Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 00:21 UK

Maths book makes Samuel Johnson Prize longlist

Alex's Adventures In Numberland book cover
Alex Bellos's book says serving a tennis ball is an application of maths

Books on maths, cookery and music have been nominated for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

Alex's Adventures In Numberland, Alex Bellos's attempt to demystify maths, is one of 19 titles on the longlist.

It is joined by The Music Instinct, a study of the brain's response to Lady Gaga and Bach, and Catching Fire, which examines cooking's role in evolution.

The eventual winner receives £20,000 at a ceremony in July. The shortlist of six titles will be decided in mid-May.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis, who is chairing the judging panel, praised the "unusual and eclectic" books on the longlist.

"It is particularly gratifying that our selection demonstrates the worldliness of good non-fiction writing, with books that take us from China and India, to Africa and the Arctic."

Other works to be selected include Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail, described by the Huffington Post as the "closest we'll ever get to being a fly on the wall during [the] financial crisis".

Evan Davis
Davis said it was a 'large and exciting task' to chair the judges

Sorkin had unprecedented access to senior Wall Street executives during the crisis, conducting over 500 hours of interviews covering everything from the collapse of Lehman Brothers to the bank bailout.

Frances Stonor Saunders is also nominated for The Woman Who Shot Mussolini, which details a failed assassination attempt on the former Italian leader by Anglo-Irish aristocrat, Violet Gibson, who believed she was acting on orders from God.

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o is also noted for his memoir Dreams In A Time Of War, which recounts his experiences of growing up under British rule.

Judges also recognised Whole Earth Discipline, Stewart Brand's impassioned plea for the environmental movement to ditch 1960s idealism and embrace new ideas.

Last year's winner was Philip Hoare, who turned his lifelong fascination with whales into the acclaimed work Leviathan Or The Whale.

Alongside Davis, this year's judging panel includes executive editor of The Times Daniel Finkelstein, Financial Times arts editor Jan Dalley, historian Stella Tillyard, and science journalist, author and broadcaster Roger Highfield.


• The Music Instinct - Philip Ball

• Alex's Adventures in Numberland - Alex Bellos

• Whole Earth Discipline - Stewart Brand

• Making Haste from Babylon - Nick Bunker

• Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India - William Dalrymple

• Nothing to Envy - Barbara Demick

• Country Driving - Peter Hessler

• The Secret Lives of Buildings - Edward Hollis

• Blood Knots - Luke Jennings

• Family Britain 1951 - 1957 - David Kynaston

• On Roads - Joe Moran

• When Skateboards Will Be Free - Said Sayrafiezadeh

• Too Big to Fail: Inside the Battle to save Wall Street - Andrew Ross Sorkin

• Burying the Bones - Hilary Spurling

• The Woman Who Shot Mussolini - Frances Stoner Saunders

• A Gambling Man - Jenny Uglow

• Dreams in a Time of War - Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

• The Magnetic North - Sara Wheeler

• Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human - Richard Wrangham

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