2021 Royal Society Science Book Prize

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake is winner of the 2021 Royal Society Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment. The prize was announced at a live ceremony on November 29 that also was streamed on YouTube.

The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them. They can change our minds, heal our bodies and even help us avoid environmental disaster; they are metabolic masters, earth-makers and key players in most of nature’s processes. In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake takes us on a mind-altering journey into their spectacular world and reveals how these extraordinary organisms transform our understanding of our planet and life itself. Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer.

Chaired by Professor Luke O’Neill FRS, the 2021 judging panel was comprised of television presenter, Ortis Deley; mathematician and Dorothy Hodgkin Royal Society Fellow, Dr Anastasia Kisil; author and creative writing lecturer, Christy Lefteri, and journalist, writer and film maker, Clive Myrie.

O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, commented: “Entangled Life is a fantastic account of the world of fungi, which to the uninitiated might seem unpromising as a topic, but which Merlin Sheldrake brings alive in the most vivid of ways.  We learn all kinds of interesting things about fungi, from how they helped plants colonise land (which means without them we wouldn’t be here) to how they form huge networks allowing trees to communicate (in the form of the ‘Wood Wide Web’), to stories of fungus-gathering enthusiasts, how fungi might help save the planet by digesting plastic, and even how they can manipulate our minds.  This is science writing at its very best, which yet again emphasises how the scientific method is so important in our effort to understand the world around us. Entangled Life is an important, scientifically rigorous and most of all entertaining read.”

Brian Cox OBE, FRS, The Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science, added: “At a time when science is front and centre of everyone’s lives, making it accessible and understandable through great writing is more important than ever. The best science writing invites people to explore the world around them and view it in a new way, and Entangled Life is a perfect example. Exploring Nature always delivers insights that are surprising and often resonate way beyond the initial research or subject matter, and Merlin’s wonderfully written book is a perfect example. From antibiotics to parasitic ‘zombie infections’, Entangled Life brings the reader face to face with the beauty and terror of Nature.”

Sheldrake receives a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the other five shortlisted authors.

[Based on a press release.]

2021 Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlist

The Royal Society has revealed the shortlist for the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2021, sponsored by Insight Investment, chosen from a record number of 267 submissions from all over the world.

Two debut authors make the 2021 shortlist in journalist James Nestor and science and culture journalist, Jessica Nordell. They are joined by astronomer Emily Levesque and neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan. Psychologist Dr. Stuart Ritchie and biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake complete the six-strong list, from which a winner will be chosen in November. 

To be an astronomer is to journey to some of the most inaccessible parts of the globe, braving mountain passes, sub-zero temperatures, and hostile flora and fauna. Not to mention the stress of handling equipment worth millions. It is a life of unique delights and absurdities… and one that may be drawing to a close. In The Last Stargazers, Emily Levesque, an astronomy professor at the University of Washington, reveals the hidden world of the professional astronomer. She celebrates an era of ingenuity and curiosity, and asks us to think twice before we cast aside our sense of wonder at the universe.

There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat twenty-five thousand times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent cutting-edge studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology, Breath turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head. James Nestor has written for Scientific American, Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, National Public Radio, The New York Times, and more.

Drawing on 10 years’ immersion in the topic of unconscious bias, Jessica Nordell digs deep into the cognitive science and social psychology that underpin efforts to create change, and introduces us to the people who are practising a range of promising methods: the police using mindfulness to regulate high-stress situations; the doctors whose diagnostic checklists help eliminate bias in treatment; the lawyers and educators striving to embed equality all the way from the early-years playroom to the boardroom. Jessica Nordell is an American science and culture journalist.

Inspired by a poignant encounter with the mysterious sleeping refugee children of Sweden, Suzanne O’Sullivan travels the world to visit other communities who have also been subject to outbreaks of so-called ‘mystery’ illnesses. O’Sullivan hears remarkable stories from a fascinating array of people, and attempts to unravel their complex meaning while asking the question: who gets to define what is and what isn’t an illness? Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at the Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Science is how we understand the world. Yet failures in peer review and mistakes in statistics have rendered a shocking number of scientific studies useless – or, worse, badly misleading. Such errors have distorted our knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as medicine, physics, nutrition, education, genetics, economics, and the search for extraterrestrial life. As Science Fictions makes clear, the current system of research funding and publication not only fails to safeguard us from blunders but actively encourages bad science – with sometimes deadly consequences. Dr. Stuart Ritchie is a Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London and winner of the 2015 ‘Rising Star’ award from the Association for Psychological Science.

