Royal Society Winton Prize 2014

The longlist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize, arguably a summary of the best popular science books published in 2013 has been announced. The shortlist will be announced on 19th September 2014.


The judges said: “An incredibly interesting look at the politics of science and the decisions all scientists have to make.”

  • Seven Elements That Have Changed The World: Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium, Silicon by John Browne

The judges said: “An inspired look at seven very special elements which are essential to the modern world. It’s a captivating read.”

The judges said: “Full of lots of new messages, Carlson makes you stop and think about the practicalities of science, industry and invention.”

The judges said: “Chown is a terrific science writer. His book is a tour de force that covers an incredible range of topics.”

The judges said: “A fantastic look at the importance of randomness, full of interesting and philosophical ideas while still remaining open and accessible.”

The judges said: “Davis wins you over from the start with touch points you can relate to and engaging descriptions. Dedication and a life spent in pursuit of his subject are evident on every page.”

  • My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

The judges said: “Hawking writes incredibly poetically, conjuring evocative images in your mind. My Brief History takes you on a journey of adversities and shows you what has made Hawking one of the most respected theoretical physicists in the world today.”

  • The Perfect Theory by Pedro G. Ferreira

The judges said: “Very lucidly written, Ferreira succeeds in a explaining some very tricky concepts. A treasure trove of information.”

  • The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery, by George Johnson

The judges said: “A scrupulously researched, well written book that makes excellent use of case studies.”

  • Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live by Marlene Luk

The judges said: “Paleofantasy presents an interesting thesis that feels fresh in a very accessible way. The book represents an argument against the accepted wisdom of our time.”

The judges said: “A contemporary, sideways look at everyday stuff. Miodownik writes with a passionate ability to explain each subject. It’s packed full of excellent stories and is the only science book out there where the author gets stabbed on the London Underground!”

  • Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canel by Mary Roach

The judges said: “An entertaining and disarming read which delves into a usually unspeakable topic with great humour and great insight.”

and here are our favourites that didn’t make the long list, but perhaps should have:

Professor Nicky Clayton FRS, Chair of the judges, said:

“Choosing just 12 books from the over 160 that were submitted for this year’s Prize was a very difficult task. There really is a plethora of good science writing out there at the moment. I think this shows how science is ever increasingly becoming part of our culture. In the end though, we did have to agree on 12 and we’re delighted with those we’ve selected. Each one takes you on an informative but perhaps more importantly, engaging, journey of the science. Some are woven with humour and passionate personal stories; others are able to illuminate incredibly complex topics. All are marvellously written and full of the wonder of science.”

The judges on this year’s judging panel are: Professor Nicola Clayton FRS (Chair), Professor of Comparative Cognition at the University of Cambridge and Scientist in Residence at Rambert (formerly Rambert Dance Company); Dr Nathalie Vriend, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge; Emma Read, Head of Factual and Features at ITN Productions; Michael Frayn, playwright and novelist, best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy; Lone Frank, former neuroscientist, journalist and author of My Beautiful Genome, shortlisted for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.

Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2012

The winner of the Royal Society Young People’s book prize has been announced – it’s Robert Winston’s, Science Experiments.

2012 science experiments

Science Experiments - WINNER

by Robert Winston and Ian Graham (Dorling Kindersley)

The judges said: “This brilliant book contains clear instructions for loads of great experiments, from things that you can try yourself (without getting in trouble from your parents), to spectacular tricks to try with adults present.  Lots of books on experiments cover the same old ground, but this book goes way beyond the usual content and contains plenty of experiments that we’d never seen before.”

2012 How the weather works

How the weather works

by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Beverley Young (Templar)

The judges said: “We loved this beautiful and imaginative book, which uses pop-ups to explore an unusual subject – how the weather works.  We particularly liked the way that the pop-ups aren’t just there for decoration, but are thoughtfully used to explain the science behind the weather.”

2012 out of this world

Out of this world: all the cool bits about space

by Clive Gifford (Buster Books)

The judges said: “This is so different to other astronomy books we’ve seen – it’s a fast-paced, funny and fact-packed guide to the very coolest bits of astronomical science.  Older readers will love dazzling their friends with the out of this world facts that they read in this book.”

