'Satisfying' PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize shortlist revealed

'Satisfying' PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize shortlist revealed

The PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017 shortlist celebrating the best non-fiction on any historical subject has been announced, hailed by the judges "an 'antidote to the irrationalism of post-truth politics".

It comprises books across a breadth of subjects and historical periods, and is dominated by Penguin Random House books - accounting for three of the seven shortlisted titles. 

Sarah Bakewell is shortlisted for At The Existentialist Café (Chatto & Windus), bringing together three young friends - Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron - who meet up in a bar on the rue Montparnasse in Paris on the brink of 1933. The Independent on Sunday wagered in its review, "If it doesn’t win awards, I will eat my copy."

Jerry Brotton is shortlisted for This Orient Isle (Allen Lane), exploring Elizabethan England and the Islamic World. According to Penguin, it shows that England's relations with the Muslim world were "far more extensive, and often more amicable, than we have ever appreciated". 

Susan L. Carruthers is in the running for The Good Occupation (Harvard University Press), documenting America's transition from wartime combatant to postwar occupier through the experiences of ordinary servicemen and women.

Dan Cruickshank has been chosen as a finalist for Spitalfields (Random House Books), which explains how Spitalfields' streets evolved from Roman times to the present day and, according to the judges, "teaches one how to use one's eyes more intelligently".

Frank Dikötter makes the cut for The Cultural Revolution (Bloomsbury), the third chapter in the author's "People's Trilogy", looking at the last years of Mao's regime. The judges said it "takes us to an unfolding catastrophe and yet argues for the unexpected consequences of this story - known but of course barely discussed in China".

David Olusoga is shortlisted for Black and British (Macmillan), whichwas also shortlisted for the inaugural Jhalak Prize. It was published to accompany the BBC Two series of the same name.

And Tim Whitmarsh is shortlisted for Battling the Gods (Faber & Faber) about the origins for atheism in the ancient world.

Chair of the judges, Professor Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell Prize, commented the books were all "a delight to read" and made for a "very satisfying" shortlist.

"This is a very satisfying shortlist," said Seaton. "It shows how vigorous writing about history is and how topical and illuminating the issues historians pursue. The shortlisted books are argument for the vital relevance of history, but also for the authority and grace of history as an antidote to the irrationalism of ‘post truth politics’. They are all a delight to read:  yet each one has a different tone that fits their subjects. Great reads for an intelligent summer."

Seaton was joined on the judging panel by critic and historian Frances Stonor Saunders and the 2016 winner of the Hessell-Tiltman Prize Nicholas Stargardt, who was awarded the prize for The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 (The Bodley Head).

The winner of this year's prize will be revealed at the inaugural Wimpole History Festival on 9th July.