The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them. They can change our minds, heal our bodies and even help us avoid environmental disaster; they are metabolic masters, earth-makers and key players in most of nature’s processes. In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake takes us on a mind-altering journey into their spectacular world and reveals how these extraordinary organisms transform our understanding of our planet and life itself. Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer.

Alongside Professor Luke O’Neill FRS, the 2021 judging panel comprises: television presenter, Ortis Deley; mathematician and Dorothy Hodgkin Royal Society Fellow, Dr Anastasia Kisil; author and creative writing lecturer, Christy Lefteri, and journalist, writer and film maker, Clive Myrie.

The winner of the 2021 Royal Society Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment, will be announced November 29. They will receive a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five shortlisted authors.

[Based on a press release.]

2020 Royal Society Science Book Prize

Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships by postdoctoral scientist and debut author Dr. Camilla Pang is the 2020 winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. The result was revealed in a virtual ceremony on November 3.

Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of eight, Dr Camilla Pang struggled to understand the world around her. Desperate for a solution, Camilla asked her mother if there was an instruction manual for humans that she could consult. But, without the blueprint to life she was hoping for, Camilla began to create her own. Now armed with a PhD in biochemistry, Camilla dismantles our obscure social customs and identifies what it really means to be human using her unique expertise and a language she knows best: science.

Through a set of scientific principles, this book examines life’s everyday interactions including: decisions and the route we take to make them; conflict and how we can avoid it; relationships and how we establish them; etiquette and how we conform to it.

Explaining Humans is an original and incisive exploration of human nature and the strangeness of social norms, written from the outside looking in. Camilla’s unique perspective of the world, in turn, tells us so much about ourselves – about who we are and why we do it – and is a fascinating guide on how to lead a more connected, happier life.

Dr. Pang tweeted her reaction to winning: “I have no words. What an absolute honour. Literally in bits. Thank you so much to everyone and congratulations to the amazing authors on the shortlist. You are all incredible. Thank you so so much everyone. I am beyond over the moon and am so grateful for your support. What a way to enter lockdown!” (The UK initiated a period of lockdown to control the spread of COVID today.)

She is the sixth woman to win the prize in six years.

The winner receives a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five other shortlisted authors.

2020 Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlist

The Royal Society revealed the shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2020 on September 22.

This year’s shortlisted books, chosen from over 172 submissions, are the judges’ choices as the very best in popular science writing from around the world for a non-specialist audience.

SHORTLIST 2020

  • The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili (Princeton University Press)
  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (Transworld Publishers)
  • The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (Canongate Books)
  • Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships by Camilla Pang (Viking)
  • The Double X Economy: The Epic Power of Empowering Women by Linda Scott (Faber & Faber)
  • Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time by Gaia Vince (Allen Lane)

The shortlisted authors include two previous winners, author Bill Bryson OBE FRS (A Short History of Nearly Everything, 2004) and Gaia Vince, science writer and broadcaster (Adventures in the Anthropocene, 2015) and previously shortlisted author and physicist, Jim Al-Khalili (Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, written with Johnjoe McFadden, 2015).

Chair of this year’s judging panel, Professor Anne Osbourn FRS, Group Leader at the John Innes Centre and Director of the Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology Alliance, comments:

“This year’s shortlisted books represent carefully crafted explorations of the worlds both around and within us: the physical laws of the universe and the search for ultimate simplicity; the innermost workings of the human body (and its ultimate demise); an instruction manual for interpreting human behaviour;  the complex area of diagnosing and defining mental health  the subordination and exclusion of women in developed and developing countries around the world, and the potential for unleashing women’s economic power for the greater good, and the evolution and potential fragility of the human super-organism Homo omnis , likened to a differentiating slime mould trying to ensure its survival by escaping an unfavourable soil environment.

“These books make science intriguing, accessible and exciting. Some raise awareness of the scientific process, and of our understanding that scientists are humans too. Others are a call to arms, asking us to consider our place in the universe and what we can bring to humanity in our various ways.  There is darkness, revelation and hope. There is inspiration.”

In addition to Professor Osbourn, the judging panel consists of Blackwell’s Trade Buying Manager, Katharine Fry; journalist, Katy Guest; Royal Society University Research Fellow, Dr. Kartic Subr, and actress and author Sophie Ward.

The winner of the 2020 Prize will be announced via a virtual awards ceremony streamed on the Royal Society website on November 3. The winner will receive a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five shortlisted authors.

Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2019

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by writer, broadcaster and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, is the 2019 winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Books Prize.

Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.

Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap–a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women.

The Guardian interviewed Caroline Criado Perez about the win.

The author and feminist campaigner who successfully pushed for Jane Austen to be featured on the UK’s £10 note, called her £25,000 win on Monday night a huge relief.

“Obviously it’s a huge honour, but mainly because it has the official endorsement of scientists and so it can’t be dismissed now, and that’s so important,” she said. “Writing this book was hellish. It really tested my mental strength to its limits, partly because it was a really emotional book to write because of the impact this is having on women’s lives and how angry and upsetting it was to keep coming across this gap in the data. But also it was very challenging because it was a book about the whole world and everything in it, and I had to work out how to synthesise that into something manageable.”

When she began writing, she said, she gave a talk at the launch of the women’s health all-party parliamentary group, during which she said “very innocuous things that are very well-known, like how women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a heart attack, how female animals are not being included in studies, how women are having adverse drug reactions”. She received an angry response from some of the male doctors present.

“It was a real shock to me. As someone who doesn’t have a science background, I’ve always looked up to scientists as objective and rational. Even though I knew there was this bias in medical science, I thought that hearing the evidence, they would react in a ‘We need to fix this’ kind of way rather than a ‘What is this stupid woman talking about?’ kind of way,” she said. “I was really aware this book was going to ruffle feathers and I was very worried about how it would be received by people who might feel defensive about it, that I wasn’t going to be able to do justice to this incredibly important topic and that I would make a mess of it and it wouldn’t have the impact I knew it had to have.”

She is the fifth woman to win the prize in five years.

2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize Shortlist

The 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize recognizes the best of science writing for a non-specialist audience. The shortlist was announced August 27.

The author of the winning book receives £25,000 and £2,500 is awarded to each of the five shortlisted books. The winner is announced at a special award ceremony in the autumn.   

Shortlist 2019

The title links lead to full articles about the finalists.

Chair of this year’s judging panel, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, principal and professorial research fellow in computer science at Jesus College, University of Oxford, said:

This year’s shortlist is a great collection of popular science writing. Each book on the list presents an area of science that is fascinating, enthralling and important: from the mysteries of the quantum universe to the air we breathe, from the way that data encodes bias to the skin that is our largest organ, from the infinite power of calculus to new kinds of matter, our shortlist will appeal to all.

Within these titles we encounter triumph and tragedy, hope and despair, enlightenment and enduring mysteries. The writers share great stories, rooted in outstanding research. They open up our understanding of the world in which we live and remind us of the important discoveries taking place around us every day.

The members of this year’s judging panel are:

Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt FRS (Chair)

Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt is one of the UK’s foremost computer scientists.

Dr Shukry James Habib 

Dr Shukry James Habib is a Principal Investigator and a Sir Henry Dale Fellow at the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London and a member of the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform.

Dorothy Koomson

Dorothy Koomson is an internationally bestselling author whose award-winning novels include the Sunday Times bestsellers The Friend, That Girl from Nowhere, The Ice Cream Girls, The Woman He Loved Before, The Chocolate Run and My Best Friend’s Girl.

Stephen McGann

Stephen McGann has worked extensively in British theatre and on screen. He is currently starring as Dr Turner in the BBC’s global hit Call the Midwife.

Gwyneth Williams

Gwyneth Williams is the Controller of BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra (2010 to present).

2018 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize

The 2018 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize recognizes the best of science writing for a non-specialist audience. The 2018 winner was announced October 1:

We often joke that teenagers don’t have brains. For some reason, it’s socially acceptable to mock people in this stage of their lives. The need for intense friendships, the excessive risk taking and the development of many mental illnesses – depression, addiction, schizophrenia – begin during these formative years, so what makes the adolescent brain different?

