Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2013

The prize is given for science books written for a non-specialist audience, and the winner, Sean Carroll for his book about the Higgs particle, was announced on 25th November.

  • Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead (Bloomsbury) – what it is like to be a bird! The indexer to this volume has done some additional work by finding and adding the Latin names of the birds mentioned in the text, and they have also indexed the notes section. They have also grappled with the singular and plural issue identified in the book about bees in the Samuel Johnson Prize. However, the additional work of adding the Latin names doesn’t always make sense when the information about the birds is limited – for example they have added the Latin names for both the greater and lesser flamingos that appear on page 204, but the information on page 204 doesn’t distinguish between them and only briefly mentions them. But perhaps the editor or author asked for all the Latin names and who is to question what the piper wants?
  • The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll (One World) – the search for the Higgs particle. A professional-looking index where the indexer has added cross-references from abbreviations (which abound) and not used double entry to give the locators in both places, for example ‘Compact Muon Solenoid see CMS’. References to illustrations appear in italics.
  • Cells to Civilisations by Enrico Coen (Princeton University Press) – about how evolution works. Another professional-looking index. The subheadings are in run-on format, which can make them difficult to read and find information within when there are lots of subheadings – for example see the entry for ‘learning’. There are double entries for the common and scientific names of plants and animals. The scientific name is also given next to the common name and these seem to appear in the text so there was no extra work for the indexer to find them out.
  • Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough (Profile Books) – about how memory works. Another nice-looking index. Set-out subheadings which makes it easier to use than run-on subheadings, and as with the preceding book, this index does sometimes have a lot of subheadings under a main heading. There is a separator letter to distinguish each section of the index. This can be helpful so the eye can easily find the start of each section. Film and book titles are given in italics, the books are filed only by their author, although they could have been double entered by the book titles or character names. For example, a discussion of how literature and films treat memory mentions Harry Potter novels and the film Avatar, the former are indexed under Rowling, J.K. with subheadings for both book titles, the film Avatar is indexed under Avatar. The filing of the heading ‘St Gall Abbey, Switzerland’ places it at the start of the S sequence, probably because the indexer has sorted it as though it were spelt out in full as ‘Saint Gall’, however another possibility would be to file it in word-by-word order before ‘stimuli’.
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (Granta) – no view inside available
  • Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) – how our seas are changing. Another detailed index with some classification. For example, all of the fish mentioned in the book are gathered up as subheadings under the heading ‘fish’ and they do not have their own separate main entries unless there are too many locators, i.e. ‘sharks’, and the birds, seaweed and shellfish, etc, are treated in the same way. This can be a useful way of checking the breadth of coverage of a book without having to find each heading individually. There are see also cross-references between trawling, dredging and fishing, which methods of catching fish each have many subheadings.
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