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Institute of Advanced Study

Author Bill Bryson launches University’s book of ‘big ideas’

(3 March 2009)

BEST-selling author Bill Bryson tomorrow (Thursday, March 5 2009) launches a pioneering new book from Durham University, which tackles with style and seriousness some of the world’s most challenging issues.

In Thinking About Almost Everything, essays by leading experts in the arts, sciences and humanities address an array of major issues.

The book has emerged from Durham University’s flagship, ideas-based Institute of Advanced Study (IAS). It is illustrated with a range of contemporary images from North East photographer, Andrew Heptinstall, and it takes inspiration for its title from Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything, which won the Aventis Prize for science literature in 2006.

Thinking About Almost Everything will be on sale in paperback in mainstream High Street outlets like Waterstones and online sources such as Amazon, as well as from the Institute of Advanced Study.

It features a collection of essays on some of the major topics affecting global society today: racism, climate change, disease, light pollution, the cosmos, obesity, the housing market, stem cells, extreme pornography and much more.

The book, written by Durham University academics and edited by two of its most prominent scholars, Professors Ash Amin and Michael O'Neill, is published by London-based Profile Books, whose best-selling portfolio includes popular science books such as “Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?: And 101 Other Intriguing Science Questions”.

Dr Bryson, Chancellor of Durham University and a member of the IAS Advisory Council, will be chairing a thought-provoking and lively discussion at the launch event at Durham University’s St Aidan’s College tomorrow evening, Thursday March 5. Photographs from the book by Andrew Heptinstall, who is based in Houghton le Spring, Sunderland, will be exhibited at the event.

The purpose of the launch is to show how the best universities, like Durham, should provide an environment for the breeding of big ideas which can change both thinking about the world and practices to improve livelihood and wellbeing.

Dr Bryson said: “Great universities like Durham were founded with a wish to cultivate radical new thinking in a progressive environment - ultimately influencing society for the better.

“In order to continue to cultivate such thinking it is essential that ideas-based institutes like the IAS remain sustainable. One fruitful contribution to society is a book of this kind that can communicate years of complex thinking to a wider audience.”

The IAS was established in October 2006 as new ideas-driven research institute and a major global centre of interdisciplinary study. It is based at Cosin’s Hall, a 18th Century, Grade One listed mansion house on Durham’s Palace Green, a designated World Heritage Site.

Since its inception it has gathered together world-class scholars, intellectuals and public figures from around the globe and across all disciplines of study, to address topics of major intellectual, scientific or public and policy interest, based around an annual theme. This year’s theme is ‘Being Human’.

IAS Executive Director and book co-editor, Professor Ash Amin, said: “This genuinely multi-disciplinary book sparks new thinking about a remarkable range of topics, showing that ideas can provide a vantage point to re-think that what has been taken for granted and to open a new door into the future.

“What is more, the book assembles the 65 short essays into nine categories that suggest links between seemingly dissimilar topics, connecting, say, the way in which one poem influences another and the findings of archaeology. This book is not only a pleasure to read but also one that sustains curiosity and interest throughout.”

“Thinking About Almost Everything – New Ideas to Light Up Minds”, is priced at £15 and goes on sale tomorrow. Discounted copies are available to purchase via the IAS website