UCL professor’s ‘masterpiece’ wins Zoological Society of London Award

16 June 2009

Coral

Award-winning science writer and geneticist Professor Steve Jones (UCL Biology) has added another prize to his growing collection.

Professor Jones’s latest book – Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise – has won the Zoological Society of London/Thomson Reuters Award for Communicating Zoology.

Professor Jones received the award at a presentation ceremony at the society’s London headquarters on Tuesday 16 June.

His book links science with history, politics and myth, taking in Captain Cook, Gauguin on Tahiti and atomic bombs on Bikini Atoll.

It considers chaos, tsunamis and genetic disease on desert islands, and compares the ancient trade of coral for diamonds with today’s oil industry.

Uncovering some of the truths that coral reveals about Earth’s chequered past and uncertain future, it illustrates how its fate is a warning that the human race, too, may be close to the point of no return.

Professor Jones said: “I'm pleased indeed to be honoured by the Zoological Society of London - after all, Queen Victoria herself when she visited them in 1842 was less than amused: ‘The Orang Outang is too wonderful … he is frightfully, and painfully, and disagreeably human’.

“Charles Darwin too spotted the resemblance between the apes on either side of the bars and noted that ‘Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work. More humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals.’

“As someone who works on the site of the great man's London house (now the Darwin building at UCL) I am pleased indeed to be recognised by such an eminent organisation; particularly as my book has been more or less directly plagiarised (or at least updated) from Darwin's own first scientific book, on the structure of coral reefs.”

A spokeswoman for the ZSL Thomson Reuters judging panel said: “This astonishingly erudite, wide ranging and accessible book describes the origins of coral reefs, the lives of corals, the uses of coral, times when corals have been of serendipitous historical importance or straightforward industrial value.

“The book is an absorbing masterpiece, which all the time imprints the menace of coral collapse through human activity in the reader’s mind.”

Image: Front cover of ‘Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise’