Friday, November 18, 2016

Prize Watch: dining with the Cundills

Down last night to the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto for the Cundill History Prize gala, thanks to friends at Walrus magazine who had a table to fill out.

Clearly we should all write Cundillable books, not just for the $75,000, but for the dinner, the wine, the occasion. I'm not sure I was really aware Toronto had a Shangri-La Hotel, but when I said where I was going, people said "Oooh," and they were right.

Historians were actually pretty thin on the ground. Apart from the nominees I spotted David Wilson of the DBC, and Antonia Maioni, Desmond Morton and Christopher Manfredi of McGill, but the crowd was mostly Toronto movers, shakers and McGill donors. (It was a very McGill event, actually.)

The Cundill came through, however, for the jury gave the prize to the most serious and uncompromising book on the shortlist: Thomas W. Laqueur of Princeton won for The Work of The Dead: A History of Mortal Remains.  A thousand or so pages on burial practices is probably not going to threaten the bestseller lists, but Cundill winners tend to be both demanding and pretty good. Or as the Globe&Mail puts it (rimshot!):
With his book The Work of the Dead, Thomas W. Laqueur is just killing it of late. His ambitious rumination on mortal remains had already won this year’s George L. Mosse Prize and the PROSE Award in European & World History too, and now it has captured McGill University’s august Cundill Prize, an international award for non-fiction that comes with a $75,000 (U.S.) cheque.
Reviews of the finalists may follow.
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