History of autism book scoops top non-fiction award

Anne Applebaum chaired the judges and presented prize. Picture: Getty Images

Anne Applebaum chaired the judges and presented prize. Picture: Getty Images

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A “ground-breaking” science book has won the UK’s top non-fiction award.

Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently has scooped the £20,000 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for ­Non-Fiction.

The book – the first popular science book to win the prize in its 17-year history – chronicles the history of societal attitudes and responses to autism, a condition that affects millions.

From the clinicians who discovered it, to the MMR vaccine controversy, San Francisco-based Silberman charts the journey of the complex disorder and seeks to answer the question of why there has been a massive rise in diagnoses.

Pulitzer prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum, chair of the judges, presented him with the prize, and said: “Silberman’s ground-breaking archival research lays out the intellectual history of the condition we now call ‘autism’, tracing the evolution of the diagnosis from Nazi Vienna up until the present day.”

Alongside Neurotribes, the other five titles in the running were Jonathan Bate’s Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life, Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human, Emma Sky’s The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, and Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island: Stories From the Sri Lanka War.

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