The entire 2018 award shortlist (in order of author surname):

The prize winner receives a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five shortlisted authors.

This year’s judging panel was led by Frances Ashcroft who, as well as being widely published in the field of cell physiology, has also written two popular science books.

The rest of the panel was:

  • Greg Williams, Editor of WIRED.
  • Vivienne Parry OBE, a scientist by training, who hosts medical programmes for Radio 4. Her book ‘The Truth about Hormones’ was shortlisted for the 2005 Royal Society Book Prize.
  • Dr Leigh Fletcher, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Associate Professor in Planetary Sciences at the University of Leicester, specializing in the exploration of planetary weather and climate using Earth-based observatories and visiting spacecraft. He is a co-investigator on the Cassini mission to Saturn, and the JUICE mission to Jupiter.
  • Peter Florence CBE, Director, Hay Festival

2017 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize

Cordelia Fine

The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 winner is —

  • Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books)

The award, celebrating its 30th anniversary, recognizes the best of science writing for a non-specialist audience. The winner was announced September 19.

In Testosterone Rex, Fine uses the latest scientific evidence to challenge – and ultimately overturn – dominant views on both masculinity and femininity, calling for readers to rethink their differences whatever their sex. Testosterone Rex was chosen from a six-strong international shortlist with Fine becoming the third woman to scoop the Prize in as many years, following Andrea Wulf (The Invention of Nature) in 2016 and Gaia Vince (Adventures in the Anthropocene) in 2015.

Chairing this year’s panel of judges was Professor Richard Fortey, award-winning writer and television presenter, palaeontologist and Royal Society Fellow, joined by award-winning novelist and games writer, Naomi Alderman; writer and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, Claudia Hammond; Channel 4’s Topical Specialist Factual Commissioner, Shaminder Nahal and former Royal Society University Research Fellow, Sam Gilbert.

Fine will receive a cheque for £25,000, and £2,500 was awarded to each of the other five shortlisted authors.

2017 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize Shortlist

The Royal Society revealed the shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 on August 3. The award, celebrating its 30th anniversary, recognizes the best of science writing for a non-specialist audience.

  • Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of the Mathematical Universe by Eugenia Cheng (Profile Books)
  • Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith (William Collins)
  • In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli (John Murray)
  • To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell (Granta Books)
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (Bodley Head)

Joseph Jebelli’s compelling debut, In Pursuit of Memory, which explores the difficulty scientists face in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is up against Cordelia Fine’s explosive study of gender politics, Testosterone Rex, which weighs up the latest evidence to debunk the myth that the inequality of the sexes is hardwired. Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine looks wryly at the age-old human quest to live longer and better and the latest fixes, from exosuits to cryogenics. Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds, a close-up look at the octopus, is a fascinating examination of intelligent life on our own planet. On the subject of infinity, international maths sensation Eugenia Cheng’s Beyond Infinity takes readers on a hugely enjoyable journey into the world of maths to reveal the inner workings of infinity. Lastly, Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes looks at our internal ecosystems in a fascinating study of the millions of microbes that live within us.

Chair of this year’s panel Professor Richard Fortey, award-winning writer and television presenter, palaeontologist and Royal Society Fellow, is joined on the judging panel by: award-winning novelist and games writer, Naomi Alderman; writer and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, Claudia Hammond; Channel 4’s Topical Specialist Factual Commissioner, Shaminder Nahal and former Royal Society University Research Fellow, Sam Gilbert.

The 2017 winner will be announced at a ceremony on September 19 and will receive a cheque for £25,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the five shortlisted authors.

ANNIVERSARY POLL RESULTS. The Royal Society also marked the 30th anniversary of the Science Book Prize by polling the public about “the most inspiring work of science writing of all time.” In July, Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was announced as the most popular choice from a selection of 11 inspiring books chosen by Keith Moore, Head of Library at the Royal Society. Also included were Bill Bryson’s 2003 book A Short History of Nearly Everything and Charles Darwin’s 1859 classic On the Origin of Species, which came in second and third place respectively. The poll had 1,309 participants.