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Ruth’s Reviews: And the winner is….


Last night, at a ceremony in London, Gavin Pretor-Pinney was named as this year’s Royal Society Winton Book Prize winner. His winning book, The Wavewatcher’s Companion, is his second, and followed naturally in the footsteps of The Cloudspotter’s Guide. He told me “many waves are revealed by clouds”, and that the act of watching clouds and waves is “rounding and calming”.

When I asked if he had a trilogy in him, Pretor-Pinney said he was uncertain but that: “what interests me is the ordinary, finding what’s exotic in our surroundings, seeing the miraculous in what is around us.”

The Wavewatcher’s Companion is an interesting choice. More contemplative in tone than the others, the author takes the reader on a stroll rather than pursuing his subject with the cantering speed of many other popular science books. See my review here

Richard Holmes, chair of the judges, said: “At the heart of the scientific enterprise is a desire to explore our world, and to understand it better. The Wavewatcher’s Companion used relatively straight-forward science to transform our perspective on the world around us, both visible and invisible, in a completely radical way. From Mexican waves to electro-magnetic waves, it gave us a new delight and fascination in our immediate surroundings. We were inspired to see waves everywhere and we were given an almost poetic vision of a dynamic universe. It is a book of old-fashioned charm and wit, provocatively organized and illustrated, and marvellously deft with its presentation of hard modern science. In short, it is a delightful winner.”

The ceremony was hosted by the President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, and attended by all the shortlisted authors. They read excerpts from their books and participated in an audience-led Q&A.

A key discussion both in the ceremony and concurrently on twitter was about why female authors are so lacking in this prize – indeed only one female author has appeared on the shortlist in the past five years (former Nature news editor Jo Marchant, for the wonderful Decoding the Heavens. You can read her blog post on that here. No one had the answers, but judge Cait MacPhee admitteed that the judges were aware of this. Though there were two female authors on the longlist, the panel simply didn’t get as many submissions from female authors.

Sir Paul Nurse praised all the books on the shortlist, saying: “I look with admiration on the authors. Not only are science books pleasurable but crucial for the proper running of our society.”


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