The Age of Wonder wins Royal Society Prize for Science Books

15 September 2009

Richard Holmes' extraordinary account of how science inspired the romantic generation, has also inspired the judges of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books.  He was announced the winner at the Royal Society today (Tuesday 15th September 2009).

In "The Age of Wonder", Richard Holmes investigates how a fascination for science swept across Britain at the end of 18th century, using the stories of the scientists involved to engage the reader.  The book covers a variety of disciplines including astronomy, chemistry, botany, philosophy, and even poetry, as it explores how the science of the time evolved.

Richard Holmes said: "I did a lot of hot air ballooning in researching this book and I can tell you that the feeling of going up in a balloon is nothing compared to what I feel at winning this prize. I am elated and I hope not to come down too soon."

He added: "One of the things I've leant in writing a about science is the vital importance of teamwork both in the laboratory and the field. This may require a new kind of biography to be written."

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, presented the £10,000 prize to Richard Holmes. The award ceremony was held at the Royal Society.  The Age of Wonder has triumphed over other strong contenders in the shortlist, including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and Ben Goldacre's Bad Science to win the prestigious award for science writing.

Sir Tim Hunt FRS, Chair of the Judges(1), said: "This is a book about real heroes, scientists like Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy and William Herschel, who changed our understanding of the world forever.  It's extremely accessible, wearing its science lightly while placing it within a much wider cultural context.  We all found it a wonderful, eclectic and compelling read, completely absorbing, romantic and original.  An extraordinary achievement and a truly worthy winner."

The six books shortlisted were:

  • What the nose knows: The science of scent in everyday life by Avery Gilbert (Crown Publishers)
  • Bad science by Ben Goldacre (Fourth Estate)
  • Decoding the heavens: Solving the mystery of the world's first computer by Jo Marchant (Windmill)
  • The age of wonder: How the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science by Richard Holmes (Harper)
  • The drunkard's walk: How randomness rules our lives by Leonard Mlodinow (Penguin)
  • Your inner fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor by Neil Shubin (Penguin)

The Royal Society is grateful to the Beecroft Trust for supporting the 2009 Prizes while the Society seeks longer-term support for 2010 onwards.  The winner was announced at an event at the Royal Society on Tuesday 15th September 2009 and awarded £10,000. The authors of each shortlisted book were awarded £1000.

The judges on the judging panel are: Sir Tim Hunt FRS, Cancer Research UK and Nobel laureate (Chair); Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, space scientist at Astrium Ltd, STFC Fellow of University College London and Founder and MD of Science Innovation Ltd; Dr Philip Ball, author; Deborah Cohen, Editor, BBC Radio Science Unit; Danny Wallace, author, comedian and presenter.