25 Mar The Bailie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction
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The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize) is an annual British prize for the best non-fiction writing in the English language, covering the non-fiction fields of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. The competition is open to authors of any nationality whose work is published in the UK in English. It is the UK’s richest non-fiction prize, worth £30,000 to the winner. Check out it’s website here.
Here are the winners, 1999-present. Enjoy!
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently – Steve Silberman
What is autism: a devastating developmental condition, a lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more – and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. Following on from his groundbreaking article ‘The Geek Syndrome’, Wired reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years. Going back to the earliest autism research and chronicling the brave and lonely journey of autistic people and their families through the decades, Silberman provides long-sought solutions to the autism puzzle while casting light on the growing movement of ‘neurodiversity’ and mapping out a path towards a more humane world for people with learning differences
H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for GBP800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals. H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.
The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War – Lucy Hughes-Hallett
The story of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, daredevil – and Fascist. In September 1919 Gabriele D’Annunzio, successful poet and occasional politician, declared himself Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern day Croatia. His intention – to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals. It was the dramatic pinnacle to an outrageous career. Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the controversial life of D’Annunzio, the debauched artist who became a national hero. His evolution from idealist Romantic to radical right-wing revolutionary is a political parable. Through his ideological journey, culminating in the failure of the Fiume endeavour, we witness the political turbulence of early 20th century Europe and the emergence of fascism. In The Pike, Hughes-Hallett addresses the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism – and at the centre of the book stands the charismatic D’Annunzio: a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating.
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest – Wade Davis
If the quest for Mount Everest began as a grand imperial gesture, as redemption for an empire of explorers that had lost the race to the Poles, it ended as a mission of regeneration for a country and a people bled white by war. Of the twenty-six British climbers who, on three expeditions (1921-24), walked 400 miles off the map to find and assault the highest mountain on Earth, twenty had seen the worst of the fighting. Six had been severely wounded, two others nearly killed by disease at the Front, one hospitalized twice with shell shock. Three as army surgeons dealt for the duration with the agonies of the dying. Two lost brothers, killed in action. All had endured the slaughter, the coughing of the guns, the bones and barbed wire, the white faces of the dead. In a monumental work of history and adventure, ten years in the writing, Wade Davis asks not whether George Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest, but rather why he kept on climbing on that fateful day. His answer lies in a single phrase uttered by one of the survivors as they retreated from the mountain: ‘The price of life is death’. Mallory walked on because for him, as for all of his generation, death was but ‘a frail barrier that men crossed, smiling and gallant, every day’. As climbers they accepted a degree of risk unimaginable before the war. They were not cavalier, but death was no stranger. They had seen so much that it had no hold on them. What mattered was how one lived, the moments of being alive. For all of them Everest had become an exalted radiance, a sentinel in the sky, a symbol of hope in a world gone mad.
Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 – Frank Dikotter
Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million Chinese people were worked, starved or beaten to death. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up with and overtake the Western world in less than fifteen years. It lead to one of the greatest catastrophes the world has ever known. Dikotter’s extraordinary research within Chinese archives brings together for the first time what happened in the corridors of power with the everyday experiences of ordinary people, giving voice to the dead and disenfranchised. This groundbreaking account definitively recasts the history of the People’s Republic of China..
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives In North Korea – Barbara Demick
North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet; Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity. After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended: people stumbled over dead bodies in the street and ate tree bark to survive. Nothing to Envy weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House – Kate Summerscale
It is a summer’s night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing – arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery – a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.
Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone – Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their political affiliations and views on issues such as abortion, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate crises of a postwar nation. In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate and remarkably dispassionate portrait of life inside this Oz-like place, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. This is a quietly devastating portrait of imperial folly, and an essential book for anyone who wants to understand those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare – James Shapiro
This work presents an intimate history of Shakespeare, following him through a single year that changed not only his fortunes, but the course of literature. How did Shakespeare go from being a talented poet and playwright to become one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this one exhilarating year, we follow what he reads and writes, what he saw, and who he worked with as he invests in the new Globe theatre and creates four of his most famous plays – “Henry V”, “Julius Caesar”, “As You Like It”, and, most remarkably, “Hamlet”. This book brings the news, intrigue and flavour of the times together with wonderful detail about how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright, to create an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.
Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of B. S.Johnson – Jonathan Coe
In his heyday, during the 1960s and early 1970s, B. S. Johnson was one of the best-known young novelists in Britain. A passionate advocate for the avant-garde in both literature and film, he became famous – not to say notorious – both for his forthright views on the future of the novel and for his idiosyncratic ways of putting them into practice. But in November 1973 Johnson’s lifelong depression got the better of him, and he was found dead at his north London home. He had taken his own life at the age of forty. Jonathan Coe’s biography is based upon unique access to the vast collection of papers Johnson left behind after his death, and upon dozens of interviews with those who knew him best. As unconventional in form as one of its subject’s own novels, it paints a remarkable picture – sometimes hilarious, often overwhelmingly sad – of a tortured personality; a man whose writing tragically failed to keep at bay the demons that pursued him.
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall – Anna Funder
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany – she meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III, visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall and gets drunk with the legendary “Mik Jegger” of the East, once declared by the authorities to his face to “no longer to exist”.
Pushkin: A Biography – T J Binyon
In the course of his short, dramatic life, Aleksandr Pushkin gave Russia not only its greatest poetry–including the novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin–but a new literary language. He also gave it a figure of enduring romantic allure–fiery, restless, extravagant, a prodigal gambler and inveterate seducer of women. Having forged a dazzling, controversial career that cost him the enmity of one tsar and won him the patronage of another, he died at the age of thirty-eight, following a duel with a French officer who was paying unscrupulous attention to his wife.In his magnificent, prizewinning Pushkin, T. J. Binyon lifts the veil of the iconic poet’s myth to reveal the complexity and pathos of his life while brilliantly evoking Russia in all its nineteenth-century splendor. Combining exemplary scholarship with the pace and detail of a great novel, Pushkin elevates biography to a work of art.
Peacemakers: Six Months That Changed the World: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War – Margaret MacMillan
Between January and July 1919, after the war to end all wars, men and women from all over the world converged on Paris for the Peace Conference. At its heart were the leaders of the three great powers – Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau. Kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers with their crowds of advisers rubbed shoulders with journalists and lobbyists for a hundred causes – from Armenian independence to women’s rights. Everyone had business in Paris that year – T.E. Lawrence, Queen Marie of Romania, Maynard Keynes, Ho Chi Minh. There had never been anything like it before, and there never has been since. For six extraordinary months the city was effectively the centre of world government as the peacemakers wound up bankrupt empires and created new countries. They pushed Russia to the sidelines, alienated China and dismissed the Arabs, struggled with the problems of Kosovo, of the Kurds, and of a homeland for the Jews. The peacemakers, so it has been said, failed dismally; failed above all to prevent another war. Margaret MacMillan argues that they have unfairly been made scapegoats for the mistakes of those who came later. They tried to be evenhanded, but their goals – to make defeated countries pay without destroying them, to satisfy impossible nationalist dreams, to prevent the spread of Bolshevism and to establish a world order based on democracy and reason – could not be achieved by diplomacy. This book offers a prismatic view of the moment when much of the modern world was first sketched out.
The Third Reich: A New History – Michael Burleigh
Setting Nazi Germany in a European context, this text shows how the Third Reich’s abandonment of liberal democracy, decency and tolerance was widespread in Europe at the time. It shows how a radical, pseudo-religious movement seemed to offer salvation to a Germany exhausted by war, depression and inflation. Filled with human and moral considerations that are missing from theoretical accounts, Michael Burleigh’s book gives full weight to the experience of ordinary people who were swept up in, or repelled by, Hitler’s movement and emphasizes international themes-for Nazi Germany appealed to many European nations, and its wartime conduct included efforts to dominate the Continental economy and involved gigantic population transfers and exterminations, recruitment of foreign labor, and multinational armies.
Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness, 1832-1869 – David Cairns
Berlioz was one of the towering figures of Romanticism: not only was he a great and revolutionary composer, but also the finest conductor of his day and an outstanding critic and writer. Yet throughout his life he struggled for money and his music was persistently reviled in his native France. With exceptional insight and sympathy, David Cairns draws together in this second volume the major strands of Berlioz’s life: his tempestuous marriage to the actress Harriet Smithson; the genesis of his famous works, including the Requiem, Romeo and Juliet and his crowning masterpiece The Trojans; his friendships with Mendelssohn, Liszt, Princess Wittgenstein and Wagner; and, finally, his last years haunted once again by personal tragedy. Here, as never before, is Berlioz the artist – and the man.