Three Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Anne Applebaum, Ron Chernow and David I Kertzer, are vying for the Cundill History Prize, worth $75,000 (£57,000).
The “exceptional” eight-strong shortlist for the richest in non-fiction for a single work in English was revealed in London on Tuesday evening (25th September) featuring topics such as the lives of authors Joseph Conrad and Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well as the political power of the Pope and how factories have shaped society.
Three university publishers - Yale University Press, Oxford University Press and Harvard University Press – are represented for the award, run by Montreal’s McGill University in Canada, along with titles from PRH, W W Norton & Company , and the rest of the nominations coming from HarperCollins UK, Head of Zeus and Little, Brown.
Of the two author biographies, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World (HarperCollins UK) comes from Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff, focusing on the forces that shaped Conrad’s life such as migration, terrorism, the tensions between global capitalism and nationalism. Meanwhile the life of Wilder comes under the spotlight in Prairie Fires (Little, Brown Book Group) from US writer Caroline Fraser, promising the first comprehensive historical biography of the Little House on the Prairie author.
Applebaum is nominated for in Red Famine (PRH) the “revelatory history of Stalin’s devastating policy of agricultural collectivization…capturing the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil”, according to the prize’s organisers. The a American-born Polish author previously won the Pulitzer Prize for Gulag and Iron Curtain (PRH).
Meanwhile Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World (W W Norton)is shortlisted with New York-based professor Joshua B Freeman offering “a piercing perspective on how factories have shaped our societies and the challenges we face now”.
The only nominated Brit on the list, Tim Grady looks into the role of German Jews in Hitler’s rise to power. The University of Chester academic’s A Deadly Legacy: German Jews and the Great War (Yale University Press) was also shortlisted for the Wolfson Prize.
Fellow academic publisher Harvard University Press gets a nod for A Cold Welcome by American professor Sam White, about shows the effect the Little Ice Age had on the first European settlers in America, combining climatology, archaeology, and written historical record. And US academic Kertzer is up for The Pope Who Would Be King (Oxford University Press) explores the bloody revolution that spelled the end of the papacy as a political power and signalled the birth of modern Europe. Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2015 for The Pope and Mussolini (Oxford University Press).
Finally Chernow completes the shortlist for completes the shortlist, with an exploration of the 18th president of the US and Civil War General Ulysses S Grant. Grant (Head of Zeus) comes seven years after Chernow’s other presidential biography, Washington: A Life (PRH), which scooped the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2011.
The shortlisting announcement took place at Canada House as part of London’s inaugural Festival America, a four-day festival celebrating contemporary writing from the Americas, with the eight books contending for the $75,000 prize (£57,000), with the two runners up receiving $10,000 (£7,590) each.
Jeffrey Simpson, juror and Canadian journalist, said: “From the settlement of North America in the Little Ice Age; to biographies of the most famous general of the US Civil War and the author of Little House on the Prairie; to the grim story of the Ukrainian famine; to the world of novelist Joseph Conrad; and beyond, the authors of the shortlisted books for the Cundill Prize stretched our imaginations, stimulated our minds, and delighted us with their discoveries - and their fine writing."
He added: "Each is worthy of the world’s richest prize for historical writing.”
The three finalists will be announced in Toronto, Canada, on 31st October. The winner will be revealed at the Cundill History Prize Gala in Montreal, on 15th November alongside a series of events at McGill University including the annual Cundill History Prize Lecture, which will be delivered by the British historian Daniel Beer, who won last year’s prize for The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars (Allen Lane).