Dikötter scoops Samuel Johnson Prize

Dikötter scoops Samuel Johnson Prize

Dutch academic Frank Dikötter has won the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2011 for his "meticulous account of a brutal manmade calamity", Mao’s Great Famine, published by Bloomsbury.

The announcement was made by chair of the judges, author Ben Macintyre, at an awards ceremony In London last night. The event will be televised on BBC2's Culture Show tonight from 7pm.

Dikötter, who was one of a small number of historians permitted access to Chinese archives since they were re-opened, explores Chairman Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign between 1958 and 1962, which left 45m people dead.  "Take Pol Pot and multiply by ten and you get close to the horror," said Dikötter.

Macintyre said: "This meticulous account of a brutal manmade calamity is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the history of the 20th century. This epic record of human folly is stunningly original and hugely important, and casts Chinese history in a radical new light, with a devastating psychological portrait of the dictator whose "Great Leap Forward' plunged China into catastrophe."

As he picked up the prize, Dikötter thanked his agent, Gillon Aitken, and all the team at Bloomsbury, especially his editor, Michael Fishwick. The win means Bloomsbury has taken the prize three times  - all in the last five years -  and accordingly becomes the most successful publisher in the event's history.

Dikötter took home £20,000, with each of the other five shortlisted authors receiving £1,000: Andrew Graham Dixon for Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Allen Lane); Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles (HarperPress); Matt Ridley for The Rational Optimist (Fourth Estate); Jonathan Steinberg for Bismarck: A Life (Oxford University Press); John Stubbs for Reprobates (Viking).

The Samuel Johnson was set up in 1999. Previous winners are:-

1999   Antony Beevor (Stalingrad) Penguin
2000   David Cairns (Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness) Penguin
2001   Michael Burleigh (The Third Reich) Pan Mac
2002   Margaret Macmillan (Peacemakers: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919)
John Murray
2003   TJ Binyon Pushkin: A Biography (HarperCollins)
2004   Anna Funder Stasisland (Granta)
2005   Jonathan Coe Like a Fiery Elephant (Picador)
2006   James Shapiro 1599: A Year in the life of William Shakespeare (Faber)
2007   Rajiv Chandrasekaran Imperial Life in the Emerald Cit (Bloomsbury)
2008   Kate Summerscale The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Bloomsbury)
2009   Philip Hoare Leviathan of The Whale (Fourth Estate)
2010   Barbara Demick Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea (Granta)