Women dominate the shortlist for an award for non-fiction books. Five out of six authors shortlisted for the prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize are women. The winner gets GBP 50 000 and each of the shortlisted gets GBP 10 000. The winner will be announced on November 17.
“The six books on the first-ever majority female-authored Baillie Gifford shortlist are marvellously wide-ranging, in terms of setting, era, and the creative approaches on display. But however different the canvas, all have enthralling human stories at their heart”, said Caroline Sanderson, chair of judges.
The award is open to authors of any nationality. It covers all non-fiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.
Their selection was made from the 12 books on the longlist, which had been chosen from 362 books published between 1 November 2021 and 31 October 2022.
Caroline Elkins’ Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire; Sally Hayden’s My Fourth Time, We Drowned; Anna Keay’s The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown; Polly Morland’s A Fortunate Woman: A Country Doctor’s Story, and Katherine Rundell’s Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne and Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.
Caroline Sanderson, chair of judges, said:
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, Jonathan Freedland reveals the heroism of Rudolf Vrba, who in 1944 at the age of nineteen, alongside fellow inmate Fred Wetzler, became the first Jews ever to break out of Auschwitz. Freedland explores Vrba’s life following this, and his mission to reveal to the world the truth of the Holocaust, which would see him reach Roosevelt, Churchill and the pope and eventually save over 200,000 lives.
Meanwhile, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell gives readers a window into the little known myriad lives the poet John Donne lived. The book shows us the many sides of his life, his obsessions, his blazing words, and his tempestuous Elizabethan times – unveiling Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.
Two of the books on the shortlist explore the history of Britain. Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins lays bare the British Empire’s pervasive use of violence throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on more than a decade of research on four continents, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire implicates all sides of the political divide regarding the creation, execution, and cover-up of imperial violence.
Going further back in time, The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown by Anna Keay looks back to 1649, when Britain was engulfed by revolution. On a raw January afternoon, the Stuart king, Charles I, was executed for treason. Within weeks the English monarchy had been abolished and the ‘useless and dangerous’ House of Lords discarded. The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown tells the story – still surprisingly little known – of Britain’s eleven years as a republic, focused on the lives of people who lived through those years. It is the story of how these tempestuous years set the British Isles on a new course, and of what happened when a conservative people tried revolution.
Bringing us into the present day are two books that address current affairs, using human stories to explain complex issues. My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route by Sally Hayden, which won The Orwell Prize 2022, unpicks the ramifications of a Western world that has turned its back on refugees, fuelling one of the most devastating human rights disasters in history. At its heart, this is a book about people who have made unimaginable choices, risking everything to survive in a system that wants them to be silent and disappear.
A Fortunate Woman: A Country Doctor’s Story by Polly Morland tells of the author’s discovery of the book A Fortunate Man by John Berger, a 1967 account of a country doctor working in the same valley she lives in more than half a century earlier. This chance discovery led Morland to the remarkable doctor who serves that valley community today, a woman whose own medical vocation was inspired by reading the very same book as a teenager.