The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction 2016 Longlist

Posted on 21st September 2016 by Sally Campbell
Here are the ten titles selected as the very best non-fiction has to offer in 2016, introduced by Waterstones Online's Christopher Davies.

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (previously the Samuel Johnson Prize) has since 1999 been the UK’s preeminent literary award for non-fiction. We are pleased to reveal today the longlist of ten for the 2016 Prize – books which evidently preserve the Johnsonian commitment to the idea that “all of the best stories are true”.  

Previous winners of the Prize have become cherished bestsellers at Waterstones, from last year’s Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think by Steve Silberman, all the way back to the inaugural winner, Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad.

This year’s judging panel is chaired by the economist Stephanie Flanders who is joined by science writer Philip Ball; Jonathan Derbyshire, the executive comment editor of the Financial Times; the scholar and literary critic Dr Sophie Ratcliffe; and Rohan Silva, co-founder of the social enterprise, Second Home

The shortlist will be announced on Monday 17th October with the winner to be announced on Tuesday 15th November.

Being A Beast by Charles Foster

In perhaps one of this year’s strangest books, an Oxford academic details the results of his extraordinary experiments in living as if he were different animals – badger, otter, fox, deer, swift – in order to view the world from their perspective, and therefore to enhance his understanding of being human.

East West Street by Philippe Sands

Sands, a world-renowned lawyer who helped to create the International Criminal Court, interweaves personal, intellectual and European history to explain how the legal concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity came to be defined at the Nuremberg trials. Among widespread acclaim as a major contribution to writing about the Holocaust, Antony Beevor has praised it as ‘an important work of truth’.

Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson

The award-winning biographer and critic Frances Wilson captures the essence of her subject and brings to life his exhilarating and anarchic world in this compelling multi-faceted  “De Quinceyan biography”  of the infamous century essayist, ‘opium eater’ and Romantic genius.

Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson

This devastatingly honest memoir approaches the difficult issues of race, class and identity within American society from the complicated perspective of Chicago’s relatively affluent and educated black elite community. Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is clear-eyed in her reflections upon her own status: at once privileged yet still an outsider.

Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich

Journalist Svetlana Alexeivich, last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, deftly assembles the poignant testimonies of dozens of interviewees to describe what it meant to live and believe in the Soviet Union, in her words, “piecing together the history of ‘domestic’, ‘interior’ it existed in a person’s soul”.

Stalin and the Scientists by Simon Ings

Ranging across the scientific disciplines, in a tour d’horizon of twentieth-century political and scientific history, Simon Ings explores the integral ideological and practical significance of science to the Soviet state, and describes the conflicts between the scientists and the politicians seeking to remake the world.

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Siddhartha Mukherjee has followed the success of the bestselling Emperor of All Maladies, his ‘biography’ of cancer, with this ‘intimate portrait’ of the gene. While lucidly explaining the history of genetic science he also searches for answers about the origins of mental illness within his own family, and looks ahead to what mastery of the genome might mean for the future of humankind.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between by Hisham Matar

In this memoir the acclaimed author of In the Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance attempts to come to terms with the disappearance of his father, a Libyan dissident kidnapped by Gaddafi’s secret police over twenty years ago and never seen again. ‘Wise and agonizing and thrilling to read' (Zadie Smith).

The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velasquez by Laura Cumming

Crossing the genres of biography and art history, this feat of historical detective work from the Observer’s art critic attempts to resolve the mystery of a Victorian bookseller who was left was ruined by his obsession with a lost painting of the great 17th-century Spanish artist Velázquez.

This Is London by Ben Judah

In a work that has drawn comparison with the reportage of George Orwell, Ben Judah’s interviews with immigrants across all walks of life present us with a kaleidoscopic portrait of life in the world city that the capital of the United Kingdom has become.





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