Dr Camilla Pang has won the £25,000 Royal Society Science Book Prize for her debut Explaining Humans (Viking), written as an instruction manual for a world she had difficulty understanding due to her Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Pang was named the winner during an online ceremony on Tuesday evening (3rd November). At the age of 28, she is the youngest winner of the prize and the sixth woman to scoop the award in as many years.
Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships, looks at how proteins, machine learning and molecular chemistry can teach us about the complexities of human behaviour and the world around us.
Pang was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of eight and with ADHD at 26 years old, and discusses how she struggled to understand the world when growing up. The book sets out to create a manual for humans that she could consult.
Armed with a PhD in biochemistry, she lays out life’s everyday interactions through a set of scientific principles, showing how thinking differently can be a superpower instead of a disability.
Chair of this year’s judging panel Professor Anne Osbourn said: “Explaining Humans is an intelligent and charming investigation into how we understand human behaviour, while drawing on the author’s superpower of neurodivergence – but it does a lot more than that. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of science and, while explaining the scientific theory in a readily accessible way, also delves into analogies of accepted social norms and how to interpret and respond to them.
“Crucially, the book also provides insights into different ways of thinking and the challenges of being neurodiverse in a ‘normal’ world. Pang may have written this book as a manual to understand a world that sometimes feels alien to her, but it also allows neurotypicals to see the world from an entirely new perspective.”
The book was picked from a shortlist also featuring The World According to Physics by Jim Al-Khalili (Princeton University Press), The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (Transworld Publishers), The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (Canongate Books), The Double X Economy: The Epic Power of Empowering Women by Linda Scott (Faber & Faber) and Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time by Gaia Vince (Allen Lane).