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Pursuit of happiness leads to top science book prize

15 May 2011

Daniel Gilbert's pursuit of the scientific basis of happiness has won him the Royal Society(1) prize for science books, it was announced today (Tuesday 15 May 2007).

Stumbling on Happiness draws on psychology and neuroscience, as well as personal experience, to take the reader through the various ways people attempt to make themselves happy. Finding happiness is an underlying desire for most of us but how to achieve and sustain it often proves problematic. Gilbert uses science to show that it is not always through conventional routes that we find happiness.

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society presented the £10,000 prize to Daniel Gilbert. The ceremony was held at the Royal Society.

Stumbling on Happiness has triumphed over other strong contenders in the shortlist, including Eric R Kandel's In search of Memory, Henry Nicholl's Lonesome George and Adam Wishart's One in three, to win the prestigious award for science writing.

Professor Colin Pillinger, chair of the judges(2), said: "Stumbling on Happiness is an outstanding and highly readable winner of this year's Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Daniel Gilbert's voice provides a witty companion throughout this exploration of the science behind the pursuit of happiness an issue which fascinates us all. He uses cognitive science and psychology to provide intriguing insights into human nature, helping us to understand why we make the decisions we do.

"All of the books on the short list were excellent and a treat to judge. Coming to a final decision was extremely difficult."

Daniel Gilbert said: "I'm absolutely delighted to receive this tremendous honour from the world's oldest learned society. There are very few countries (including my own) where a somewhat cheeky book about happiness could win a science prize -- but the British invented intellectual humour and have always understood that enlightenment and entertainment are natural friends. So God bless the empire!"

The six books shortlisted were:

  • Homo Britannicus by Chris Stringer (Penguin Allen Lane)
  • In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel (WW Norton & Co)
  • Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls (Macmillan)
  • One in Three by Adam Wishart (Profile Books)
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Harper Press)
  • The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson (Rough Guides)

The author of each shortlisted book receives £1000.

Can you feel the force by Richard Hammond won this year's Royal Society Junior Science books prize.

The 2007 Prizes are funded by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science, with support from the Aventis Foundation, a German charitable trust. The Society is presently seeking a new sponsor for the prizes.


1. The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. The Society's objectives are to:

  • strengthen UK science by providing support to excellent individuals
  • fund excellent research to push back the frontiers of knowledge
  • attract and retain the best scientists
  • ensure the UK engages with the best science around the world
  • support science communication and education; and communicate and encourage dialogue with the public
  • provide the best independent advice nationally and internationally
  • promote scholarship and encourage research into the history of science

2. The judges on the General Prize judging panel are: Colin Pillinger FRS (Chair), Professor of Planetary Sciences, Open University; Trevor Baylis, inventor, most famously of the wind-up radio; Louisa Bolch, Commissioning Editor for Science, Channel 4; Emily Holmes, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, University of Oxford; Christine McGourty, Science Correspondent, BBC News

3. Book synopses and author biographies are available from the press office