A history of asymmetry wins science book prize of £10,000

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The Independent Culture

A book that explains the mysteries of why organisms are left-handed or right-handed has won this year's £10,000 Aventis science book prize.

Right Hand, Left Hand: the origins of asymmetry in brains, bodies, atoms and cultures, by Chris McManus, beat stiff competition from more than 90 other authors for the world's most coveted prize in science book publishing.

Professor McManus, a psychology researcher at University College London, was awarded the accolade last night at the Science Museum in London by the novelist Margaret Drabble, who chaired the panel of judges.

Professor McManus reviews the asymmetrical nature at the heart of every living organism, from the basic building blocks of life - 3-D biological molecules - to the left and right hemispheres of the human brain.

His book calls upon a diverse range of sources, from Rembrandt's paintings and Leonardo's drawings, to research in molecular biology, cognitive science and particle physics.

One of the most intriguing pieces of research extolled by Professor McManus was a study he ran himself on how artists through the ages have depicted the asymmetrical scrotums of their subjects.

Following the success of his university colleague, Steve Jones, a past winner, Professor McManus adorns his book with anecdotes and amusing asides that bring life to a potentially dry subject.

His book was second favourite to win, behind Steven Pinker's Blank Slate. Professor Pinker has now made the shortlist three times without winning the prize.

Ms Drabble said: "We chose this book because it's an excellent mix of hard science and engaging games and tricks and a treasury of anecdotes and things you don't know."

Past winners of the prize include the physicist Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time.