UK: Ed Yong’s ‘Immense World’ Wins the Royal Society Prize

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‘We could all use a little more empathy in the world,’ the 2023 Royal Society Prize laureate Ed Yong says.

Ed Yong. Image: Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Award

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘About Animals For Their Own Sake’
As we continue recouping book and publishing award news colliding in recent weeks, we look today at journalist and author Ed Yong’s win of the United Kingdom’s £25,000 (US$31,584) Royal Society Science Book Prize for his An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us  from Penguin Random House / Vintage / Bodley Head (June 29).

In the States, the book was an August 29 release from Random House. (Here’s an interesting column from Richard Charkin about the dueling book cover designs you see in some  instances in the English-language book markets.)

The Malaysian-born British-American Yong probably achieved his highest level of public visibility to date during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the sane and humane expertise of his articles at The Atlantic cut through disinformation, dread, and even the competition of some of the strongest news writing in the business to win him the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism.

The UK cover design

The industry-leading Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida named Yong the “most important and impactful” journalist of the previous year, 2020. And in addition to the Royal Society’s top honor, An Immense World has won the Carnegie Medal in nonfiction.

In addition to his work for The Atlantic, which he left this year, Yong has also had his writings seen in National Geographic, the New Yorker, Wired, The New York Times, Nature, New Scientist, and Scientific American.

On the news of his win, Yong is quoted, saying, “I feel greatly honored that my book has been added to the parade of incredible books that I’ve 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 2023 Royal Society Prize and Market Impact

In addition to the purse paid to Yong for his win, the Royal Society prize, now supported by the Trivedi Family Foundation in a five-year partnership, also pays £2,500 to each of its shortlistees (US$3,158).

The US cover design

The Royal Society’s program is another of the key accolades in the crowded field of UK-based nonfiction awards that’s in a fine position to follow the lead of the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction in researching and reporting on the market impact its top honor can have on a book its author and its publisher.

As the competition among these and so many other awards deepens by the year—for press coverage as well as consumer attention and sponsorship support—it’s simply time for the contests that want to be taken seriously to start treating their work and the attention they solicit seriously. The way to do that is by assessing and accurately reporting just what effect on market sales their winners can expect.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know from our exclusive reporting, the Baillie Gifford has made a signal commitment to this, determining that its winner has reason to expect a boost in print sales in the UK’s home market alone of more than 850 percent. And the Royal Society is a client of Four, where Truda Spruyt has been integral to the Baillie Gifford’s industry-leading step in this direction.

As our international readership knows, the Booker Prize Foundation has led the way on reporting on market impact for its lead fiction and international fiction in translation awards. In nonfiction, the £25,000 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding made a fine start at reporting on a limited amount of data available for its 2022 winner in September, announcing that Alia Trabucco Zerán’s When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold, translated by Sophie Hughes and published by the independent house And Other Stories, had what the publisher reported was a 132-percent sales gain since being named the British Academy winner.

It’s a path that could well be taken by the Wolfson History Prize (just naming a new winner this month); the Cundill History Prize (just naming Tania Branigan its winner); the German Nonfiction Prize (naming its new jury on November 7); the Business Book of the Year Award (set to name a winner on December 4); and the Parliamentary Book Awards.

Clearly, the Royal Society’s organizers couldn’t be better supported than they are by Spruyt and Four in making such a move if the program chooses to do so, and it’s hard to imagine a more influential, admired, and profoundly trusted laureate than Ed Yong in whom to vest the first foray the award makes in learning and reporting its high-street impact. We hope to see the news of Yong’s win followed by reports of what follows in the bookstores.

The Royal Society Science Book Prize 2023 Shortlist

Image: Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Award

We’ll repeat for you the shortlist from this year’s competition, information we provided first on October 6.

Chaired by Alain Goriely FRS, the 2023 judging panel includes Bonnie Garmus, whose novel Lessons in Chemistry has a television adaptation launching this year; neuroscientist and Royal Society University Research Fellow Rebecca Henry; actor and author Paterson Joseph; and the Daily Telegraph’s arts and entertainment editor Anita Singh.

  • Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way) by Roma Agrawal (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity by Nicklas Brendborg, translated by Elizabeth de Noma (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Taking Flight: The Evolutionary Story of Life on the Wing by Lev Parikian (Elliott & Thompson)
  • Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus by David Quammen (Vintage / The Bodley Head)
  • An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong (Vintage / Bodley Head)
  • The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins and the Fight for Women in Science by Kate Zernike (Simon & Schuster)
Past Winners of the Royal Society Book Award
  • 2022: A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters by Henry Gee
  • 2021: Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake
  • 2020: Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships by Camilla Pang
  • 2019: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
  • 2018: Inventing Ourselves by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore
  • 2017: Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine
  • 2016: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
  • 2015: Adventures in the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince
  • 2014: Stuff by Mark Miodownik
  • 2013: The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll
  • 2012: The Information by James Gleick
  • 2011: The Wavewatcher’s Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
  • 2010: Life Ascending by Nick Lane
  • 2009: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
  • 2008: Six Degrees by Mark Lynas
  • 2007: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
  • 2006: Electric Universe by David Bodanis
  • 2005: Critical Mass by Philip Ball
  • 2004: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • 2003: Right Hand, Left Hand by Chris McManus
  • 2002: The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
  • 2001: Mapping the Deep by Robert Kunzig
  • 2000: The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
  • 1999: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman
  • 1998: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • 1997: The Wisdom of Bones by Alan Walker and Pat Shipman
  • 1996: Plague’s Progress by Arno Karlen
  • 1995: The Consumer’s Good Chemical Guide by John Emsley
  • 1994: The Language of the Genes by Steve Jones
  • 1993: The Making of Memory by Steven Rose
  • 1992: The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond
  • 1991: Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould
  • 1990: The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose
  • 1989: Bones of Contention by Roger Lewin
  • 1988: Living with Risk by the British Medical Association Board of Science

More from us on publishing and book awards in the international industry is here, and more on the Royal Science Book Award is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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