For immediate release October 1, 2020

2020 Phi Beta Kappa
Book Awards Winners

WASHINGTON, DC — October 1, 2020 — The Phi Beta Kappa Society is pleased to announce the winners of the Society’s three annual book awards, $10,000 prizes given to outstanding works of non-fiction that engage a wide audience with important ideas in science, history and literature. 
This year the Society will celebrate the 66th anniversary of the Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards. Beginning in 1954 with what is now the Christian Gauss Award, every year the Society has lauded the accomplishments of exceptional authors in the United States. The Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award were added in 1960 and 1961, respectively. For 2020, the Society will honor Leah Price, Sarah Parcak, and Sarah Seo for their winning titles at a virtual event on December 3, 2020.
The three winning titles are:

What We Talk About When We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading by Leah Price, recipient of the Christian Gauss Award. Established in honor of Christian Gauss, an influential teacher, scholar and president of Phi Beta Kappa, the award recognizes outstanding books of literary criticism, including biography. As one member of the Gauss selection panel observed this winning selection offers “a delightful, energizing exploration of the past, present, and future of the book, the structures that create and disseminate it, and the readers and their processes through which they encounter it.”
From the publisher (Basic Books)Do you worry that you’ve lost patience for anything longer than a tweet? If so, you’re not alone. Digital-age pundits warn that as our appetite for books dwindles, so too do the virtues in which printed, bound objects once trained us: the willpower to focus on a sustained argument, the curiosity to look beyond the day’s news, the willingness to be alone. The shelves of the world’s great libraries, though, tell a more complicated story. Examining the wear and tear on the books that they contain, English professor Leah Price finds scant evidence that a golden age of reading ever existed. From the dawn of mass literacy to the invention of the paperback, most readers already skimmed and multitasked. In encounters with librarians, booksellers and activists who are reinventing old ways of reading, Price offers fresh hope to bibliophiles and literature lovers alike.

Archaeology From Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past by Sarah Parcak, recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. This award recognizes superior contributions by scientists to the literature of science. The selection panel praised Parcak’s book as an “ absorbing read,” and “a fine science book which succeeds in taking an age-old question of past humans and describing how technologies are allowing us to uncover more and ask new questions.”

From the publisher (Henry Holt and Co.): National Geographic Explorer and TED Prize-winner Dr. Sarah Parcak welcomes you to the exciting new world of space archaeology, a growing field remote-sensing technology that is sparking extraordinary discoveries from ancient civilizations across the globe. From surprise advancements after the declassification of spy photography, to a new map of the mythical Egyptian city of Tanis, she shares her field’s biggest discoveries, revealing why space archaeology is not only exciting, but urgently essential to the preservation of the world’s ancient treasures. Parcak’s stories take readers back in time and across borders, into the day-to-day lives of ancient humans who displayed grit, ingenuity, and brilliance across the millennia. Parcak’s passion for unearthing the secrets of our ancestors is contagious, and she shows not only the incredible technology we now have to help us understand and protect these traces of humanity, but that they have much to teach us. And if we heed the lessons of the past, we can shape a vibrant future.
Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom by Sarah Seo, recipient of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. This prize honors a scholarly study that contributes significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. Praising Seo’s abitlity to illuminate important contemporary questions, one member of the review panel remarked, “Seo not only writes an illuminating account of a central aspect of American culture (the automobile and the mobility that it has provided) but given a fine analysis of changes that it inadvertently introduced in regard to police powers and the law.”

From the publisher (Harvard University Press): When Americans think of freedom, they often picture the open road. Yet nowhere are we more likely to encounter the long arm of the law than in our cars. Sarah Seo reveals how the rise of the automobile led us to accept—and expect—pervasive police power. As Policing the Open Road makes clear, this radical transformation in the nature and meaning of American freedom has had far-reaching political and legal consequences. Seo overturns prevailing interpretations of the Warren Court’s due process revolution. The justices’ efforts to protect Americans did more to accommodate than to limit police intervention, and the new criminal procedures inadvertently sanctioned discrimination by officers of the law. Constitutional challenges to traffic stops largely failed, and motorists “driving while black” had little recourse to question police demands. Seo shows how procedures designed to safeguard us on the road ultimately undermined the nation’s commitment to equal protection before the law.

For more information on the winners, please visit the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award Winners page.
For more information about attending the virtual Book Awards Event, please visit the Eventbrite page.


About The Phi Beta Kappa Society

Founded on Dec. 5, 1776, The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. It has chapters at 290 colleges and universities in the United States, nearly 50 alumni associations, and more than half a million members worldwide. Noteworthy members include 17 U.S. Presidents, 42 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and more than 150 Nobel Laureates. The mission of The Phi Beta Kappa Society is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence. For more information, visit