The General Prize in the 1997 Rhone-Poulenc Prize s for Science Books, which has been described as the most prestigious prize for science writing in the English language worldwide, has been awarded to Alan Walker, distinguished professor of anthropology and biology, and Pat Shipman, adjunct associate professor of anthropology. The Penn State husband-and-wife team win approximately $16,500 (10,000 British pounds) for their book titled "The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins.
The award, which is sponsored by the British Science Museum, the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), and the Rhone-Poulenc company, honors the best popular science book written for the nonscientist reader and published in England during 1996.
"The Wisdom of the Bones," published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf by and in England by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, has been hailed as a thrilling story about the day-to-day realities and higher goals of searching for the origins of modern humans. It tells the story of Alan Walker's discovery in Kenya of the most complete skeleton ever found of Homo erectus, a species that proved to be an ancestor of modern humans, which was unexpectedly tall and strong but did not have full language. The book, which was selected from over 80 entries, will be reprinted by Rhone-Poulenc and a copy will be sent to every university, college, and high school in England.
According to the award sponsors, "'The Wisdom of the Bones' reveals the excitement and challenges, both physical and intellectual, that confront teams of human beings unearthing their ancestral past. It also profoundly influences the debate about how and when the modern human developed. Terry Pratchett, chairman of the 1997 General Prize judges, said during the award ceremony "We were fascinated by the way the forensic net was spread out, bringing so many sciences to bear on the mystery of this million-year-old teenager."
For the first time this year, because of the strength of the entries, each of the shortlisted books was given a "runners-up" monetary award, according to Rhone-Poulenc. These books include: "Climbing Mount Improbable" by Richard Dawkins, " Fire in the MInd" by George Johnson, "In the Blood: God, Genes and Destiny" by Steve Jones, "The Origins of Virtue" by Matt Ridley, and "Longitude" by Dava Sobel. Among the former winners of the prize are "Plague's Progress" by Arno Karlen in 1996, "Wonderful Life" by Stephen Jay Gould in 1991; and "The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose in 1990.