Books on the search for happiness and the sex life of a Galápagos tortoise have been shortlisted for the world's leading award for science writing.

Six authors will be considered for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, which carries a first prize of £10,000.

The range of subjects covered by the authors, one of whom is a Nobel prize-winner, include climate change, a history of mankind in Britain, cancer and memory.

Among those who failed to reach the last six were the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and the guitarist Brian May with their joint book Bang: the Complete History of the Universe.

The judges on the panel assessing the books include Colin Pillinger, Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University, and Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the wind-up radio.

Professor Pillinger, chairman of the judging panel, said: "This year's shortlist reflects the great range of styles that science books can encompass."

The shortlisted titles were chosen from a longlist of 12 that was drawn up from an original entry of 85 books.

The six books are Homo Britannicus by Chris Stringer, In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel, Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls, One in Three by Adam Wishart, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, and The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson.

Professor Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, is one of the leading experts on the origins of people, and in Homo Britannicus he looks at 700,000 years of intermittent human occupation of Britain.

Nicholls, a science journalist, considers conservation in the Galápagos Islands and focuses on a 14-stone tortoise, George, who is the sole survivor of his subspecies.

Wishart, a television director, wrote One in Three after struggling to find any books that told him what he wanted to know about cancer when the illness was diagnosed in his father.

The judges described Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness as "one of those books you can't put down". In it the author, one of the world's most influential social psychologists, analyses the human desire for happiness.

Professor Kandel's work on memory won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000 and he addresses the issue again in his book, in which he documents the development of the science of the mind since his childhood in Nazi Vienna.

Henson, a meteorologist, writes about the science of climate change, analysing the grounds for disputing claims about global warming and assessing possible solutions.