LONDON (AP) — A book that challenges readers to think differently about autism has won Britain’s leading literary award for nonfiction.
U.S. writer Steve Silberman’s “Neurotribes” was awarded the 20,000 pound ($31,000) Samuel Johnson Prize at a ceremony in London Monday.
It is the first science book to take the prize, founded in 1999 and usually dominated by history and biography.
Silberman, a reporter for Wired magazine, explores the history of autism as a recognized condition, and the many mysteries that still surround it — including why its occurrence appears to have skyrocketed. He also looks at the modern “neurodiversity” movement that seeks to recognize, accept and celebrate people with cognitive differences.
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Historian Anne Applebaum, who chaired the judging panel, said Silberman blended popular science, history and journalism in a book that ranges from the science of the brain to “the impact of the movie ‘Rain Man’ on popular culture.”
“It an unusual, genre-breaking kind of book, and also a book that’s very deeply motivated by a set of ideals,” Applebaum said. “It’s an argument about autism and how we should see it as a different way of thinking.”
Silberman beat five other finalists, including Laurence Scott’s look at humanity in the cyber-era, “The Four-Dimensional Human,” and Samanth Subramanian’s account of Sri Lanka’s civil war, “This Divided Island.”
Also shortlisted were Jonathan Bate’s poet biography “Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life”; Robert Macfarlane’s literary nature tour “Landmarks”; and Emma Sky’s war memoir “The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq.”
Named for the 18th-century essayist and lexicographer, the Samuel Johnson Prize recognizes English-language books from any country in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.