For immediate release October 08, 2019

2019 Phi Beta Kappa
Book Awards Winners

WASHINGTON, DC — October 8, 2019 — 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 65th 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 2019, the Society will honor Imani Perry, Adam Frank and Sarah E. Igo for their winning titles at a gala dinner on December 6, 2019 in Washington, DC, at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
The three winning titles are:

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry, 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. In the words of one member of the Gauss selection panel, Looking for Lorraine is, “…a gorgeously written book – part biography, part history, part autobiography – indeed it is rather hard to describe. …Perry explores the elusive figure of Hansberry – her intellectual development, her artistic brilliance…and the astonishing breadth of her social and political engagement.”
From the publisher (Beacon Press)Although best-known for her work A Raisin in the Sun, [Lorraine Hansberry’s] short life was full of extraordinary experiences and achievements, and she had an unflinching commitment to social justice, which brought her under FBI surveillance when she was barely in her twenties. While her close friends and contemporaries, like James Baldwin and Nina Simone, have been rightly celebrated, her story has been diminished and relegated to one work—until now… [with] Imani Perry’s multi-dimensional, illuminating biography, Looking for Lorraine.

Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth by Adam Frank, recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, which recognizes superior contributions by scientists to the literature of science. “This book beautifully, poetically, and entertainingly tells the stories of space and the universe and connects them with our plant and the Anthropocene,” notes a member of the Science selection panel, adding “But more, the author offers a very human story about discovery, understanding, and knowledge.”
From the publisher (W.W. Norton & Co.): Light of the Stars tells the story of humanity’s coming of age as we realize we might not be alone in this universe. Astrophysicist Adam Frank traces the question of alien life from the ancient Greeks to modern thinkers, and he demonstrates that recognizing the possibility of its existence might be the key to save us from climate change. With clarity and conviction, Light of the Stars asks the consequential question: What can the likely presence of life on other planets tell us about our own fate?
The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America by Sarah E. Igo, recipient of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for a scholarly study that contributes significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. One reviewer expressed the Emerson selection panel’s admiration for the book this way: “The Known Citizen has both breadth and depth. It both covers the history of discussion about ‘privacy’ in American culture and law and points to the changing nature of the popular definitions of the idea of privacy and how these ideas have been driven by cultural and social conditions and have helped to shape those conditions.”
From the publisher (Harvard University Press): Every day, Americans make decisions about their privacy: what to share and when, how much to expose and to whom. Securing the boundary between one’s private affairs and public identity has become a central task of citizenship. How did privacy come to loom so large in American life? Sarah Igo tracks this elusive social value across the twentieth century, as individuals questioned how they would, and should, be known by their own society… Igo’s sweeping history, from the era of “instantaneous photography” to the age of big data, uncovers the surprising ways that debates over what should be kept out of the public eye have shaped U.S. politics and society.

For more information on the winners, please visit the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award Winners page.
For more information about attending the Book Awards Dinner, 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, 41 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and more than 140 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