Between the Covers 24/02/2013

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The Independent Culture

Congratulations to Professor Brian Cox for winning this year's Michael Faraday Prize for "excellence in communicating science to UK audiences".

At his Faraday Lecture at the Royal Society on Tuesday, Cox was optimistic about the future of science, and science funding, despite demonstrating that it has steadily fallen, as a percentage of GDP, since he was born. He was also optimistic about his own career heading back in the direction of less telly ("Sorry, BBC friends") and more research ("intoxicating"). Cox's talk described a brief history of science communication over the course of his own life, and mentioned some of the scientists who had inspired him. When Jacob Bronowski made The Ascent of Man for BBC2, in 1973, "they used to do 13 hours of television … They only let me do five." The book of Bronowski's series has sold millions of copies, and was re-issued in 2011 with a foreword by Richard Dawkins (BBC Books, £9.99). Cox's Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe (both BBC Books, £20 each) are best-sellers, but still have a way to go to beat that.


Congratulations also to the IoS's Kate Bassett, who is nominated for the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography, for her book In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller (Oberon Books, £20). Morley himself was the author of 20 theatrical biographies, including those of Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland. He was the theatre critic for the New Statesman, where he was replaced by Michael Portillo, and for The Spectator, until the editor Boris Johnson replaced him with Toby Young. Not that it stopped him writing for the magazine: examples of his prolific corrections to Young's reviews include (on July 27, 2002): "Sir: 'Oklahoma! was the first ever musical to combine dialogue, music, lyrics, choreography, scenery and costumes in one seamless whole,' says Toby Young (Arts, 20 July). Well, yes, it certainly would have been if Show Boat had not opened 16 years earlier, and if the Richard Rodgers who composed Oklahoma! in 1943 had not also composed Pal Joey in 1940. Sheridan Morley London SW11"


Further congratulations also to Yann Martel and his publisher Canongate, who announced last week that they have sold "pi" copies of Life of Pi since it was first published in 2002. Partly thanks to the new, Oscar-nominated film of the book, it has sold 3,141,593 copies in all editions, and is currently second in the Kindle download chart. "That sales figure – it's so irrational!" said Martel when he was told. To be fair, he could equally have claimed that Life of Pi had sold "pi" copies when it had sold 3,141, 314, or 3.


And congratulations again to Hilary Mantel, who will be presented with the Bodley Medal at the Oxford Literature Festival on 24 March. Previous recipients of the prize, which honours "outstanding contributions … to the worlds of communications and literature", include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Lord Richard Attenborough and Baroness (PD) James. Mantel is probably not about to join the ranks of the enobled any time soon, so let's hope that she relishes the honour that this represents.