8th September 2017
The 12 titles on the longlist for the £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction are as bold as they are diverse, ranging from literary biography and history to popular science, memoir and polemic. They are:
Questions of race, religion and identity all feature, with Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race challenging readers on matters of colour, while Soaud Mekhennet documents her experiences as a Western Muslim woman behind the lines of jihad, offering new perspectives on radical Islam and ISIS in I was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind The Lines of Jihad.
Christopher de Bellaigue counters historic and current narratives around Islamic civilisations in The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle between Faith and Reason, looking at the adoption of modern ideals and practices in the Muslim world from the nineteenth century to the present day. Religious groups are also at the heart of Simon Schama’s The Story of The Jews: Belonging, which spans more than four centuries and several continents in an extensive work of Jewish history.
The nature of territory and the turbulent international landscape is tackled in Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine, an account of the deliberate starvation of the Ukrainian people under the USSR, while Caroline Moorehead’s A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rosselis and the Fight Against Mussolini explores one family’s remarkable resistance to another regime.
Kapka Kasssabova’s Border: A Journey to The Edge of Europe examines the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, once rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall. There are border crossings of a different kind in Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense as Jenny Uglow follows iconic poet Edward Lear across land and sea – to Italy, Greece, Albania and more – to seek sense in the ‘nonsense’ for which he is known.
Journeys figurative and literal anchor Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic Poem, a meditation on the father-son relationship through the lens of Homer’s seminal work. Parents and children are very much central to Allan Jenkins’ Plot 29, a memoir in which the author reflects on the challenges of being a foster child and therapeutic merits of gardening.
Two popular science titles feature on the list. David France’s How to Survive a Plague tells the story of the grassroots AIDS activists, many of whom suffered from the disease, who helped develop the essential drugs that shifted the tide in the fight against an infection that was mostly fatal at the time. Mark O’Connell’s To Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death also looks at profound scientific issues, exploring the technological and philosophical movement of transhumanism through the lens of those aspiring to live forever.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of judges, said:
'Two sweaty hours in a small room… but eventually white smoke. We’re really excited about this longlist. We’ve got history, science, biography, polemic and memoir. But two things link them all – they’re wonderfully well-written and they’re really contemporary.'
The longlist has been chosen by a panel chaired by author and Chairman of ITV Sir Peter Bazalgette, together with Anjana Ahuja, science writer; Ian Bostridge, tenor; Professor Sarah Churchwell, academic and writer and Razia Iqbal, journalist and broadcaster.
The shortlist for the 2017 award will be announced on Friday 6 October and the winner on Thursday 16 November.
The winner will receive £30,000 and each of the shortlisted authors will receive £1,000.