The Baillie Gifford Prize is the most prestigious literary award for non-fiction in the world. We checked in with some past winners about their year in reading.
Craig Brown, 2020 Baillie Gifford Award Winner 150 views on the Beatles, recommends:
Geoff Dyer is the funniest and most original nonfiction writer we have. IN Last days of Roger Federer, Dyer uses Federer’s retirement as a springboard for looping observations of things coming to an end, taking in figures as diverse as JWM Turner, Anna Karenina, Gillian Welch and George Best, with hilarious discussions of such neglected topics as the morality of stealing a bottle of shampoo from hotel bedrooms and the boredom of reading poetry: “At every poetry reading, no matter how enjoyable, the words we look forward to the most are always the same: ‘I’m going to read two more poems.’ That’s great to hear. You can feel a sigh of relief go through the audience.”
I’m pretty new to graphic novels and had certainly never read a graphic memoir before stumbling across it The Murder Book: A Vivid Memoir of a True Crime Obsession by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. You wouldn’t expect a book with a title like that to be good fun, but it is what it is: it examines its own fascination with famous killers like Manson and Ted Bundy in a way that’s captivating, entertaining, intriguing, amusing, and shocking—and often all at the same time.
Antony Beevor, winner in 1999 for Stalingrad, recommends:
The irony was clear. As soon as I handed in my new book Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921 at the end of 2021 I started reading novels on a regular basis to make up for my deliberate avoidance of fiction during the last years of researching and writing my own non-fiction. But then in February, the focus on Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine suddenly meant there were more important books on the subject. The publishers sent me two short histories by two experts I hold in high esteem, Orlando Figes The story of Russia and Rodric Braithwaite Russia: myths and reality.
And with journalists from so many different countries asking for interviews about Russia and the war in Ukraine, I caught up on other books I’d been meaning to read, like Catherine Belton Putin’s people, which was a triumph of both research and courage in facing the oligarchs who tried to destroy it. Mark Galeotti Putin’s wars is of course a major contribution and reminder that our democratic confirmation bias worldview has blinded us to the danger of another land war in Europe. However, along the way I also re-read Stefan Zweig The world of yesterdayand I really admired Jonathan Freedland Escape artistshortlisted for Baillie Gifford.
Philippe Sands, winner for 2016 East West Street, recommends:
2022 was a very reading year. e-mail, blogs, tweets (but for much longer?), newspapers, magazines, parliamentary materials, court filings and judgments, teaching materials and student exams, and books, fictional, non-fictional, cookery and graphic.
What stands out on the non-fiction side (apart from the British Foreign Secretary’s written parliamentary statement, just a few weeks ago, that Britain and Mauritius are now engaged in Chagos negotiations, opening a possible door to a decent rapprochement with the Chagos injustices), the subject of my latest book, The last colony which will be published in the US by Knopf in 2023.
This year I participated as a judge in two literary awards, a very collegial experience with a small group of wonderful writers and academics, plowing through about two hundred works of nonfiction. Two winners educated, entertained and delighted: Alia Trabucco’s When women killand Lea Ypi’s Free. Plus, I finally caught up with the devastating Patrick Radden Keefe The realm of pain; he was delighted Diego Garcia: A novel (Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams); sweep Caroline Elkins’ A legacy of violence; preoccupied with Javier Cercas Terra Alta and Juan Gabriel Vasquez Retrospect.
Finally, as war returned to Europe on a scale not seen since the 1940s, it must be mentioned Diary of an invasion, Andrej Kurkov, a writer of our time. There’s a line that runs through so many of these works: the idea of a sharp dividing line that would separate fact from fiction seems increasingly permeable.