The Christian Gauss Award


Henry David Thoreau: A Life

By Laura Dassow Walls (ΦBK, University of Washington), 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"Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious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."​ —​University of Chicago Press
Read a Key Reporter interview with Laura Dassow Walls.

The Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science


Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

By Robert Sapolsky (ΦBK, Harvard College), 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." —Penguin Press
Read a Key Reporter interview with Robert Sapolsky.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Award


Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919

By Mike Wallace, 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." —Oxford University Press
Read a Key Reporter interview with Mike Wallace.

About the Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards

The Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards are given annually to outstanding scholarly books published in the United States. Winning works, which are drawn from the fields of the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics, must be of broad interest and accessible to the general reader. Each award carries a $10,000 prize and acceptance at the Annual Book Awards Dinner.  

The winners were selected by panels of experts who reviewed five short-listed titles in each of the three award categories. See the 2018 Short List.

Book Awards Dinner

The Book Awards Dinner was held at the Carnegie Insitution for Science on December 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. ΦΒΚ Secretary/CEO Frederick M. Lawrence was the evening's master of ceremony and discussion moderator. Participating in a lively Q&A session were Mike Wallace, author of Greater Gotham: A Histroy of New York City from 1898 to 1919, and Dr. Laura Dassow Walls author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life. Dr. Gregory Petsko, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science selection panel, stood in for Dr. Robert Sapolsky, author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. You can watch the discussion below.

Book Reviews and Excerpts

Staff Contact

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Nominate a Book


All nominations must be submitted by a publisher. Publishers seeking to nominate a book for the 2019 cycle can find more information here.