William Dalrymple, Vincent Brown and Camilla Townsend have been announced as the 2020 finalists for the $75,000 (£58,000) Cundill History Prize, the highest value non-fiction award in the world.
Peter Frankopan, chair of the 202 jury, revealed the titles in a live stream across social media channels for the prize, which is administered by McGill University.
British historian Dalrymple was named a finalist for The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury). The book lays bare how one of the world’s largest empires came to be replaced by a dangerously unregulated private company.
Judge Sujit Sivasundaram said: “The story of the rise of the East India Company in South Asia has seen a fantastic wave of scholarship in recent years, and the signal achievement of William Dalrymple in The Anarchy is to take this scholarship to a wide public audience.”
Brown, professor of American history and African American studies at Harvard University, is picked for Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave (Harvard University Press). The book sees Brown place a momentous 18th-century slave revolt into its wider geographical context, using digital cartography to trace how the event shook the empire and reshaped ideas of race.
Anne Applebaum, one of the judging panel, commented: “It brings together stories from all over the world, and uses them to explain this one series of events, and shows the events from perspectives we aren’t used to seeing. It will make you think differently about the history of slavery, about the history of colonialism, and even about the history of Africa.”
Townsend, Distinguished Professor of history at Rutgers University, was chosen for Fifth Sun: A History of the Aztecs (Oxford University Press). Her book tells people’s story through their own words, grounded in texts written by indigenous people themselves.
Judge Lyse Doucet said: “This is history at its best. Taking us back to a history we thought we knew and understood, but now realise through books like this that we’re only beginning to scratch the surface. This is not just a retelling of history — it changes history.”
Following the announcement, the finalists are being celebrated on the Cundill History Prize website, with juror and partner videos, extracts, author interviews and more.
Frankopan said: “These are three magnificent books chosen from an extraordinarily strong shortlist. The works of the finalists shine new light on topics that are riveting, revelatory and revolutionary. But they do not just offer important insights into the past; they also each have a striking resonance for the world around us in 2020.”
The 2020 Cundill History Prize Festival, which will be held digitally, will see the overall winner announced on 3rd December.