Four of the six books on the shortlist for the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction are titles from Penguin Random House, following the pattern set in fiction by the current Man Booker Prize shortlist.
John Campbell’s Roy Jenkins, a biography of the former politician and writer, and Helen Macdonald’s account of training a hawk while dealing with the grief of her father’s death, H is for Hawk, are both from Random House imprint Jonathan Cape. Also from Random House is Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France (Chatto & Windus), the story of villagers in Vichy France hiding Jewish children during the Nazis occupation. Penguin imprint Fig Tree has Alison Light’s Common People, in which the author explores her family history through generations of obscurity and poverty, on the shortlist.
Completing the shortlist are two books from independents: Marion Coutts’ The Iceberg: A Memoir, (Atlantic), an account of her husband’s death from a brain tumour; and The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin (Oneworld), which documents a slave rebellion said to illuminate America’s struggle with slavery and freedom during the Age of Revolution.
Each of the shortlisted authors receives £1,000.
Author and historian Claire Tomalin, chair of judges, said: “We found it difficult to reach a shortlist as we had so many good books to choose from - we had some painful decisions to make. However, we all ended by feeling we had chosen the best shortlist possible. We found a consistently high quality of writing - clarity, colour, enthusiasm, vigour – and authors who were intellectually and emotionally engaged with their subjects.”
She added: “Each of these books could be the winner of the prize and we now face the almost impossible task of deciding on just one."
Joining Tomalin on the 2014 judging panel are Alan Johnson MP, Financial Times books editor Lorien Kite, philosopher Ray Monk, and historian Ruth Scurr.
The winner of the 2014 prize will be announced on Tuesday 4th November. Lucy Hughes-Hallett won the 2013 prize for her book The Pike (4th Estate), which went on to win the 2013 Costa Book Award for Biography.