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George Johnson

Bodley Head

One of the secrets of really good science writing for a popular audience is not to scare your readers with complexity. To avoid doing so, particularly with a subject so rich, subtle and complex as the frontiers of cancer research, requires skill and subterfuge, and George Johnson has these in spades.

Above all, he tells gripping stories: from dinosaurs and the geology of cancer to the excitement of discovery in leading oncology research centres. Tying it all together are the personal stories of his own wife and brother.

This is the story of Johnson's own quest to understand what he calls "medicine's deepest mystery". Since his normal beat is physics and astronomy, he is starting from the same place as his general reader, so we join him on his journey. For those who want to go further, the book is well referenced.

Beware, though, once started, it's hard to put down, and by the end, almost without noticing, you will have learned a lot more about cancer and its causes.

Martin Redfern

Shortlisted in the General Book category of the Society of Biology Book Awards 2014