Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Orange Prize for Old White Guys' Books?

Carolyn Weaver, the TV book critic, boycotted last night's Donner Prize, a $35,000 prize for Canadian public policy books, because the juries are always old white guys.

The Donner prize-giving managed to go on without her last night. The award went to The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention, a University of Toronto Press book by the senior political scientist David E. Smith of Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile a Canadian financial sector zillionaire named Cundill is going to endow a $75,000 annual prize for historical non-fiction. Cundill thinks historical writing is like financial analysis: you consider the past to see the future. He can't remember anything he studied in history at McGill but has a particular interest in General Douglas MacArthur. Biography, war, supreme command; the classic old-white-guy book topics. Carolyn Weaver should maybe keep an eye on jury selection for this one.

Happens I was reading David Smith's very book last night. I'm reading it for a review, so I'll save my thoughts. I'll just say it's a book to engage with rather than simply to admire, but he's entitled to his award, for it's an ambitious and substantial piece of work. Forget his age, skin colour, and gender. He's written a political science tract that is also a tragic lament.

Late update: Okay, give credit where it's due. The National Business Book Award ($20,000) is sponsored by a big bank and a giant accounting consultancy, but it has a track record of unconventional choices, ones that sometimes leave the commentators saying "That is a business book?" The 2008 winner, announced April 22, is William Marsden's Stupid to the Last Drop, a not-exactly worshipful study of Alberta's energy policies. A few years ago it was Naomi Klein's No Logo, also not a cheerleading-for-business title. The prize committee (former Ontario premier Bill Davis, chair) seems to believe the duty of business books includes telling business things it may not want to hear.

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