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Baillie Gifford 2017 Shortlist Announced

6th October 2017

The shortlist for the £30,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, has been announced. The six titles chosen by the judging panel span history, popular science, travel and memoir, with several addressing grand themes including identity, faith, medicine and mortality.

The six titles on this year’s shortlist are:


The history of Islam is the subject of Christopher de Bellaigue’s The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle, which looks at some of the visionaries and radicals of historic Islamic civilisations from Cairo to Tehran. Historian Simon Schama chronicles more than four centuries of Jewish history through remarkable personal stories in Belonging: the Story of the Jews, 1492-1900.


Kapka Kassabova’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. If Kassabova’s book is a fusion of travel writing and memoir then Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic combines the latter with literary studies, reflecting on the father-son relationship through the lens of Homer’s seminal poem.


There are two works of popular science on the list, with two very different books exploring the boundaries of science. 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 explores the technological and philosophical movement of transhumanism through encounters with some of its key players.


Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of judges, said: ‘The exceptional shortlist for the 2017 Baillie Gifford Prize covers religion, culture, science and sexuality... and that’s just for starters. But what all the six books have in common is that they’re incredibly well-written, they’re really enjoyable and they tell great stories.’


The shortlist was chosen by a panel chaired by author and Chairman of ITV Sir Peter Bazalgette, together with Anjana Ahuja, science writer; Ian Bostridge, tenor and writer;  Professor Sarah Churchwell, academic and writer and Razia Iqbal, journalist and broadcaster.


The winner will be announced on Thursday 16 November.


The first winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (previously the Samuel Johnson Prize) was Philippe Sands for East West Street.


Find out more about the Prize and past winners on our Baillie Gifford Prize page


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Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe
Kapka Kassabova
The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern...
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To be a Machine: Adventures Among...
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An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an...
Daniel Mendelsohn
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