Greetings from Paris, where we just arrived from London via the technological miracle of the Chunnel. I was in London in part to take place in the award ceremony for the Royal Society Winton Prize for science books. Which, to my honest surprise, I won!
Not to everyone’s surprise, as it turned out. As the big moment approached, with all six short-listed authors and their friends sitting nervously in the audience, President of the Royal Society Paul Nurse took the podium to announce the winner. He played up the tension quite a bit, joking that nobody in the room, not even he, knew what name was written in the sealed envelope he held in his hands. Unbeknownst to Nurse, a slight technical glitch had caused a PowerPoint slide showing The Particle at the End of the Universe to be displayed — with the word “Winner.” So actually, he was the only one in the room who didn’t know by that point.
Other than that amusing diversion, however, it was a great event overall. It’s such a pleasure to experience the strong culture of public science that is thriving in the UK, and the Royal Society deserves a lot of credit in helping to bring science writing to a wider audience.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the prize jury, however. All of the six shortlisted books are fascinating in their own ways, and at some point it’s comparing apples to pears. I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of the other contenders had walked away with the trophy:
- Bird Sense, Tim Birkhead
- From Cells to Civilizations, Enrico Coen
- Pieces of Light, Charles Fernyhough
- The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson
- The Ocean of Life, Callum Roberts
But, you know, someone has to win. I’ll admit I was rooting for me. Hearing all the congratulations from Twitter/Facebook/email etc. has been extremely heart-warming. (And yes, we’re all hoping that there’s more gender/ethnic diversity on future shortlists…)
Recognizing all the while, of course, what I owe to many other people. While writing this book I was as much of a journalist/evangelist hybrid as I was a scientist, helping to spread the word of the amazing work done by thousands of experimental physicists and technicians, and I hope that the book made their contribution more widely appreciated. Most of all, I fully appreciate that I’m not even the best writer in my own house (which only has two people in it). Jennifer is going to quickly tire of hearing me say “Who’s the award-winning author around here, anyway?”