2012 plagues

Plagues, pox and pestilence

by Richard Platt and illustrated by John Kelly (Kingfisher)

The judges said: “Not for the fainthearted, this imaginative and informative book covers a huge range of science while telling the story of deadly diseases.  It uses fabulous illustrations to get across some serious scientific content, and although it’s definitely gruesome in places, it’s never gratuitous.”

2012 See inside inventions

See inside inventions: an Usborne flap book

by Alex Frith and illustrated by Colin King (Usborne)

The judges said: “It’s wonderful to see a whole book devoted to the stories behind the world’s most important inventions and we hope that this one might inspire the next generation of young entrepreneurs.  The book packs in a huge amount of science without being overwhelming, and it’s great to see the history of science covered too.”

2012 Magic of reality

The magic of reality

by Richard Dawkins and illustrated by Dave McKean (Bantam Press)

The judges said: “This challenging and thought-provoking book explores how human beings have explored the natural world over time and tackles these ideas in a way that we’ve never seen before.  Combining a comprehensive account of science, philosophy and culture with beautiful illustrations, this is an unusual book that adults might well enjoy too.”

The judges are:

  • Professor Andrea Brand FRS FMedSci (Chair) is Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology and a member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.  Her research looks into the development of the nervous system.
  • Mark Champkins is the Inventor-in-residence at the Science Museum in London. He appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2007, receiving investment from Peter Jones.
  • Greg Foot is a BBC science presenter, most recently seen on BBC3 giving away The Secrets of Everything.
  • Dr Anna Parrish is a science teacher at Coloma Convent Girls School in Croydon.
  • Dr Angela Taylor  is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow and Research Fellow at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford.  Her research is currently exploring remnants of the Big Bang in space.

Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

We have always been a big supporter of the Royal Society Winton Prize. The 2012 judging panel has now been announced:

  • Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS – Visiting Professor at the Department of Astrophysics, University of Oxford
  • Jasper Fforde – author of Thursday Next novels and The Last Dragonslayer series
  • Tania Hershman – author of short story collections, writer-in-residence at the University of Bristol and founder and editor of The Short Review
  • Kim Shillinglaw – BBC Commissioning Editor for Science and Natural History
  • Dr Samuel Turvey – Royal Society University Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology

How the World Works – Christina Dorion & Beverley Young *****

Winner of the 2011 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize

It is so refreshing to come across a science book for young people that is genuinely different, not just another Dorling Kindersley clone. (I have nothing against DK, by the way, but their style is everywhere these days).

The only hangover from the DK approach is that this book is structured as a series of 2 page spreads, but these are lush, interactive spreads which contain everything from pop-ups and pull tabs to a little flickbook (used to animate the sequence of movement of the tectonic plates to form continents). In fact that flickbook animation is a sclue as to what this really is. It’s the sort of thing you would think of doing these days with a website or an iPad app, but rendered in cardboard and paper.

The fancy interactivity doesn’t mean that the book is sparse in material. The nine two-page spreads cover the solar system, life on Earth, plate tectonics and mountain formation, the water cycle, weather, ocean currents, carbon and the greenhouse effect, plants and the environment and food chains. Each of these has a good mix of factoids, illustrations (in a slightly swirly arty fashion) and interactive elements.

Just occasionally it seemed as if the interaction was there because there ought to be something rather than because it added anything – for instance when you pulled a tab and all that happened was a piece of card emerged with more text on it. But on the whole the interactions were attention grabbing and managed to cram more information into a limited space.

Traditionally pop-up books have been aimed either at the very young or adults (Jan Pienkowski springs to mind), but this is a pop-up plus book that will capture the imagination of children in its target age range. There are parts of it that might be a little worse for wear after being exposed to a nine-year-old, but any concerns about that are really adult worries rather than the children’s.

The subtitle of the book is ‘a hands-on guide to our amazing planet’ and it very much does what it says on the tin. Recommended.


Review by Jo Reed