Part of the pleasure of the presentation of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books on Thursday night was that it was happening at all. Having lost its corporate sponsor (Rhône-Poulenc, subsequently merged to Aventis) after the 2006 award, the prize had, nobly, been supported by the Royal Society alone for the past four years, but looked increasingly in danger of folding. Now it has been rescued by the British investment firm Winton Capital Management, who have agreed to back it for five years. So popular science still has its Man Booker.
The winning title, Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s The Wavewatcher’s Companion (Bloomsbury), was a surprise. In both cover and content, it looks like a sequel to Pretor-Pinney’s successful debut The Cloudspotter’s Guide, but it won over the judges with what Richard Holmes, chair of the judging panel, called “old-fashioned charm and wit.” Like many of the best science books, it doesn’t at first seem to be about science at all, but is a celebration of the ubiquity of waves of all sorts, from sonar to football crowds.