Professor Brian Cox has announced that a literary award described as “the Booker Prize of science writing” has gone to Andrea Wulf’s biography of little-known scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

Professor Cox announced The Invention Of Nature as winner of the £25,000 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016.

The shortlisted books for The Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2016 (The Royal Society)

Past winners include Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Jared Diamond.

Wulf is only the second woman to win the prize as sole author, after Gaia Vince took the prize in 2015.

The annual prize is now in its 29th year and celebrates popular science books from around the world which are aimed at a non-specialist readership.

Andrea Wulf (Antonina Gern/Royal Society)

Cox, who is The Royal Society’s Professor for Public Engagement in Science, said readers could learn a lot from the Prussian scientist who was born in 1769.

“Humboldt may not be well known today but he remains very much of our time: his work tackled many of today’s big issues like climate change and biodiversity loss and the interconnectedness of nature,” he said.

“Moreover, he was a polymath who was curious about everything and was a superb communicator. His interdisciplinary approach puts paid to the ridiculous notion that science and the arts are separate entities.

Professor Brian Cox (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“We should be taking our cues from Humboldt – be curious and be informed by science on the big issues.”

Humboldt was an explorer, naturalist and member of the Royal Society. With his holistic idea of the universe as one interacting entity, he inspired others including Charles Darwin, William Wordsworth and Jules Verne.

A statue of Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Bryson, who won in 2004 for A Short History Of Nearly Everything and chaired this year’s judging panel, praised the “adventure story” which was unanimously chosen as the winner.

“The decisive factor for the winning book was that it excited and gripped us as judges the most,” he said.

“The Invention Of Nature by Andrea Wulf is a thrilling adventure story as much as a science book about a polymath who had an extraordinary impact on our contemporary understanding of nature.

Bill Bryson chaired the judging panel (Sam Bryson)

“It is a book you will find yourself talking endlessly about with friends in the pub.”

Previously called The Royal Society Winton Prize For Science Books, the award has gained a reputation as “the Booker Prize of science writing”.

The Invention Of Nature beat short-listed books including University of Sheffield professor Tim Birkhead’s book about birds’ eggs, The Most Perfect Thing, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Siddhartha Mukherjee’s best-seller The Gene.