LONDON (Reuters) - A book about mimicry and camouflage in nature, art and warfare has won the 2011 Warwick Prize for Writing, a biennial award open to any genre on a given theme. This year’s chosen subject was color.
Writer and journalist Peter Forbes explores the relationship between science and art in “Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage,” one of six books shortlisted for the 50,000 pound ($80,000) award from the University of Warwick in Britain.
The other nominees included a collection of poetry recalling the Caribbean’s colonial legacy, an account of literary censorship in apartheid South Africa, a story set in Sierra Leone, a contemporary novel about Afghanistan and an anthropologist’s meditation on the mysteries of color.
“Dazzled and Deceived” traces how the phenomenon of mimicry in nature, discovered by 19th century English naturalists Henry Bates and Alfred Wallace, was seized upon as independent validation of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.
Mimicry and camouflage also had a major impact outside nature, and Forbes links it with art, literature, military tactics and medical cures across the 20th century.
“For me the prize is a great vindication of the work, and it does give the book a new lease of life,” Forbes told Reuters in a telephone interview. “It will make my work a bit easier — it’s a difficult time in publishing at the moment.”
Forbes said the Warwick Prize did not limit itself to one particular genre of literature, which suited his work.
“My book isn’t just science, it’s science and art and it’s history. My own book slightly falls between genres as it is. I’m very grateful this prize exists and that my book just happened to be eligible.”
In “Dazzled and Deceived,” Forbes explains how Allied forces in North Africa during World War Two covered tanks and artillery guns to make them look like trucks, as well as created a decoy railhead to draw attacks from the air.
“I was interested in the military because some of the naturalists in both (world) wars felt strongly their knowledge of how animals disguised themselves would be of use to the military,” he said.
Forbes also traces mimicry in nature and military application to artists including 20th century great Pablo Picasso, who, whether correctly or not, believed his Cubist works had influenced World War One camouflage.
In doing so, he was “setting himself up as a creator on a par with God,” the author wrote.
“I think artists have been fascinated by the fact that these creatures which don’t have art and language can actually produce these remarkable patterns,” Forbes told Reuters.
“In nature, some creatures have copied the patterns of others, and through evolution have come to look like other creatures.”
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte