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.


  • 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.

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3 thoughts on “2020 Royal Society Science Book Prize Shortlist

  1. Matthew Johnson: It’s a wonderful thing how these unseen bits of code attach themselves to copied text and only manifest upon publication as question marks. Maybe wonderful isn’t the right word…

  2. @Mike Glyer, “wonderful” in its original sense, as “a thing to be wondered at”, perhaps…

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