The shortlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize, a leading British nonfiction award, has been announced. “In 2020 we certainly learned that truth is stranger than fiction and our shortlist shows the sheer power of real life stories," Martha Kearney, chair of the judging panel, said in a statement. "From brain science to Beatlemania, Shoguns to suburban poltergeists, sex slavery to slave rebellions, this is our eclectic lockdown library.”
Among the honored books is The Idea of the Brain: A History by Matthew Cobb (Basic Books). Kirkus’ review called it a "lucid account of brain research, our current knowledge, and problems yet to be solved." Sudhir Hazareesingh's Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) offers "a thorough reconsideration of the legendary Haitian leader, whose deployment of republican ideals of racial equality were radical and transformative—and still resonate today," according to our review.
A starred Kirkus review called Christina Lamb's Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women (Scribner) a "searing, absolutely necessary exposé of the uses of rape in recent wars and of global injustices to the survivors." In Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan (Scribner), Amy Stanley "brings a deep knowledge of Japanese culture to a vibrant portrait of the Asian nation centered on the struggles of one defiant woman," according to our review.
Two of the shortlisted books haven’t been published yet in the U.S.: One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time, by Craig Brown, and The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale (Penguin Press, April 27, 2021).
Founded in 1999, the competition is open to authors of any nationality whose work is published in the U.K. It comes with a purse of about $64,000. Last year’s winner was Hallie Rubenhold for The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
The winner will be announced in a virtual celebration on November 24.