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Ed Yong announced as winner of the 2023 Royal Society Science Book Prize

22 November 2023

Author Ed Yong holding his book in front of a tree

Renowned science writer, Ed Yong, has tonight been named the winner of the 2023 Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize for An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us. The announcement was made during a ceremony at the Royal Society in London hosted by journalist, writer and broadcaster Samira Ahmed.

An Immense World, published by The Bodley Head, an imprint of Vintage, takes readers through the fascinating and complex dimensions of the animal kingdom and “majesty of nature”, revealing the multisensory ways in which animals experience the world around them. The book immerses the reader in the “sensory bubbles” they inhabit and unveils remarkable “superpowers”, such as the echolocation of dolphins, who experience sound as three-dimensional; bird species’ use of the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation; and the ultraviolet vision of bees, who see patterns on flowers imperceptible to the human eye. Yong’s vivid storytelling shows us the humbling limitations of human perception; yet highlights that our ability to understand the senses of other species – to “step into their worlds” – is in itself our “greatest sensory skill”. 

Yong is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist for his reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic during his time as staff writer for The Atlantic from 2015 until 2023. His work has also been featured in National Geographic, The New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American, and many other publications. He is also the author of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life (2016) which examines the most significant revolution in biology since Charles Darwin and was shortlisted for The Royal Society Science Book Prize in 2017.

Yong said: “I feel greatly honoured that my book has been added to the parade of incredible books that I have watched win this prize. I’ve been fascinated by the way animals perceive the world around them for the longest time. This is a book about animals for their own sake - a book about curiosity and empathy. We could all use a little more empathy in the world, and I think empathy is a muscle that you can build by repeatedly flexing. The fact that so many readers have gravitated towards these themes and found meaning in them means a lot to me.”

The five-strong panel of judges found this book to be a fascinating journey of discovery, illustrating the senses and appealing to the imagination through an exploration of evolution, behavioural science, physics and neuroscience. They praised Yong for his exceptionally well-written and structured narrative, and the vast amount of research that was involved in writing his book, hailing it an “impressive achievement”. They were deeply impressed by how Yong so ably demonstrates to the reader, with such “a lightness of touch”, how one only sees a fraction of our world and that there is so much more to discover. 

Alain Goriely, chair of the 2023 judging panel, and University of Oxford Statutory Professor of Mathematical Modelling, said: "In An Immense World, Ed Yong masterfully transforms the mundane into the magical, taking us through the animal kingdom's myriad senses one scientific discovery at a time. With a narrative as vivid as a rainbow, Yong invites us to explore the 'Umwelt' – the unique perceptual world – of creatures as obscure as the elephant-nose fish, the star-nosed mole, tiger wandering spider, or the fire-chasing beetle. Meticulously researched and elegantly presented, this book is a triumph of scientific storytelling, making the intricacies of animal perception both accessible and enthralling. Yong doesn't just inform; he expands our own sensory horizons, humbling and awakening us to the non-human lives that bustle around us. It is a read that leaves one with a profound appreciation for our shared world, demonstrating that great science books don't just educate – they have the potential to transform.”

Alongside Professor Alain Goriely, the 2023 judging panel also included author Bonnie Garmus, whose bestselling debut novel Lessons in Chemistry has recently been made into a TV adaptation; neuroscientist and Royal Society University Research Fellow Rebecca Henry; film, television and stage actor and author of historical fiction, Paterson Joseph; and The Daily Telegraph’s arts and entertainment editor, Anita Singh.

Yong will be presented with a cheque for £25,000, with the other five shortlisted authors due to receive £2,500.

The Guardian’s Killian Fox praised the multi-layered narrative of Yong’s book, describing it as “so full of these little astonishments, beautifully rendered, that Yong occasionally risks overwhelming our sense of wonder.” Julie Zickefoose from The Wall Street Journal commented that “this rich and deeply affectionate travelogue of animal sensory wonders ends with a plea to us… to stop and consider others’ needs: for silence, for darkness, for space.”Since its inception in 1988, the Royal Society Science Book Prize has championed non-fiction books that use captivating narratives to open up science to a wider audience and celebrates the collective joy of science writing. Recent winners have sharpened our perspective and expanded our scientific curiosity through exploring humanity’s legacy, as well as looking ahead at what is to come.

Last year's winner, A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 billion years in 12 chapters by Henry Gee, zips through the last 4.6 billion years with infectious enthusiasm and intellectual rigour, drawing on the latest scientific understanding; Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake, winner in 2021, showcased the remarkable world of fungi; and 2020 winner Explaining Humans by Dr Camilla Pang offered fresh insight into neurodiversity.

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