Royal Society Prizes for Science Books

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The Royal Society Science Books Prize is an annual £25,000 prize awarded by the Royal Society to celebrate outstanding popular science books from around the world.[1] It is open to authors of science books written for a non-specialist audience, and since it was established in 1988 has championed writers such as Stephen Hawking, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould and Bill Bryson. In 2015 The Guardian described the prize as "the most prestigious science book prize in Britain".[2]


The Royal Society established the Science Books Prize in 1988 with the aim of encouraging the writing, publishing and reading of good and accessible popular science books. Its name has varied according to sponsorship agreements.

Years Name Sponsor
1990–2000 Rhône-Poulenc Prize for Science Books Rhône-Poulenc
2001–2006 Aventis Prize for Science Books Aventis
2007–2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books none
2011–2015 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books Winton Group
2016– Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize Insight Investment[3]

Judging process[edit]

A panel of judges decides the shortlist and the winner of the Prize each year. The panel is chaired by a fellow of the Royal Society and includes authors, scientists and media personalities. The judges for the 2016 prize included author Bill Bryson, theoretical physicist Dr Clare Burrage, science fiction author Alastair Reynolds, ornithologist and science blogger GrrlScientist, and author and director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group, Roger Highfield.[3] In 2019, the jury consisted of Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Shukry James Habib, Dorothy Koomson, Stephen McGann, and Gwyneth Williams.[4]

All books entered for the prize must be published in English for the first time between September and October the preceding year. The winner is announced at an award ceremony and receives £25,000. Each of the other shortlisted authors receives £2,500.[1]

Shortlisted books[edit]

Each year's shortlist appears below. A blue ribbon (Blue ribbon) appears against the winner.


The shortlist was announced on 29 September 2021,[5] and the winner was announced on 29 November 2021.[6]


The shortlist was announced on 22 September 2020,[7] and the winner was announced on 3 November 2020.[8]


The shortlist was announced on 27 August 2019,[9] and the winner was announced on 23 September 2019.[10]


The shortlist was announced on 2 August 2018,[11] and the winner was announced on 1 October 2018.[12]

  • Blue ribbon Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
  • The Unexpected Truth About Animals, Lucy Cooke
  • The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing Your Body’s Natural Defences, Daniel M Davis
  • Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine, Hannah Fry
  • Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, Mark Miodownik
  • Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, Simon Winchester


The shortlist was announced on 3 August 2017,[13] and the winner was announced on 19 September 2017.[14]


The shortlist was announced on 4 August 2016,[15] and the winner on 19 September 2016.[16]


The shortlist was announced on 5 August 2015,[17] and the winner on 24 September 2015.[2]

  • Blue ribbon Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made, Gaia Vince (Chatto & Windus)
  • Life’s Greatest Secret, Matthew Cobb (Profile)
  • Smashing Physics, Jon Butterworth (Headline)
  • The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, David Adam (Picador)
  • Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life, Alex Bellos (Bloomsbury)
  • Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Johnjoe Mcfadden and Jim Al-Khalili (Bantam Press)


  • Blue ribbon Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World, Mark Miodownik, (Viking - an imprint of Penguin Books)[18]
  • Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler, Philip Ball (The Bodley Head)
  • Seven Elements That Have Changed The World: Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium, Silicon, John Browne (Weidenfeld & Nicolson - an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group)
  • The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity, Pedro G. Ferreira (Little, Brown Book Group)
  • The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery, George Johnson (The Bodley Head)
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (Oneworld)








This was the first year that the prizes were given by the Royal Society.


It was Jared Diamond's third nomination for the prize, having won twice previously. The 2006 prize was the last one to be sponsored by the Aventis Foundation.


  • Blue ribbon Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another by Philip Ball ISBN 0-374-28125-4
  • The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins
  • Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older by Douwe Draaisma
  • Matters Of Substance: Drugs - And Why Everyone's A User by Griffith Edwards
  • The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey
  • The Human Mind by Robert Winston






Pre-2000 winners[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Royal Society
  2. ^ a b "Top science book prize won by woman for first time", "The Guardian", London, 24 September 2015. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Science Book Prize gets new sponsor", "The Bookseller", London, 17 June 2016. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  4. ^ "Judging panel 2019". Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Royal Society Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment". Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  6. ^ Bayley, Sian (29 November 2021). "Sheldrake wins Royal Society Science Book Prize with 'illuminating' fungi book". The Bookseller. Archived from the original on 30 November 2021. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2020". Retrieved 24 September 2020.
  8. ^ "'2020 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize Winner 2020". 3 November 2020. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  9. ^ "Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2019". Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  10. ^ "'Brilliant exposé' of gender data gap wins Royal Society science book prize". 23 September 2019. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  11. ^ "Shortlist for The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2018 revealed". Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  12. ^ Cain, Sian (1 October 2018). "Myth-busting study of teenage brains wins Royal Society prize". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Shortlist for The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 explores life's big questions". Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize". Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  15. ^ "Shortlist for The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016 unveiled". Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  16. ^ "The Royal Society announces the winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016". Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  17. ^ "Winton Prize for Science Books shortlist revealed", "The Bookseller", London, 5 August 2015. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  18. ^ "Materials book wins Royal Society Winton Prize", "BBC", London, 10 November 2014. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Royal Society Winton Prize goes to 'rock star' science book", "The Guardian", London, 26 November 2013. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  20. ^ "Royal Society Winton prize for science goes to James Gleick", "The Guardian", London, 27 November 2012. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Expert in idleness is surprise winner of science book prize", "The Independent", 18 November 2011. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  22. ^ "Royal Society's science book prize will be the last", "BBC", 21 October 2010. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.
  23. ^ "Prize for wonder of science past", "BBC", 15 September 2009. Retrieved on 22 June 2016.

External links[edit]