The 13-strong longlist of popular science books vying for the prestigious 2006 Aventis Prize has been announced.
Jared Diamond could win the prize for an unprecedented third time
Authors in the running include two previous prize winners, Jared Diamond and John Emsley.
The award, which celebrates the very best in popular science writing, is now in its 18th year.
A cash prize of £10,000 and a certain sales boost await the winner, to be announced on 16 May at a ceremony at the Royal Society in London.
A five-strong judging panel will now have the difficult task of selecting a shortlist of six books from the current 13.
'Remarkably high quality'
Chaired by journalist Nick Ross, the panel consists of: Johnny Ball, broadcaster and author; Steve Jones, professor of genetics; Anjula Mutanda, consultant psychologist for Big Brother, and Fiammetta Rocco, literary editor at the Economist magazine.
Fiammetta Rocco, on announcing the longlist, said, "This year's submissions were of remarkably high quality, which made the job of picking out just a dozen books especially difficult. In fact, the longlist has 13 books because we didn't want to lose a single one.
"The diversity of subjects, the excellence of the writing, the singularity of individual voices; all of these contributed to remind us that writing, and reading, about scientific ideas can be a tremendously exciting experience."
Recent prize winners include Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Philip Ball, whose book, Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, scooped the 2005 award.
"This stuff is so accessible it is sometimes hard to put down, and the science is so absorbing and surprising it can make fiction seem dull. Science writing used to be full of impenetrable jargon, but these books are a joy," said Nick Ross.
The Aventis prize is managed by the Royal Society, the UK's academy of science, and supported by the Aventis Foundation.
The full longlist for the 2006 Aventis General Prize:
Electric Universe - How Electricity Switched on the Modern World, by David Bodanis (Little Brown)
Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond (Penguin Allen Lane)
The Elements of Murder - A History of Poison, John Emsley (Oxford University Press)
The Gecko's Foot - Bio-inspiration - Engineering New Materials from Nature, by Peter Forbes (Fourth Estate)
The Silicon Eye - How a Silicon Valley Company Aims to Make All Current Computers, Cameras, and Cell Phones Obsolete, by George Gilder (WW Norton)
Parallel Worlds - The Science of Alternative Universes and our Future in the Cosmos, by Michio Kaku (Penguin)
Power, Sex, Suicide - Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press)
Venomous Earth - How Arsenic Caused the World's Worst Mass Poisoning, by Andrew Meharg (Macmillan)
Empire of the Stars - Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, by Arthur I. Miller (Little Brown)
Seven Deadly Colours - The Genius of Nature's Palette and how it Eluded Darwin, by Andrew Parker (Simon & Schuster)
The Truth About Hormones - What's Going on when we're Tetchy, Spotty, Fearful, Tearful or Just Plain Awful, by Vivienne Parry (Atlantic Books)
Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis - The Quest to Find the Hidden Law of Prime Numbers, by Dan Rockmore (Jonathan Cape)
The Fruits of War - How War and Conflict have Driven Science, by Michael White (Simon & Schuster)