Expert in idleness is surprise winner of science book prize

'The Wavewatcher's Companion' wins award that was rescued by the efforts of this newspaper

A self-confessed idler who believes that doing nothing is an art form has won the most prestigious prize in science book publishing for his treatise on watching waves.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, who co-founded The Idler magazine and set up the Cloud Appreciation Society, was last night awarded the £10,000 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books with his latest observations on laid-back living, The Wavewatcher's Companion.

Mr Pretor-Pinney held off competition from a shortlist of six and was not the bookies' favourite for the prize, which has in the past been won by such distinguished scientific luminaries as the Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking, geneticist Steve Jones and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Richard Holmes, the chairman of the judging panel, said Mr Pretor-Pinney's book managed to use relatively straight-forward science to transform the readers' perspective of the world around them.

"It is a book of old-fashioned charm and wit, provocatively organised and illustrated, and marvellously deft with its presentation of hard modern science. In short, The Wavewatcher's Companion is a highly unusual and outstandingly effective piece of popular science writing," Mr Holmes said.

Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, paid tribute to The Independent for highlighting the financial problems of the science book prize last year when it failed to find a sponsor. The ensuing publicity helped to secure the services of Winton Capital Management, which has promised to fund the prize for the next five years, Sir Paul said.

"If the prize had disappeared it would have been a tragedy, particularly at a time when science is enjoying a very positive profile."

Extract: 'Like rush-hour commuters, the waves crossed chaotically'

"One chilly February afternoon my three-year-old daughter, Flora, and I were messing around on the rocks in Cornwall. Normally, this would have been a perfect opportunity for some cloud-spotting. But that day was unseasonably clear – in fact, there was not a single cloud to be seen. And as we sat at the edge of the cove, with nothing but the monotonous Atlantic horizon ahead, we found ourselves, by default, watching the motion of the water... There was nothing dramatic about that day's waves. They weren't barrelling breakers... Nor did they have any of the regularity of the waves you see in your mind's eye... In fact, there wasn't the slightest order to the water's motion. Like rush-hour commuters at a busy station, the little crests passed this way and that, crossing each other's paths chaotically. But, unlike commuters, they passed through and over each other, combining and dividing, appearing and disappearing. Their movement was mesmerising. I found myself unable to follow the progress of any individual crest for more than a second. No sooner had I fixed on one than the pesky little peak joined with one coming from a different direction. Then, inevitably, my eye would be distracted by a third wavelet that would sweep through just as the first two vanished.

This is an edited extract of 'The Wavewatcher's' Companion, Bloomsbury, £8.99

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering