2013 PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Winner

Leonard Mlodinow, Subliminal (Pantheon)

The PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Prize celebrates writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of physical and biological sciences. The winner receives a cash award of $10,000 and will be honored at the PEN Literary Awards.

The PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award was founded by scientist and author Dr. Edward O. Wilson, activist and actor Harrison Ford, and the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The inaugural award was conferred in 2011.

2013 Judges

Deborah Blum, Katherine Bouton, and Jerome Groopman

From the Judges' Citation

In 2006, the theoretical physicist Leonard Mlodinow set out to learn all he could about the unconscious mind. His guide and mentor was Cal Tech professor of cognitive and behavioral biology Christof Koch. Subliminal is the result of his five-year immersion in the field. Mlodinow brings to the search intelligence, diligence, a broad cultural knowledge and an indefatigable and irresistible curiosity. In Subliminal, he shows the myriad ways nature, under the surface, complements conscious perception, memory, attention, learning, and judgment. He shows how the invention of the fMRI has allowed us to turn our understanding of these invisible influences from a hunch to a science. Mlodinow weaves a lively and often poignant personal narrative through his explication of recent research. Neuroscience through the eyes of a theoretical physicist: the result is provocative, entertaining, and compulsively readable.  

Runner-Up

David George Haskell,The Forest Unseen (Viking)

From the Judges' Citation

In The Forest Unseen, biologist David George Haskell surveys a tiny kingdom, a mere square meter of land in Tennessee’s Cumberland National Forest. Yet, as he demonstrates in lyrical and intricate detail, within the borders of this miniature landscape, we can find the unfolding story of life on Earth. Haskell tends his kingdom through the shifting seasons of a year, focusing not on the showy megafauna but on the small and fundamental forest dwellers, from glimmering lichen to slow-moving slugs. He writes with a scientist’s meticulous attention to detail and a poet’s way with words. As he spins his tales of the tiny and the ordinary, we see the big picture issues, from evolution to climate change, unfold in the everyday world.  

Shortlist

The Forest Unseen (Viking), David George Haskell

Subliminal (Pantheon), Leonard Mlodinow

The Violinist’s Thumb (Little, Brown and Company), Sam Kean

Spillover (W.W. Norton & Co.), David Quammen

Rabid (Viking), Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

Previous Winners

Siddhartha Mukherjee and James Gleick