BSLS book prize

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. Starting in 2023, monographs and edited collections will be considered separately, so a second prize may be awarded. In 2023, the committee will consider the best edited collection in the field of literature and science published in that year. From 2024 onwards, edited collections will be considered on a bi-annual basis (i.e., for the 2025 prize, the committee will consider edited collections published in 2024 and 2025).


Any book (monograph or edited collection) published in the current year (i.e., between 01 January and 31 December) is eligible, but can only be considered if it is nominated either by a current member of BSLS or by its publisher. Books must have been published in the current year. The date of publication is determined by the date given on the title page or title verso (books published late in the previous year but bearing the date of the current year are eligible). Titles authored or edited by members of the BSLS executive committee are not eligible.


Nominations must be received between 01 October and 31 December of the current year. Nominations may be made by publishers or by current BSLS members. Authors of nominated titles do not need to BSLS members. To nominate a title, please send an email to the prize chair ( that includes the full name of the author, authors, editor, or editors, the title of the book, and whether the title is a monograph or an edited collection. Publishers should arrange to send a copy of the title to the chair, who will distribute the titles to the longlist readers once the nomination period comes to a close. Authors should write to their publishers to request a hard copy. Upon receipt of the title, the chair will confirm the nomination.

Shortlisting Process

Titles nominated for the prize will be read by a panel of BSLS executive committee members and scholars. Publishers should arrange to provide additional copies of shortlisted books for review by the committee. The shortlist will be released in March of the following year, ahead of the annual conference in April, when the winner will be announced

Past Winners

Below you can find details of previous prize winners and shortlists. Many of these titles have been discussed at length on our BSLS reviews pages!


Emilie Taylor-Pirie, Empire Under the Microscope: Parasitology and the British Literary Imagination, 1885–1935 (Palgrave Macmillan)

Emilie Taylor-Pirie's Empire Under the Microscope uses British Nobel laureate Ronald Ross (1857-1932) and his colleagues to explore the cultural history of parasitology and its relationships with the literary and historical imagination between 1885 and 1935. A landmark study that that speaks directly to immediate concerns such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the persistence of empire, Taylor-Pirie's work advances important conversations around literature, science and colonial legacies. This work clearly maps an impressive range of medical, biographical, and literary materials across the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. The judging panel would like to particularly commend the combination of historical, geographical, and generic breadth with remarkably close attention to textual detail.

Also shortlisted this year:

Peter Adkins, The Modernist Anthropocene: Nonhuman Life and Planetary Change in James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes (Edinburgh UP)

Hannah Bower, Middle English Medical Recipes and Literary Play, 1375-1500 (Oxford UP)

Shweta Khilnani and Ritwick Bhattacharjee (eds), Science Fiction in India: Parallel Worlds and Postcolonial Paradigms (Bloomsbury Academic)


Barri Gold for Energy, Ecocriticism, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Novel Ecologies (Palgrave)

Barri Gold deploys energy physics to think about ecology and to rethink the novel form, offering a direct, refreshing read that challenges readers to act differently in their scholarship and offers methodologies for doing so. Gold draws on energy concepts to revisit some of our favorite books—Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, and The War of the Worlds—and the ways these shape our sense of ourselves as ecological beings. Beginning with an examination of the parallel inceptions of energy and ecology in the mid-nineteenth century, this book considers the question of how we may better read and interpret our world, developing a recipe for experimental reading and insisting upon the importance of literary studies in a world driving to ecological catastrophe.

Also shortlisted this year:

Thalia Trigoni, The Intelligent Unconscious in Modernist Literature and Science (Routledge)

Diana Perez Edelman, Embryology and the Rise of the Gothic Novel (Palgrave)

Lara Choksey, Narrative in the Age of the Genome: Genetic Worlds (Bloomsbury)


Josie Gill for Biofictions: Race, Genetics and the Contemporary Novel (Bloomsbury Academic)

Josie Gill’s study of race and genetics in late twentieth and early twenty-first century fiction is critically engaged with science and its contexts, lucidly written, and politically urgent. Covering novels by, among others, Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Octavia Butler, and Colson Whitehead, it argues that the idea of race in genetic science is a biofiction, ‘an idea constituted through the complex entanglement of scientific and fictive forms.’ It takes in the sciences relevant to ancestry, human genomic diversity, epigenetics, and examines their relations to the changing social contexts for concepts of ‘race’ and anti-racist politics. In doing so, it illuminates how concepts of ‘race’ remain latent even when contemporary genetic science seems to have undermined the concept. Wearing its scholarship lightly, this outstanding study welcomes both the specialist in contemporary literature, the general reader, and, we hope, readers from the sciences.

Biofictions is available on open access funded by Knowledge Unlatched.

Also shortlisted this year:


Gerard Passannante for Catastrophizing: Materialism and the Making of Disaster (University of Chicago Press)

Gerard Passannante’s timely study brings together literature, visual art, and the history of science to provide rich insights into catastrophic thinking and the history of materialist thought. His accounts of analogy and of the juxtaposition of incompatible scales will be stimulating to readers working across a wide range of periods. His key idea is that the image of disaster renders the imperceptible perceptible. The book takes in Lucretian materialism, Leonardo da Vinci, John Donne, the idea of interpretation ‘anything out of anything’ (quidlibet ex quolibet), Shakespeare, Robert Hooke and microscopes, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and – in a suggestive Afterword – our current climate crisis. It has foundations of precise historical scholarship, but is informed by a wider range of historical knowledge, such that Sergei Eisenstein can inform a discussion of Leonardo da Vinci, or Samuel Beckett provides the opening to a chapter on Shakespeare.

Also shortlisted this year:


John Holmes for The Pre-Raphaelites and Science (Yale University Press)

The Pre-Raphaelites and Science is a beautifully written and illustrated book which synthesizes a remarkable range of fields to produce a rich exploration of artistic and scientific relations in the nineteenth century. The book makes a substantial contribution to the history of literature, art, science and museums, and will raise awareness amongst scholars and more general readers of the critical insights which arise from a literature and science approach.

Also shortlisted this year:


Melissa Bailes for Questioning Nature: British Women's Scientific Writing & Literary Originality, 1750-1830 (Virginia)

Questioning Nature is an elegant exposition of how important the sciences were to a number of female authors at the end of the eighteenth century, especially in allowing them to think through their own creativity and position in society and the marketplace, and in guiding their innovations in literary form, mode and genre. The book is wide-ranging in its coverage of authors (from Anna Laetitia Barbauld to Felicia Hemans), sciences (from botany to volcanology) and places (from Warrington to the West Indies), and to all of these topics brings fascinating biographical and historical insights and careful close readings. Bailes provides a compelling account of the connections between Enlightenment sciences and questions of gender, and makes an important contribution to the critical re-framing of Romantic-era literature and science.

Also shortlisted this year:


Ursula K. Heise for Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago)

This remarkable, lucid examination of how contemporary culture produces understandings of imperilled nature breaks new ground in its thinking about environmental crisis -- local and global -- and, particularly, the terms in which we see species loss. This original undertaking brilliantly connects multiple fields of enquiry, philosophical, literary, scientific, political, and investigates genres such as the elegy, the database, and speculative fiction. On matters such as global warming, biodiversity, conservation, non-human justice and the anthropocene, Heise's thesis is challenging, nuanced and elegantly reasoned, and Imagining Extinction looks set become a celebrated reference point while revealing new directions for the study of culture and biology, literature and science.

Also shortlisted this year:


Claire Preston for The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford University Press)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


Leah Knight for Reading Green in Early Modern England (Routledge)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


Robert Mitchell for Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


Theresa Kelley for Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (Johns Hopkins University Press)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


Martin Willis for Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons (Pickering and Chatto)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


Sally Shuttleworth for The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900 (Oxford University Press)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


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

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


George Levine for Realism, Ethics and Secularism: Essays on Victorian Literature and Science (Cambridge University Press)

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.

Also shortlisted this year:


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

O'Connor's tour through the geological cultures of Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century sheds light on the literary exchanges which helped to form a nascent science - both in the eyes of the public, and in the imagination of its practitioners. Our inaugural prizewinner, it remains a gold standard for work conducted in this field.

Also shortlisted this year: