Autism study 'Neurotribes' wins Samuel Johnson book prize

AP News
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Posted: Nov 02, 2015 5:20 PM

LONDON (AP) — A book that challenges readers to think differently about autism has won Britain's leading literary award for nonfiction.

U.S. writer Steve Silberman's "Neurotribes" was awarded the 20,000 pound ($31,000) Samuel Johnson Prize at a ceremony in London Monday.

It is the first science book to take the prize, founded in 1999 and usually dominated by history and biography.

Silberman, a reporter for Wired magazine, explores the history of autism as a recognized condition, and the many mysteries that still surround it — including why its occurrence appears to have skyrocketed. He also looks at the modern "neurodiversity" movement that seeks to recognize, accept and celebrate people with cognitive differences.

Historian Anne Applebaum, who chaired the judging panel, said Silberman blended popular science, history and journalism in a book that ranges from the science of the brain to "the impact of the movie 'Rain Man' on popular culture."

"It an unusual, genre-breaking kind of book, and also a book that's very deeply motivated by a set of ideals," Applebaum said. "It's an argument about autism and how we should see it as a different way of thinking."

Silberman beat five other finalists, including Laurence Scott's look at humanity in the cyber-era, "The Four-Dimensional Human," and Samanth Subramanian's account of Sri Lanka's civil war, "This Divided Island."

Also shortlisted were Jonathan Bate's poet biography "Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life"; Robert Macfarlane's literary nature tour "Landmarks"; and Emma Sky's war memoir "The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq."

Named for the 18th-century essayist and lexicographer, the Samuel Johnson Prize recognizes English-language books from any country in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

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Online: www.thesamueljohnsonprize.co.uk