Life’s Greatest Secret shortlisted for book prize!

August 5, 2015 • 11:00 am

JAC: I am so pleased that Matthew’s book has gotten this honor. It’s a terrific read, especially if you have any interest in genetics or biology in general (and, if you visit here, you should). As I said in my cover blub on Life’s Greatest Secret, I see it as the logical successor to Jim Watson’s The Double Helix. Watson’s book recounts how DNA was identified as the molecule encoding hereditary information; Matthew’s book tells the much more complex story of how a larger group of scientists, working independently, figured out how DNA actually coded for proteins as well as regulating its own activity. It’s a great read, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed—a superstition, of course—that Matthew wins the prize, which is nicely accompanied by a check for £25,000. (He’s already received £2500 for making the shortlist, but of course the major reward here is the recognition.)


by Matthew Cobb

A bit of trumpet-blowing: my book, Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code (Profile Books in the UK, Basic Books in the US), bits of which got their first run-outs on this website, has just been shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Science Book Prize!

This is a very big deal, and I am immensely proud of the recognition. Thanks to Jerry for reading various drafts, and to you, the readers of WEIT, for your stimulating comments on my posts.

There are five other books shortlisted – it’s a pretty tough field! Here are the spines of the shortlist:

If you don’t recognise them, they are, in alphabetical author order:

• The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam

• Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life by Alex Bellos

• Smashing Physics: Inside the World’s Biggest Experiment by Jon Butterworth

• Life’s Greatest Secret: The Story of the Race to Crack the Genetic Code by Matthew Cobb

• Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe Mcfadden and Professor Jim Al-Khalili

• Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet we Made by Gaia Vince

The science journalist Adam Rutherford is one of the judges, and he tw**ted back in the summer that the jury was like the Bloomsbury Group meets the Avengers… The jury is:

Chair of judges Professor Ian Stewart is a mathematician and Royal Society Fellow, also known for his Science of Discworld series which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett and Jack Cohen. He is joined on the judging panel by Guardian Books Editor Claire Armitstead, Channel 4 lead anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Electronic Engineer and recipient of a Royal Society University Research Fellowship Dr Jo Shien Ng, science broadcaster and author Dr Adam Rutherford, and award-winning novelist Sarah Waters.

The winner will be announced on 24 September. We’ll keep you posted!

20 thoughts on “Life’s Greatest Secret shortlisted for book prize!

  1. Good luck Matthew. Being up against Jim Al-cadabra, you’re going to be up against the plugs for his work that Golden Boy Cox gives on every Infinite Monkey Cage podcast. Time for bribery and corruption in the Common Room?
    That, or you’ll have to do your own media series. The idea of the Great Egg and sperm Race being done in the style of “It’s a Knockout” would … be memorable, at least.

      1. That was it. It was failing to bubble back up into my memory, and having listened to a days worth of TIMCs a few days ago, I didn’t have an MP3 to check.

  2. Congratulations, Matthew!!

    I have read “Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology” by Johnjoe Mcfadden and Professor Jim Al-Khalili. It nicely combines biology with quantum mechanics. It certainly deserves a place in this list.
    I still have to read Matthew’s book, but it is on the shelf!

  3. I’m surprised that Nick Lane’s book ‘the Vital Question’ isn’t on the list (perhaps it’s because he’s won it before?)

    That and ‘Life’s Greatest Secret’ are the only ones I’ve read. So there’s a few more I’ve got to read.

    I thought either of the two books would be a worthy winner of the Royal Society award. Hope LGS wins.

  4. Congrats, Matthew, and best of luck! Too bad we can’t stuff the ballot box!

    And now I’m trying to not feel too smug because I “electronically know” one of the authors on this year’s short list. 😀

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