and deeper reading. Gathering together ideas from many disciplines and opinions from diverse perspectives, he offers a moderate, believable, but still thrilling exploration of what lies ahead.” Mike Treder, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

“This is a wide-ranging and thoroughly researched book, reviewing not just possible futures for the environment, but also medicine, ageing, social changes, warfare and information technology. At times it reads more like the work of a UN committee than a lone science writer”. The Guardian
(just to clarify, there was no committee, although I occasionally wished there was…)