Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016 Shortlist Announced | @GrrlScientist

In this one amazing kick-ass list, you will find your entire summer’s reading and your Christmas gift shopping taken care of — shweeeeeet!

by GrrlScientist for Forbes | @GrrlScientist

Royal Society Insight Investment Popular Science Book Prize Shortlist for 2016. (Credit: The Royal Society of London.)

How would you feel if suddenly, out-of-the-blue, you were asked to help choose the best popular science book published in the last year?

It was by luck that I happened to be looking at my email when my invitation from The Royal Society unexpectedly popped up, and immediately upon reading the message — and before anyone could change their minds about it — I responded with a big, fat

A few hours later, after the realization sank in that I was being asked to do one of the things that I most wanted to do, like, evar in my entire life — read hundreds and thousands of popular science books — I became so excited that I had to pinch myself repeatedly to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Because with that one YES!!!, electronically shrieked across several countries and bodies of water, I had transformed my lifelong passion for reading and reviewing popular science books from a mere hobby into MY JOB.

Yes, my peeps, I am the luckiest person on the planet because not only were two yuuuge boxes of science books delivered to me months ago, but I managed to read all 55 of them before I traveled to London to meet with my fellow judges. Together, we discussed and argued about which six books should be shortlisted.

Yes, this was a difficult, challenging process, because we discussed each individual book on the longlist (and the longlist was filled with so many wonderful books to begin with that this became quite time-consuming), and also because each one of us had one or more personal favorites that ended up being one agonising vote away from making the shortlist. In the end, each one of us suffered a personal literary disappointment, but our final shortlist shaped up to be something that we all feel very proud of because we all agreed on these six books, and this shortlist represents the breadth of science — and science writing — so well.

Yes, we are certain that these six books will appeal to the public.

“Few ideas are more exasperatingly wide of the mark than the belief that science is somehow a thing apart, something that happens in laboratories and classrooms but otherwise doesn’t much intersect with our daily lives,” said Bill Bryson, Chair of Judges.

“So it really cannot be stressed too often: science isn’t separate from our daily lives. It is our daily lives. It explains who we are, how we got here and where we are going. It is innately enchanting,”Mr. Bryson said.

Not only are these books intellectually satisfying, but they all are just so beautifully written.

“These books show science writing at its best, lyrical and vivid and thrilling — not to mention as interesting, useful and accessible — as any writing you will find in any genre, and anyone who tells you differently simply cannot claim to be well read,” Mr. Bryson said.

Woo, strong words, indeed, Mr Bryson! But so true and so very well spoken!

The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016 shortlist. (Credit: The Royal Society of London.)

Here’s the shortlist (alphabetically by the author’s last name, so no one can accuse me of favoritism):

  • The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury; Amazon US/Amazon UK)
  • The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson (Head of Zeus;Amazon US/Amazon UK)
  • Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant (Canongate; Amazon US/Amazon UK)
  • The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World by Oliver Morton (Granta; Amazon US/Amazon UK)
  • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Bodley Head; Amazon US/Amazon UK)
  • The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf (John Murray; Amazon US/Amazon UK)

Now that we’ve got our shortlist, all of us are immersed in a thorough, careful, re-reading of these six books. And of course, you all can read along with us and choose your own winner. If my fellow judges are like me, they are already cataloguing their arguments for their particular favorites in a big database that they will carry with them to our next meeting in September, when we choose the winner. We’ve already been warned that the only weapons that we are allowed to support and defend our choice will be (1) our words and (2) a crossbow. (I never mentioned that I was very adept with the crossbow in university, heh, heh!)

In my opinion, I think any one of these six books would make a superb winner of The Prize, but as judges, our job is to somehow choose The One without inflicting any enduring damage to any of our colleagues. Since this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, prize for popular science books in the world, the payoff is truly breathtaking — for example, as a working scientist, I have never earned more than these prize winnings in my life. The author of The One winning book receives £25,000 (US $32,834) and £2,500 (US $3,283) is awarded to each of the authors of the other five shortlisted books. The winner will be announced on 19 September.

As if all the books on the longlist aren’t inspirational and exciting enough, finally meeting and chatting with my talented fellow judges about science books would be enough to inspire anyone who loves excellent science writing.

These are this year’s judges:

The Royal Society’s Science Book Prize was founded in 1988, and has been known under various banners including the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, Aventis Prize and Rhône-Poulenc Prize and most recently, The Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. The Prize celebrates outstanding popular science books from around the world and is open to authors of science books written for a non-specialist audience. Over the decades, The Prize has recognized writers such as Stephen Hawking, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould and Brian Greene.


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Originally published at Forbes on 4 August 2016.