• Home

PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing

The PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award celebrates writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience. The winner receives a cash award of $10,000.

Lindsey Fitzharris, The Butchering art (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Winner of the 2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing

From the judges’ citation: “When Joseph Lister began his career as a surgeon in Victorian England, colleagues wore aprons caked with old blood and rarely washed their knives between procedures. Infections ran rampant, and hospitals were often just way stations to the morgue. In The Butchering Art, Lindsey Fitzharris provides a clear-eyed view over Lister’s shoulder, and lets us watch as he progresses toward the revolutionary idea that invisible germs could be lethal, and that killing those germs might save countless lives. Fitzharris is a brilliant narrator of visceral operating-room scenes, but her account of the medical community’s prolonged and contentious resistance to Lister is just as compelling. This important and compulsively readable book is a reminder that scientific advances face strong headwinds, and that even the best ideas need fierce champions.”

LINDSEY FITZHARRIS received her doctorate in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at the University of Oxford and was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Wellcome Institute. She is the creator of the popular website The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, and she writes and presents the YouTube series Under the Knife. She has written for the Guardian, the Lancet, the New Scientist, Penthouse, the Huffington Post and Medium, and appeared on PBS, Channel 4 UK, BBC and National Geographic.


Reviews and Praise

“The story The Butchering Art tells is one of abiding fascination, in part because it involves a paradigm shift so basic, so seemingly obvious, that one can scarcely believe the paradigm needed shifting in the first place.”–The New York Times Book Review


“Fitzharris charts Lister’s rise from a student at University College London to his seminal work in Edinburgh and Glasgow and, later, to his appointment as the Queen’s personal surgeon. She paints a compelling portrait of a man of conviction, humour and, above all, humanity.”–The Guardian



“Little Joseph Lister stood on his toes and put his eye to the ocular lens of his father’s latest compound microscope. Unlike the foldaway versions that tourists tucked in their pockets and carried with them on trips to the seaside, the instrument before him was something altogether grander. It was sleek, handsome, powerful: a symbol of scientific progress.”




2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize Finalists

American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World, David Baron (Liveright)
IndieBound | Amazon

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, Lindsey Fitzharris (Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
IndieBound | Amazon

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life, David Montgomery (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.)
IndieBound | Amazon

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America, Ron Powers (Hachette Books)
IndieBound | Amazon

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Robert Sapolsky (Penguin Press)
IndieBound | Amazon


2018 PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize Judges

Carl Hart is the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. He is also the Dirk Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. Prof. Hart has published nearly 100 scientific articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology and is co-author of the textbook Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (with Charles Ksir).

Deanna Fei is the acclaimed author of the memoir Girl in Glass: Dispatches from the Edge of Life, named a Books for a Better Life Award winner, a Washington Post Book Club selection, and a Public Books favorite book; and the award-winning novel A Thread of Sky. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Fortune, and Slate. She was born in Flushing, NY, and currently lives in London.
Luke Dittrich is a National Magazine award winning journalist and a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. His on the job experiences include running a marathon in Antarctica and walking 340 miles along the United States/Mexico border. Dittrich’s articles have appeared in anthologies ranging from Best American Crime Writing to Best American Travel Writing to Best American Science and Nature Writing.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions for the 2019 awards cycle will open on June 1, 2018. Please note that PEN only accepted submissions from publishers or literary agents. Authors were not to submit their own book for this award.


    • Eligible titles must have been published between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018.
    • Authors of the work must be permanent U.S. residents or American citizens.
    • If you submit a book for this award, you may not submit it for any additional PEN America awards. Please note that the PEN/Faulkner is not considered PEN America award.