Sean Carroll nabs prestigious science book prize

Our own Official Website Physicist™, Sean Carroll, has nabbed the prestigious Royal Society Winton Book Prize for 2013. It’s for popular science writing, and his winning volume, which I’ve recommended here, is The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

This is no small prize—or emolument: the award comes with a £25,000 check.  To add to the encomiums, the judges’ decision was unanimous. According to the BBC News:

His work beat five other titles that ranged across topics that broadly focussed on life in its many forms and its internal workings.

But the judges were unanimous in their decision to give Dr Carroll the prize.

Prof Uta Frith, from University College London and chair of the judges, said of the winning book: “It is an exceptional example of the genre and a real rock star of a book. Though it’s a topic that has been tackled many times before.

“Carroll writes with an energy that propels readers along and fills them with his own passion. He understands their minds and anticipates their questions. There’s no doubt that this is an important, enduring piece of literature.”

The prize was announced at the society’s central London headquarters.

Dr Carroll said it was “completely unexpected”.

“It was a great thrill. I honestly thought of the six people in this room, anyone could have won.

“I was the only physicist, the only American. All the books are really interesting.

. . .Dr Emily Flashman, from the University of Oxford and another member of the judging panel, said that the Higgs boson book stood out from the very beginning “as an outstanding piece of science writing”.

“It takes a difficult subject, makes it interesting, accessible and exciting. It tells the whole story of the experiment to find the Higgs boson.

“It’s clearly a populist choice but it stood out on its own merit,” she told the BBC.

It’s worth mentioning the other four contenders, though I haven’t read these (if you have, weigh in below):

Bird sense by Tim Birkhead

The particle at the end of the universe by Sean Carroll

Cells to civilizations by Enrico Coen

Pieces of light by Charles Fernyhough

The book of barely imagined beings by Caspar Henderson

Ocean of life by Callum Roberts

Kudos to Sean; I’ve read several book on the Higgs, and this is the best for a general audience.

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  1. gbjames
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink


  2. GrahamH
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Sorry to be picky but a £25,000 pound check is redundant.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      How so?

      • Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

        He’s noting that I used both the pound sign and the word pound, which is redundant. But I wish that if readers want to be picky, they could at least tender congratulations to Sean or something. Nobody is REALLY “sorry” that they’re being picky: in fact, they love finding these mistakes.

        Anyway, I fixed it.

        • gbjames
          Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

          We’re all editors here, except when trying to solve “Can you write proper English” puzzles. 🙂

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted November 26, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          An extremely common issue in Computer science. Folks will often mention using the SQL language when the L stands for language. Frankly I was more concerned whaen last week our good Prof Canopy Feline said a video “is not NSFW”. Shouldn’t one just say that it in fact “is SFW”?? 🙂 And congrats to Sean Carroll!

          • Latverian Diplomat
            Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

            Sorry this is a pet peeve of mine. Repeating the last word of an initialism was a long accepted usage, often in the service of clarity, until pedants made up a rule in living memory about horribly redundant it is.

            When I worked an IBM, one of the greatest coiners of initialisms and producers of technical documentation ever devised by man, we were expressly told this usage pattern was appropriate.

            There’s nothing wrong with saying NATO organization, HIV virus, ATM machine, etc.

            It’s the new split infinitive.

    • Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Sorry to be picky but a £25,000 pound check is redundant.

      But if it’s made out in Sterling and drawn on a UK bank then it’s surely a “cheque” not a “check”. 🙂 (And congratulations to Sean.)

    • Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      It could have been a novelty cheque, say, in the form of a 454-gram chocolate bar. Which would present quite the dilemma: deposit the cheque, or eat it? Or maybe just nibble ’round the edges?


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Or just lick the outside.

        • Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          …but can’t lick the numbers or names or the like….


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

            Just enough to make it look melty enough that no one else would dare to touch it.

            • Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

              But then the bank teller won’t want to cash it, either!


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                Nah they will. They’ve probably taken bills from people’s shoes before.

              • Posted November 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Makes one wonder why tellers don’t wear those blue nitrile gloves….


  3. Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    It’s really too bad that “SynchroDestiny” was printed in 2003, because Chopra’s understanding of true quantum divinity rivals any palaver about vector bosons and scalar fields. Carroll is just a mere mortal pretending to be a physicist in the greater consciousness of the infinite quantum awareness.

  4. darrelle
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    That tears it. I’ll have to buy it now. I would have gotten around to it eventually anyway, but now it goes onto the active list.

