Formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction has a new sponsor this year and a longlist of ten books, whittled down last month to a shortlist of just four. Open to authors of any nationality, it covers all areas of non-fiction including current affairs, politics, history, science, sport, travel, biography and autobiography. This year’s shortlisted books are:
- Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich)
- Negroland by Margo Jefferson
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
- East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands
The longlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was announced today. The twelve books are:
Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate
Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance by Robert Gildea
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World by Oliver Morton
Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia by Peter Pomerantsev
They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson
The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman
The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky
Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Tim Snyder
This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian
‘The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story’ by Martin Edwards investigates the mysterious Detection Club of famous crime writers including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Margery Allingham amongst others. While many of the works by these authors have been dismissed by some as “cosy” crime stories compared to the more graphically violent offerings today, Edwards reveals that this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth as he investigates the stories behind the authors, their books and the curious social network that linked them together.
From the perils of crush loading on the Tokyo metro to road rage in the United States, ‘Rush Hour: How 500 million commuters survive the daily journey to work’ by Iain Gately examines the past, present and future of travelling to and from work. Commuting is an activity which takes up a significant part of everyday life for people across the world. This book outlines how it has developed and, in an era of advanced communication methods, why we still do it. Continue reading
Happy new year to you all! I have been continuing my recent spell of non-fiction reading over the Christmas holidays with Bill Bryson’s latest book ‘One Summer: America, 1927’, whose title is about as self-explanatory as it gets. As you might expect, it is indeed about the people and events which dominated the summer of 1927 in the United States of America. While it isn’t perhaps the most recognisably significant year in modern history in the same way that 1945 and 1989 are etched in the collective memory as turning points in the twentieth century, Bryson shows that this particular summer was a very important one in the social and economic history of the United States.
After reading two excellent novels in recent months about Soviet spies recruited at Cambridge University – ‘Sweet Tooth‘ by Ian McEwan and ‘Red Joan‘ by Jennie Rooney – I was intrigued by Ben Macintyre’s biography of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five spies recruited by Arnold Deutsch in the mid-1930s. Philby worked for Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS or MI6) during the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War before his activities as a double agent for the NKVD and KGB were finally uncovered in 1963.
I read ‘Wolf Hall‘ nearly a year ago and to be honest, I can’t remember a great deal about the actual content of the story and had to force myself to finish it. Although the book was undoubtedly a quality piece of historical fiction, my main gripe about it was that there were too many characters and unless you have studied early sixteenth century British history in considerable depth then it is very hard to keep track of exactly who is who. However, although ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ also has a large cast of characters, this instalment of the trilogy is set over a much narrower time period (one year rather than three decades) and the story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall is likely to be much more familiar to readers than Thomas Cromwell’s early years (at least it was to me anyway). The fact that it’s over 200 pages shorter than ‘Wolf Hall’ also helps a lot. Continue reading