The British science writer Philip Ball has won the prestigious 2005 Aventis Prize for popular science books.
Last year's winner Bill Bryson congraturlated Ball (left) on his win
His publication, Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, is an exploration of human behaviour and the nature of decision-making.
Mr Ball was presented with the £10,000 cheque during a gala dinner at the Royal Society on Thursday.
The book was considered a rank outsider to win by the bookies, but its subject and style won over the judges.
It triumphed over a strong field featuring books by Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, and the fertility expert and TV personality Robert Winston.
"One of the best things about being an outsider is that you don't have to think of anything to say," said Mr Ball, who is a consultant editor at the science journal Nature, after collecting the prize.
"Now I wish I'd put that bet on at William Hill [at 6-1]."
In Critical Mass, Mr Ball argues that the application of the laws of modern physics to the study of human nature can enrich our understanding of how people behave.
General prize judge Ruth Padel described the book as "completely unpretentious".
"It changed my whole view of how physics works... [Philip Ball] has researched it really well, but the research doesn't creak; it flows from page to page," she said.
Long shelf life
The winner was selected by a five-strong judging panel, which featured both the arts and the sciences.
It was chaired by Bill Bryson, the American travel writer who won last year's prize for his A Short History Of Nearly Everything.
"Each [book] in its different way has an exhilarating quality - a kind of passion that takes it beyond the really very good and makes it particularly outstanding and very special," said Mr Bryson.
"These are all books that will be around for a very long time, I'm certain of that."
Mark Lythgoe, a judge for the general prize, said the panel had taken into account such factors as storytelling and originality.
"I think it's so difficult to get science over in an easy and accessible manner, and I think that's why storytelling is so important," he said.
In the wake of last year's award, Mr Bryson's book became a runaway bestseller. Observers say they will be keen to see how sales of this year's winning book, which is penned by a relative unknown rather than a household name like Mr Bryson, are affected by the prize.
Lord Winston, who lost out in the general category, collected the Junior Prize for his children's book What Makes Me, Me?
The full shortlist for the 2005 General Prize:
Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, by Philip Ball (William Heinemann)
The Ancestor's Tale, by Richard Dawkins (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older by Douwe Draaisma (Cambridge University Press)
Matters Of Substance: Drugs - And Why Everyone's A User by Griffith Edwards (Penguin, Allen Lane)
The Earth: An Intimate History by Richard Fortey (HarperCollins)
The Human Mind by Robert Winston (Bantam Press/ Transworld Publishers)
The shortlist for the 2005 Junior Prize:
Kingfisher Knowledge: Endangered Planet by David Burnie (Kingfisher)
Mysteries And Marvels Of Science by Phillip Clarke, Laura Howell and Sarah Khan (Usborne)
Leap Through Time: Earthquake by Nicholas Harris (Orpheus)
Night Sky Atlas by Robin Scagell (Dorling Kindersley)
Kingfisher Knowledge: Microscopic Life by Richard Walker (Kingfisher)
What Makes Me, Me? by Robert Winston (Dorling Kindersley)