November 17, 2017

And the 2007 Winners Are…

Those who have been following this short report on award-winning science writing for the past three years may notice a bit of a change in presentation. This year the awards are listed in order of the monetary award granted, highlighting the most prestigious and noted books for general audiences first and then moving on to recognize exceptional writing in narrower categories. Each awarding organization differs in the award year date and publication date of the honored title, thus, some awards are listed here as 2006 releases while others are 2005 or older.

These winners represent quite a variety of topics. While psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology dominate, other subjects cover the gamut from earthquakes in Japan to technology’s influence on music. In addition, 2007 marked the recognition of an outstanding online resource, a blog in The Wall Street Journal. Every library will find some materials to recommend to their readers in this list.

(previously called the Aventis Prizes for Science Books)
2007 General Prize Winner: (£10,000)

Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on Happiness. Knopf. 2006. 268p. ISBN 978-1-4000-4266-6. $24.95.

Harvard psychology professor Gilbert gives us a highly entertaining overview of psychology’s current understanding of how our minds trick us in our pursuit of happiness. Through an unending feast of witty examples and amusing prose, he ably explains why we can’t reliably predict our future emotional responses and usually end up stumbling on happiness. (LJ 3/15/06)

2007 Book Winner: ($20,000)

2006 Science and Technology Winner: ($1,000)
Both these awards were given to:

Kandel, Eric R. In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. Norton.2006. 352p. illus. index. ISBN 978-0-393-05863-5.  $29.95.

In this memoir, Nobel-prize winner Kandel skillfully relates his personal experiences of growing up in Vienna during the rise of Hitler, his emigration to the United States, and his subsequent pivotal research into the neuroscience of memory. It’s quite a long story, from Vienna to Stockholm and the Nobel Prize, but Kandel tells it in such an engaging way readers can truly understand why he considers his journey a “life [he has] enjoyed immensely.” (LJ 3/15/06)

2007 Science Book Award Winner: ($10,000)

Carroll, Sean B. The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Record of Evolution. Norton . 2006. 288p. illus. ISBN 978-0-393-06163-5. $25.95.

Leading geneticist Carroll reveals “how the new science of genomics – the comprehensive and, most especially, the comparative study of species DNA – is profoundly expanding our knowledge of the evolution of life.” (LJ 10/1/06)

2007 Pfizer Award ($2,500)

Kaiser, David. Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics. Univ. of Chicago. 2005.376p. illus. ISBN 978-0-226-42266-4

With a doctorate in both the History of Science and Theoretical Physics from Harvard, Kaiser certainly has the credentials to tell this complex story of how Richard Feynman’s “unusual doodles” in 1948 have became ubiquitous today, essential for physics students and used in every branch of physics. Dspite Kiaser’s valiant attempts to make the physics easier to understand, most general readers won’t understand the details. However, the history and personal tidbits about the community of theoretical physicists during this tumultuous postwar period is fascinating.

2007 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize (general audience)
Ridley, Matt. Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. Atlas Bks., dist. by HarperCollins. 2006. 213p. ISBN 978-0-06-082333-7. $19.95.

Ridley has given us an absolutely delightful short biography of one of the most important scientific figures of our time, from Crick’s quite inauspicious beginnings at school, to his reeducation in biology, collaboration with James Watson to discover the structure of DNA, his move to the United States, and final research in human consciousness.

2007 Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize
Park, Katharine. Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection. Zone Bks. 2006. 419p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 978-1-890951-67-2. $36.95.

In this quite dense academic tome, Park argues against the “myth of medieval resistance to human dissection”, explaining that the practice of “opening bodies” developed out of several more “private” procedures: “funerary ritual, the cult of relics of the Christian saints, autopsies in the service of criminal justice and public health, and a birth practice…Caesarean section….” Through case studies of Italian female dissections conducted between 1308 and 1543, Park succeeds in widening our view of the true nature of human dissection during the Middle Ages.

2006 Sidney Edelstein Prize (scholarly audience): ($3,500)

Clancey, Gregory. Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868-1930. Univ. of California. 2006. 331p. illus. ISBN 978-0-520-24607-2. $49.95.

Clancey’s academic volume studies the opposing cultural influences operating in Japan during the late 19th and early 20th century in regard to the adoption of Western methods of architecture and engineering. Clancey emphasizes “the conflict between the British architectural training of stone and the traditional Japanese use of wood, ” and he notes how the Great Nobi Earthquake of 1891 graphically demonstrated the unsuitability of Western structures of brick and glass as opposed to traditional Japanese architecture. Interestingly, Japan has become a world leader in earthquake science.

2006 Sally Hacker Prize (general audience) ($2,000)
Katz, Mark. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Univ. of California Press. 2004. 288p. bibliog. ISBN 978-0-520-24380-4. pap. $21.95.

Katz (musicology, Peabody Conservatory, Johns Hopkins Univ.) starts with the technological influence of the phonograph and works through turntable DJ music up to digital recording and cybermusic. He concludes with three key points: “recording does NOT simply record, live and recorded music differ in fundamental ways, and users determine the impact and value of recording.” The accompanying CD illustrates many of Kutz’s points. Despite its academic nature, the book’s writing is clear and understandable by a general readership.


2007 Winner: ($1,000)
Bialik, Carl. The Numbers Guy (

The Wall Street Journal ‘s blogger and columnist“examines the way numbers are used, and abused” in applications in every area of life “from economics and politics to sports and medicine.”

2007 William H. Welch Medal

Rogaski, Ruth. Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China. Univ. of California Press. 2004. 415p. ISBN 978-0-520-24001-8. $60.

Winner of the Joseph Levenson Prize for Books in Chinese Studies (Association for Asian Studies), the John K. Fairbank Prize (American Historical Association), and the Berkshire Conference First Book Prize (Berkshire Conference of Women Historians), this intensely academic work “examines health and disease in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, from the years before it was opened as a treaty port to the early People’s Republic.”

D. Yvonne Jones is currently Public Services Librarian at Rollins College, Winter Park, FL. She holds a Ph.D. in nutritional epidemiology from Cornell University and and an MLS from Rutgers University.