Skip to content

History of The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

In 1998, Stuart Proffitt, a publisher, and Dotti Irving, a leading PR executive, launched an award for non-fiction books that they hoped might eventually equal the Booker Prize in recognition and prestige. Known as the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, the first award was presented at London’s Banqueting House in 1999 to Antony Beevor for his book Stalingrad.

Each year since then, a group of independent judges, selected afresh for each award, grapple with several hundred entries to produce a long list of twelve titles, a shortlist of six and, in November, a single winning book. In selecting that winner, they assess the originality, quality of writing and impact on the reader of each book.

For twenty-five years, more than 125 hardworking and distinguished judges have had a panoramic view of non-fiction publishing. They have recognised works of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. But throughout, the aim has been the same: to reward the very best in non-fiction writing, bringing the finest reflection on the world to new readers.

Though our aims are the same, our name has changed. In 2016, after support from generous anonymous philanthropists, followed by a fruitful partnership with the BBC, the prize was renamed The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, after the Edinburgh-based investment house Baillie Gifford took on the sponsorship. With Baillie Gifford’s support, it has gone from strength to strength and is now widely recognised as Britain’s preeminent non-fiction book prize.