For immediate release October 01, 2018

2018 Book Awards Winners


Thoreau, Behave and Greater Gotham bestowed Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards

WASHINGTON, DC — October 1, 2018 — 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. 

For more than 50 years, the Society has celebrated the accomplishments of leading authors by conferring the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award and the Christian Gauss Award. The Society will honor this year’s winners, Robert Sapolsky, Mike Wallace and Laura Dassow Walls, at a gala dinner on December 7, 2018 in Washington, DC, at the Carnegie Insitution for Science.

The three winning titles are:

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls, recipient of the Christian Gauss Award. Established in 1950 in honor of Christian Gauss, an influential teacher, scholar and president of Phi Beta Kappa, the award recognizes outstanding books of literary scholarship. As one professor on the selection panel declared, “This is a magisterially sympathetic ‘reading of Thoreau’s life as a writer.’… Walls’ clear, probing voice lives up to Thoreau’s.” 

From the publisher (University of Chicago Press): Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky, recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, which recognizes outstanding contributions by scientists to the literature of science. “This is…an incredibly important book,” explained one of the scientists on the selection panel for this award. “The author pulls together an astonishing amount of recent research…into a tour de force comprehensive explanation of why we humans make the particular decisions that we do.”

From the publisher (Penguin Press): From the celebrated neurobiologist and primatologist, a landmark, genre-defining examination of human behavior, both good and bad, and an answer to the question: Why do we do the things we do? Sapolsky’s storytelling concept is delightful but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic: he starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person’s reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs, and then hops back in time from there, in stages, ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy.

Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 by Mike Wallace, recipient of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for a scholarly study that contributes significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity. “Easy and engaging to read [Greater Gotham] makes a powerful case for seeing the NY metro area in this period as crucial in the economic, social and political development of the entire US in the early 20th century. Taking up various realms of civic action one after another…Wallace engages the reader in discovering the often-hidden connections amongst these disparate areas of experience,” said one scholar from the selection panel.

From the publisher (Oxford University Press): Within the first two decades of the twentieth century, a newly consolidated New York grew exponentially. The city exploded into the air, with skyscrapers jostling for prominence, and dove deep into the bedrock where massive underground networks of subways, water pipes, and electrical conduits sprawled beneath the city to serve a surging population of New Yorkers from all walks of life. New York was transformed in these two decades as the world's second-largest city and now its financial capital, thriving and sustained by the city's seemingly unlimited potential. 

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

The Phi Beta Kappa Society, founded on Dec. 5, 1776, is the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. It has chapters at 286 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, 40 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 about The Phi Beta Kappa Society, visit