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Some time ago, I was shopping for a friend's birthday present. She is one of those wonderful people so easy to buy presents for: smart, widely curious and widely read, and she loves books. So naturally there I was in the bookstore browsing the New Non-fictions. I picked up a book with an odd cover and an intriguing title. It was called Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body and it was by Armand Marie Leroi. I flipped through a few pages and soon realized that I had found the perfect present for my friend.

Bought it, took it home, wrapped it up, gave it to her. A few days later she called me, gushing. Yes, that's right. She just gushed all over me, right there over the phone. She couldn't gush enough about how much she loved the book.

And so it was with great pleasure that I read in this evening's Guardian that Mutants has  just won the 2004 Guardian First Book Award. A few details:

The nine judges were [Sir Richard] Eyre, the novelists Hari Kunzru and Ali Smith, the author Lewis Wolpert, the barrister Helena Kennedy, the author and comedian Alexei Sayle, the Guardian's deputy editor Georgina Henry, and Stuart Broom, who represented the Waterstone's reading groups.

The panel was chaired by the Guardian literary editor, Claire Armitstead.

Last night Ms Armitstead said: "What we found so impressive about Armand Marie Leroi's book was the scope of its reference, its elegance and its inquisitiveness.

"It is not just about the science of abnormality, but about everything that could possibly be affected by that science, from the lifespan of fruit flies to the depiction of nostrils in the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec."

While the subject matter of Mutants unsettled some involved in the judging, the overwhelming majority - both in the reading groups and the panel - found it fascinating.

So congratulations to Mr. Leroi and may he spend his 10,000 Limey Smackers all in one exceedingly delightful place.


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