Dalrymple, Beaton and Lay among Cundill History Prize contenders

Dalrymple, Beaton and Lay among Cundill History Prize contenders

Books from Penguin, Bloomsbury, Wildfire, Profile and Head of Zeus have made the $75,000 Cundill History Prize's 10-strong shortlist spotlighting "history that matters". 

Usually the shortlist is made up of eight books but the jury said it wanted to allow for books on similar themes or regions taking different approaches to stand next to one another, thereby "consciously making room for different historical approaches and sensitivities". On the shortlist are two titles on India and two different accounts of the Middle East. 

Representing UK publishers on the international list are: India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 by Richard M Eaton (published by Penguin in the UK and University of California Press in the US); Roderick Beaton's Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation (published by Penguin in the UK and The University of Chicago Press in the US); William Dalrymple's The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury Publishing); Kim Ghattas' Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry that Unravelled the Middle East (published by Wildfire in the UK and Henry Holt & Co in the US); Rashid Khalidi's The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017 (published by Profile Books in the UK and Metropolitan Books in the US); and History Today editor Paul Lay's Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate (Head of Zeus). 

Also shortlisted are an account of black working-class activism in Kerri Greenidge's Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (Liveright Publishing); the study of an 18th-century slave uprising in Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War by Vincent Brown (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press); a history of the expulsion of Native Americans in the 1930s in Claudio Saunt's Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (W W Norton & Company); and the  story of the Aztecs through their own words in Camilla Townsend's Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs (Oxford University Press USA).

The shortlist was announced by Peter Frankopan, chair of the jury, together with jurors Anne Applebaum, Lyse Doucet, Eliga Gould and Sujit Sivasundaram in a virtual event, broadcast in partnership with Literary Hub on Tuesday evening, 22nd September. 

The history prize, administered by McGill University in Montreal, is rolling out a fully digital event programme between now and late November, when the winner will be announced. On Tuesday the jurors were joined by past winners Julia Lovell (2019, Maoism), Maya Jasanoff (2018, The Dawn Watch) and Daniel Beer (2017, The House of the Dead) for a conversation that viewed the current historical moment through a critical lens.

Frankopan said: "2020 has been a year of profound change–in so many ways, not just the pandemic–and studying and reading about the past helps us remember the people, the places, the times, for good and for bad, when history has changed in individual countries, in regions, in continents and globally. There is a real resonance in the books that we have chosen."

He added: "This is a wonderful list of books. Richly varied, exciting, illuminating. Individually, these 10 books are outstanding and as a group they make for a fantastic collection. There are some classics in there, there is no doubt about that. Each book shows just how alive and vibrant and flourishing first-class scholarship and non-fiction writing are in the world today: for all the frustrations and disappointments we have in the world, history is alive and well. It’s important that good groundbreaking new history writing explains what is important and why it matters. And each of the 10 books we have chosen for this shortlist does that–in many different ways."

The $75,000 winner will be announced on 20th October, with two runners-up each receiving $10,000.