BSLS book prize

Nominations are now being accepted for the BSLS Book Prize 2015. Inaugurated in 2007, the annual British Society for Literature and Science book prize is awarded for the best book in the field of literature and science published that year. Any book is eligible, but can only be considered if it is nominated either by a member of BSLS or by its publisher. Publishers are very welcome to nominate their own books. Members may nominate their own titles. Please note that individual memberships must be current and the publication in question must be dated 2015 to be eligible.  Members of the BSLS committee are not eligible for the Prize. A panel of BSLS Committee members and scholars will read all submissions and reach a decision which will be announced at the forthcoming AGM. Please send all nominations to Peter Middleton by 31 December 2015 ( Below you can find details of previous prize winners and shortlists and links to BSLS reviews of some shortlisted titles.

Book prize winners


Claire Preston for The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England

Claire Preston's The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England makes a wide-ranging and important contribution to the field of literature and science, both in the texts and ideas it interrogates and in the methodologies it employs and discusses. It is a carefully written, densely detailed, and wonderfully illustrated examination of canonical and non-canonical poets, dramatists and essayists as well as an impressive range of different scientific narratives. Most unique is the argument Preston offers about the interchanges between different genres, and hence different ways of making knowledge, of scientific and literary writing. At the same time, Preston does not forget that both science and literature are made through networks of social relation and through experiment. This rich study opens new avenues for future research methods and brings seventeenth-century literature and science into the field’s foreground.


Leah Knight for Reading Green in Early Modern England

Leah Knight’s Reading Green in Early Modern England offers a remarkable profile of the varied meanings of ‘green’ in the English Renaissance. This elegant, often witty book develops its innovative account of the literary and cultural history of green things, and their sensory impression on minds and bodies, by exploring the greenery of early modern pastoral and other aspects of the ‘green world’, such as forests, botany, medicine, optics, air. Organised around the senses – around the apprehension of green in various forms, such as the visual and olfactory – Knight freshly examines writers such as Marvell, Spenser and Shakespeare, and a much larger body of textual and visual evidence. She takes great care in recovering largely obscured cultural practices such as tree-carving, and brilliantly weaves together a history of Renaissance reading and writing practices with ecological concerns. ‘An individual reading or case study is best… understood as a node in an ecosystem of readings,’ she compellingly demonstrates. Reading Green is not just an important new study but an original form of historiography.


Robert Mitchell for Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature

In Experimental Life, Robert Mitchell examines vitalism in Romantic and post-Romantic culture, in a complex and sophisticated history of vitality and experimentation. Mitchell's engrossing analysis often dazzles with intellectual energy, as it brings together complex sets of ideas from literary theory, the history of science, and science studies, to think through concepts such as suspended animation and develop a number of compelling re-readings of familiar Romantic-era texts by, for example, Coleridge, Keats and the Shelleys.


Theresa Kelley for Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture

Clandestine Marriage is a study of enormous range and intellectual ambition, which will be a reference point for anyone interested in Romantic-era natural science, plants, taxonomy, and more broadly the category of nature itself, for years to come. Meticulous in its research, Kelley's book combines erudite analyses of botanical discourse with sensitive appreciations of literary and visual culture, high theory, and philosophical perspectives from the likes of Kant and Hegel, uncovering a vast web of compelling connections across the poetry and ideas associated with British and European Romanticism. From Goethe to Charles Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft to John Clare, Percy Shelley to Adorno, Kelley presents original interpetations of plants as poetic figures, cultural tropes, and exchangeable material objects, all beautifully enriched by an extensive series of colour plates of Romantic period botanical illustrations.


Martin Willis for Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons 

In Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920, Martin Willis has made a substantial new contribution to the field of literature and science. In its turns from microscopes to telescopes, from looking at the past to looking into the future, Willis's book delves into a plethora of different sciences, with chapters on microbial medicine and epidemiology, on astronomical controversy, on Egyptian archaeology, and on optics and illusionism. The cast of literary and scientific characters too is rich and colourful, as Bram Stoker, Amelia Edwards and Conan Doyle are read alongside Percival Lowell, Flinders Petrie and Harry Houdini. Altogether 'Vision, Science and Literature' is at once an impressively well researched piece of scholarship, a fascinating series of interrelated cases studies in the intersection of literature and science, and a set of engaging and revealing stories about remarkable individuals living, working and writing at a particularly fertile moment in the history of ideas of vision in Western culture.


Sally Shuttleworth for The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900

The Mind of the Child is a rare example of a book which shows beyond doubt that literature has directly influenced the course of science. Through her compelling account of the emergent disciplines of child psychology and psychiatry, Sally Shuttleworth makes it clear that there is nothing in our own anxieties about childhood – and preconceptions about children – that the Victorians had not already thought of and worried about. She shows too that it was the novelists, including Dickens, Brontë, Eliot, Meredith, James and Hardy, who at once generated many of the insights of these new disciplines and interrogated them most acutely. Shuttleworth’s book is a model of critical prose as well as of literature and science scholarship. Lucid, accessible and engaging, it deftly leads its readers to realise her insights into Victorian culture and into the concept of childhood itself for themselves as they read. All told, this is a masterful study which will shape the field of literature and science in the nineteenth century and beyond for many years to come.


Leah Knight for Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England: Sixteenth-Century Plants and Print Culture

All the judges for this year’s BSLS book prize agreed wholeheartedly that Leah Knight’s Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England was a very worthy winner. Knight’s book is a fascinating contribution to the study of literature and science in the early modern period. Elegantly written and meticulous in its scholarship, it opens up the field of botany in the sixteenth century for literary analysis and cultural history, drawing out too how central early modern thinking about plants was to print culture as a whole. As well as being an excellent contribution to the field in its own right, Of Books and Botany is one of an important new series of books on Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity published by Ashgate. Ashgate has been leading the field in publishing books on literature and science, and it is extremely encouraging to see research into literature and science in the early modern period getting the same serious consideration and support as work in this field in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


George Levine for Realism, Ethics and Secularism: Essays on Victorian Literature and Science.

The prize committee agreed that Levine’s collection of essays on Victorian literature and science will be essential reading for anyone working in the discipline. Brilliantly argued and personally engaging, his essays have implications well beyond their period boundaries. This is true not only for the essay ‘Why Science Isn’t Literature’, which urges us to rethink the implications of constructionist ideas of science, but also of pieces such as ‘In Defense of Positivism’ and ‘The Heartbeat of a Squirrel’. Levine has been central to the shaping of the methodologies of the discipline in the last thirty years, and this collection of essays will continue to guide it in future decades.


Ralph O'Connor for The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics of Popular Science, 1802-1856.

Book prize shortlists

The shortlist of books published in 2014:

The shortlist of books published in 2013:

The shortlist of books published in 2012:

Shortlist of books published in 2011:

Shortlist of books published in 2010:

Shortlist of books published in 2009:

Shortlist of books published in 2008:

Shortlist of books published in 2007: