The six books in the running to claim the 2006 Aventis General Prize for science books have been named.
This is journalist Vivienne Parry's first book
Shortlisted authors include Jared Diamond, vying for an unprecedented third win, and Vivienne Parry, who has made the cut with her first book.
The winner will walk away with a prize of £10,000 and sure-fire boost to their sales.
Broadcaster Nick Ross, chair of the judging panel, said picking a winner would be extremely tough.
The Aventis Prize is now in its 18th year, and marks a bastion of excellence for popular science writing.
Two prizes are on offer: the General Prize, for science books aimed at the wider population; and the Junior Prize, for books geared towards those under the age of 14.
"These books are really mind-opening - each in its own way brings things to life that are profoundly important to all our lives. The standard of writing and accessibility in science has improved enormously," said Mr Ross.
"It was hard to choose a longlist of 13, and bringing that longlist down to just six books was a hugely difficult task. The problem for us now is that picking the eventual winner will be even tougher."
Alongside Mr Ross, the tricky task of selecting the winner will fall to maths promoter Johnny Ball, geneticist Steve Jones, psychologist Anjula Mutanda, along with Fiammetta Rocco, the literary editor at the Economist.
Michio Kaku writes about cosmology
The judging panel will have to decide between six books that span a plethora of subjects from cosmology to civilisations, electricity to endocrines. It will be looking for a book that is not only the most informative and readable, but also the most accessible to the general public.
In 2005, Philip Ball won the General Prize for his book, Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, and other past winners have included Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Chris McManus.
The prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Royal Society on 16 May.
The full shortlist for the 2006 Aventis General Prize:
Power, Sex, Suicide - Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, by Nick Lane (Oxford University Press)
Mitochondria are tiny structures within all our cells that do the essential task of producing energy. They are pivotal in power, sex, and suicide. In his book, Nick Lane shows how understanding mitochondria is of fundamental importance, both in understanding how complex life came to be, but also in order to be able to control our own illnesses, and delay our degeneration and death.
Empire of the Stars - Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, by Arthur I Miller (Little Brown)
In August 1930, the young Indian scientist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar calculated that certain stars could end their lives by collapsing indefinitely to a point - to nowhere. This idea brought Chandra into conflict with Sir Arthur Eddington, the grand old man of British astrophysics, who publicly ridiculed the idea. Empire of the Stars teases out the major implications of this infamous event, setting it against the backdrop of the turbulent growth of astrophysics.
Electric Universe - How Electricity Switched on the Modern World, by David Bodanis (Little Brown)
David Bodanis tells the story of electricity
For centuries, electricity was viewed as little more than a curious property of certain substances that sparked when rubbed. Then, in the 1790s, Alessandro Volta began the scientific investigation that ignited an explosion of knowledge and invention. In Electric Universe, Bodanis weaves the tales of romance, divine inspiration, and fraud that surround the story of electricity.
Collapse - How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, by Jared Diamond (Penguin Allen Lane)
Why do some societies flourish, while others founder? What happened to the people who made the long-abandoned statues of Easter Island or to the architects of the Maya pyramids? And will we go the same way? Bringing together new evidence and piecing together the myriad influences that make societies self-destruct, Collapse shows how, unlike our ancestors, we can benefit from our knowledge of the past and learn to be survivors.
Parallel Worlds - The Science of Alternative Universes and our Future in the Cosmos, by Michio Kaku (Penguin)
Getting a grip on the creation and ultimate fate of the Universe is one of the great scientific stories of the 20th Century. In the 21st, the story is expanding to enfold many universes. Parallel Worlds tells that new story. Using the latest astronomical data, it explores the Big Bang, "theories of everything", our cosmic future and the human implications of this story.
The Truth About Hormones - What's Going on when We're Tetchy, Spotty, Fearful, Tearful or Just Plain Awful, by Vivienne Parry (Atlantic Books)
Hormones rule our internal world: they control our growth, our metabolism, weight, water-balance, body clocks, fertility, muscle bulk, mood, speed of ageing, whether we want sex or not (and whether we enjoy it) and even who we fall in love with. In The Truth About Hormones, Vivienne Parry explains how, exactly, these mysteriously powerful things affect us.