Today, the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books shortlist was announced. Congratulations to all the 2015 contenders:
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam
Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life by Alex Bellos
Smashing Physics: Inside the World’s Biggest Experiment by Jon Butterworth
Life’s Greatest Secret: the Story of the Race to Crack the Genetic Code by Matthew Cobb
Life on the Edge: the Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe Mcfadden and Professor Jim Al-Khalili
Adventures in the Anthropocene: a Journey to the Heart of the Planet we Made by Gaia Vince
After the great success of my 2014 Popular-Science Reading Challenge, I have completely dropped the ball and read zero popular science this year, so I have read none of the above titles. Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm has read and recommended The Man Who Couldn’t Stop. I don’t think any of the others have been covered by bloggers I follow, but I may be being rubbish at searching so please do leave a link in the comments if I missed your review.
I absolutely intend to get back on the popular-science reading train and, of the above, I particularly like the look of Adventures in the Anthropocene. I have a couple of older pop-sci titles in the TBR, plus there’s a few of Tim’s I’ve been intending to read for years.
One thing that stands out for me about the Royal Society press release is that they freely point out that there has never been a solo female winner of the prize (in 1997 the winner was The Wisdom of Bones by Pat Shipman and Alan Walker). I’m guessing this was an attempt to be upfront about the fact that there is only one woman on the shortlist. Again. Last year’s solo female shortlisted was Mary Roach. In 2013 the shortlist was all-male.
I’m sure there is no malice or conspiracy behind this male skew. I have written before about how few women are writing popular science. Is this because fewer women than men become scientists? Is it because more men than women get reviewed in the media, therefore getting more of a push in general from their publishers? Is it because men are more likely than women to get a literary agent in the first place? There is definitely more of a split in science writing than in fiction, or in wider non-fiction.
I don’t know what the answer is but I suspect it is deeply embedded in the society and culture of many, perhaps most, countries and will take a long time to even out. In the meantime, I think it can only help to search out the best of women in writing in genres like this and shout out to the world about how great they are, so that more people find them and perhaps more publishers get the message that a female science writer can sell.
What do you think about gender imbalance in popular science, or other genres?