Thursday, March 07, 2024

Prize Watch: historian takes the Gelber

Homelands: A Personal History of Europe
, by Timothy Garton Ash, is the 2024 winner of the Lionel Gelber Prize (run from the Munk School at the University of Toronto) for the world’s best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs that seeks to deepen public debate on significant international issues.

I've always liked the work of Timothy Garton Ash, partly just for his back story. He was a graduate student doing research (on postwar European labour history, essentially) in East Germany. But this was 1989. As East Germany fell apart around him, he began writing terrific dispatches for British newspapers, based on all the contacts and background he had already built up among the East Berlin workers who were bringing down the Communist regime.  Since then he's been a prof at Oxford with a very active academic career, but also writing constantly on Europe for British and American periodicals.  

I have not read Homelands, but I just might have even without the prod of the Gelber.  I also cannot help noticing that "personal" in the title of his history. Historians inserting themselves in the histories they write -- it's the trend, people, if you want readers.  

Perhaps inevitably, the Wikipedia article on him has a little John LeCarré touch: 
Garton Ash cut a suspect figure to the Stasi, who regarded him as a "bourgeois-liberal" and potential British spy. 

Although he denies being or having been a British intelligence operative, Garton Ash described himself as a "soldier behind enemy lines" and described the German Democratic Republic as a "very nasty regime indeed". 

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