The Rough Guide to the Future

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 shortlisted 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.”

“really very good”. Alex Evans,

“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”

“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.”

“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…)

Lovelock & Gaia

A short book in which I tell the story of James Lovelock, Gaia theory, and its reception and influence. It came out from Icon Books in 2003, and from Columbia University Press in the US the following year. Out of date now – in the sense that Gaia’s scientific offshoots in Earth system sciences have moved on – but still an effective summary of how things went in this fascinating scientific discussion until then, I think.

For my money, Lovelock is one of the two most interesting Englishmen of the second half of the twentieth century (the other is Francis Crick). He’s also much harder to pin down, and propounded a theory which, in its strongest versions, is wrong. But still hugely influential…


“Turney’s writing is beautifully clear and maintains an admirable objectivity… The result is never less than absorbing.” New Scientist

“a detailed account of a novel theory and its maverick originator, contributing to the annals of environmental thought and the history of ideas.” Booklist

“An excellent little book”. Brian Clegg, Popular Science website


Ethical Debates about the Application of Science

A little book intended for schools. An interesting challenge to write about social and ethical issues in science and technology for 12-15 year-olds (I think it was).

Science, Not Art

Now this was a great project, set up by the Gulbenkian Foundation. Ten scientists’ diaries, commissioned with a view to showing something of the process of scientific work. Worked rather well, it seemed, and featured as a Radio 4 Book of the Week back in 2003. It includes a few people who are a bit famous now (Hi, Kevin).

One day, I’ll put together that anthology of writing about scientific work I’ve often made in my head. Until then, this’ll do. It has great photos by Hugo Glendinning, too.


“These humorous and revealing diaries show scientists with hobbies, passions and quirks just like the rest of us.” Steven Poole, The Guardian

“This fascinating little volume sets out to provide a sense of science’s daily processes … The result is exhilarating.” Lisa Appignanesi, The Independent

‘Anyone considering a career in something scientific should probably read it.’ Focus

A Quark for Mister Mark

One of my favourites. This anthology, which came out from Faber in 2001, was a pet project of mine and Maurice Riordan’s for years, which they finally agreed to let us do. The cover looks like  this, and not the one which has strayed onto Amazon and other sites by P2C2E (see Haroun and the Sea of Stories for expansion of the acronym). It’s still in print, hurrah!

Maurice is the actual poet, and is now a creative writing prof at Sheffield Hallam. His own latest collection The Water Stealer, is astoundingly good. Me, I still read poetry a good deal but just write about the science.

The Rough Guide to Genes & Cloning

My first Rough Guide, in 2007. Co-written with Dr Jess Buxton, geneticist, science writer and wonderwoman. It was a lot of fun exploiting the Rough Guide format to incorporate lots of history and culture along with the science. Known to my daughters, for reasons only they can explain, as The Rough Guide to Jeans and Clothing – their cover design was different, too…


“interesting and informative… A good read.” Nature Cell Biology

“The Rough Guides Technique for unfamiliar lands applied to unfamiliar subjects.”
Scientific American