The £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize is a nonfiction literary award. The prize was launched in 1999 and was originally known as the Samuel Johnson prize until 2015 when it saw its name changed to the current Baillie Gifford Award. The prize is one of the best known British literary awards for nonfiction books and was founded after the demise of the NCR Book Award.
On 22nd October, the 2019 shortlist was announced, and what a shortlist it is! We have that here for you, with a video from the judges, explaining their choices.
And here is that shortlist in full.
Furious Hours – Casey Cep
Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted—thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.
Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more years working on her own version of the case.
On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming
In the autumn of 1929, a small child was kidnapped from a Lincolnshire beach. Five agonising days went by before she was found in a nearby village. The child remembered nothing of these events and nobody ever spoke of them at home. It was another fifty years before she even learned of the kidnap.
The girl became an artist and had a daughter, art writer Laura Cumming. Cumming grew up enthralled by her mother’s strange tales of life in a seaside hamlet of the 1930s, and of the secrets and lies perpetuated by a whole community. So many puzzles remained to be solved. Cumming began with a few criss-crossing lives in this fraction of English coast – the postman, the grocer, the elusive baker – but soon her search spread right out across the globe as she discovered just how many lives were affected by what happened that day on the beach – including her own.
The Lives of Lucian Freud – William Feaver
This brilliantly researched and well written book begins with the Freuds’ life in Berlin, the rise of Hitler and the family’s escape to London in 1933 when Lucian was 10. Sigmund Freud was his grandfather and Ernst, his father was an architect.
In London in his twenties, his first solo show was in 1944 at the Lefevre Gallery. Around this time, Stephen Spender introduced him to Virginia Woolf, at night he was taking Pauline Tennant to the Gargoyle Club, owned by her father and frequented by Dylan Thomas; he was also meeting Sonia Orwell, Cecil Beaton, Auden, Patrick Leigh-Fermor and the Aly Khan, and his muse was a married femme fatale, 13 years older, Lorna Wishart. But it was Francis Bacon who would become his most important influence and the painters Frank Auerbach and David Hockney, close friends.
Maoism: A Global History – Julie Lovell
For decades, the West has dismissed Maoism as an outdated historical and political phenomenon. Since the 1980s, China seems to have abandoned the utopian turmoil of Mao’s revolution in favour of authoritarian capitalism. But Mao and his ideas remain central to the People’s Republic and the legitimacy of its Communist government. With disagreements and conflicts between China and the West on the rise, the need to understand the political legacy of Mao is urgent and growing.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper – Hallie Rubenhold
Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden, and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.
What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.
The shortlisted authors will take part in a special event at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road, London, hosted by the BBC’s Razia Iqbal on 18 November.
The winner of the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 19 November at an awards dinner at the Science Museum generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
The winner will receive £50,000 and each of the shortlisted authors will receive £1,000.
Last year’s winner was Serhii Plokhy for Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, the account of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which also won the Pushkin House Book Prize 2019.