    • D. Taylor
      Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Right! This site is getting expensive. That’s two must-have books in one day!

  5. Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    By coincidence it is on my ‘to buy’ list. Been steadily going through the various trade books that might have anything to do with the Big Bang. Each one fills in a little gap for me, and one day I hope to be able to grasp it.

  6. Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Looks like a nice read. Thanks

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Awesome! I liked this judge’s remarks, “He understands their minds and anticipates their questions”. Hmmmmm maybe because he’s doing something quantum or timey-wimey? Chopra will be jealous! 😀

    • Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      ‘timey-wimey’? I bet you watched a lot of Dr. Who this weekend.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes! And it’s *ahem* Doctor Who

        • Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          The doctor who what?


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink


            • Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

              Don’t tell me you’ve lost him…again!?

              It’s as bad as the Christians — always asking me if I’ve found Jesus, never happy when I ask them where they saw him last and if they’ve filed a missing person report….


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                I had him in my pocket, I swear! He must’ve fallen out that hole I forgot to mend. Here, just help me retrace my steps…..

              • Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Did you check the Sea of Holes?


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                No, but I bet it was the money that burned that hole in my pocket that the doctor got out of! He could be anywhere!

              • Posted November 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                I told you to stick with the cold, hard cash, not the incendiary type. But do you ever listen? No….


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink


              • Posted November 27, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

                Shouldn’t that be, “Who?”


            • Posted December 10, 2013 at 1:27 am | Permalink

              Surely the question is when?


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        Talking of sci-fi references, I’m sure everyone noticed the Doug Adams reference in the title of Carroll’s book…

  8. Marta
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Sean’s book is worthy, indeed. It should have been a best-seller in the US. Besides the recognition, I hope winning this prize adds up to more book sales.

  9. Darth Dog
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    A great choice. Sean Carroll’s other book, From Eternity to Here, is also excellent.

  10. BilBy
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read any of them – yet – but Tim Birkhead writes really well: that Sean’s book beat Tim’s makes me consider making a physics book first on the list to read rather than a biology one, and that is a rare occurrence for me. Congratulations Sean.

  11. Bruce Lyon
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    To put in a plug for one of the other contenders, Bird Sense is outstanding (author Tim Birkhead). I took it on a trip to Europe planning to have the book last for ten days and I read it in one sitting on my first night in Sweden. Could not put it down. Science writing at its best and Birkhead excels at digging out really interesting bits of history.

  12. Sornord
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    When’s the wetdown? (For the uninitiated in the military or civilian staff overseas, monetary good fortune or promotion was followed by a wetdown: a party wherein the libations are paid for by the recipient of said good fortune or promotion.)

  13. Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Congratulations, Sean! If you write only as half as well as you talk, this is well deserved.

    /@ | St. Lucia

    PS. Free wifi in the middle of the rainforest!


  14. Cameron Peters
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I’m currently reading Sean’s book and agree that it is excellent. The LHC is a technological marvel and it really boggles the mind what humans are capable of engineering when given the time and resources.

  15. sgo
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Hurrah, congratulations to Sean!

    I liked that they wrote reviews of all contenders on the Guardian website in the last week or so. But the “particle” review made me think the book wouldn’t make it. The reviewer complained the material is too difficult and that Sean’s book is too ambitious and doesn’t succeed. Thankfully, plenty of other reviewers disagreed. And so did the jury, apparently! I still haven’t read it but it just moved up on my to-read list.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    A review of previous winners and nominees is interesting.

    Apparently there was a book on the ways a medieval woldview contributed to the rise of science in there in 2010. The book was well reviewed by atheist blogger Tim O’Neill dealing with stuff that has frequently been talked about in posts here. The title is “God’s Philosophers”.

    But I’m also going to read SC’s book. I’ve always adored his YouTube lectures.

  17. Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    It’s kinda scary how many famous and important people are at least tangentially related to this Web site….

    Sean, isn’t it about time you started doing PBS and / or BBC epics on Life, the Universe, and Everything? Yeah, Sagan and Attenborough have some pretty big shoes to fill, but I bet you’d fit right in.


  18. Posted November 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Awesome. I have that book already, bought on Dr. C’s recommendation. Still have to get through the Dawkins before I can savour the Particle.

    Congratulations, Dr.Carroll!

  19. David Chumney
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    JC, thanks for the story. It’s always helpful when someone like you points us to good books written for a popular audience. We know what those books look like (WEIT is, of course, one of the best examples), but those of us who are not experts genuinely appreciate the help of those who are!

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