Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prize Watch: Cundill Prize finalists

The finalists for the Cundill Prize in history have been announced by McGill University.

In September, the Cundill announced a longish shortlist, six titles and two honorable mentions, which usually suggests a weak, confused, or divided jury. And whereas it seemed the Cundlll was unabashedly a prize for the serious and scholarly, generally honouring 600-page blockbusters full of original scholarship on often obscure corners of world history, this year's shortlist seemed a bit newsier and more "pop" -- books you might have heard of anyway. The only one of the shortlisted titles I happen to have read, Black Count by the American journalist Tom Reiss, is a lively and interesting read on the rise and fall of novelist Alexandre Dumas's father, a Caribbean mulatto who became a Napoleonic general. But I hadn't thought of it as Cundill material.

This week came the announcement of three "finalists," putting three shortlist titles and both honourable mentions out of the running. The survivors are all highly credentialled academics, though two of the nominated works have been substantial bestsellers:
Anne Applebaum - Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956
Christopher Clark - The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914
Fredrik Logevall - Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize winner in the past, teaches in Britain and writes for the Washington Post and Slate, and her Iron Curtain has been widely reviewed. Clark teaches at Cambridge, and Sleepwalkers has been getting a lot of attention in the runup to the First War centenary. Logevall teaches at Cornell, and he and his book may be the least well known of the finalists. The full Cundill release is here.

Those voted off the island were shortlister Lynne Olson - Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, Tom Reiss - The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, and ChristianCarylStrange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century. And the honourable mentions, Peter Brown's Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West and Yang Jisheng - Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962
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