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Prize-winning science book makes waves

Image of Gavin Pretor-Pinney with his book and award

Image of Gavin Pretor-Pinney with his book and award on the left and the front cover of the UK edition of The Wavewatcher’s Companion on the right. (Courtesy: The Royal Society)

By Tushna Commissariat

The Royal Society announced its 2011 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books today and the winning book is Gavin Pretor-Pinney The Wavewatcher’s Companion. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, presented the prize to Pretor-Pinney at an award ceremony held at the society’s headquarters in London.

The society’s annual book prize, originally established in 1988, aims at encouraging the writing, publishing and reading of science books – especially those that deal with complex subjects in a style that can be absorbed by a non-specialist audience. The society also awards the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize for books that communicate science to a younger audience.

The winner of the Winton Prize is selected by a panel that first chooses a longlist of about 12 books followed by a shortlist of six books, before the winner is announced. The authors of the short-listed books each receive £1000 and the winner receives £10,000.

In The Wavewatcher’s Companion, Pretor-Pinney, who also happens to be the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, talks about another formation in nature that caught his eye – waves – and explores why it is they appear everywhere around us. On winning the prize, Pretor-Pinney said “I’m really grateful to the jury, the Royal Society and Winton Capital Management. What interests me in science is that it follows from being curious about the world around us. I hope my book motivates others to be curious too!”

The judging panel included Richard Holmes, biographer and a previous winner of the prize Jenny Clack FRS, Professor and Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Cambridge; Robert Llewellyn, writer, actor and TV presenter; and Professor Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Edinburgh.

The six books shortlisted were:

*Alex’s Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos

*Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher

*The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

*The Wavewatcher’s Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney

*Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample

*The Rough Guide to the Future by Jon Turney

“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 straightforward science to transform our perspective on the world around us, both visible and invisible, in a completely radical way. From mexican waves to electromagnetic waves, it gave us a new delight and fascination in our immediate surroundings,” said Holmes, chair of the judges. He went on to say that the panel was “inspired to see waves everywhere” after reading the book and that it was a “delightful winner”.

The first chapter of each shortlisted book is available to download free of charge here.

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