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Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021 longlist is announced

9 September 2021

  • This year’s longlist explores empire and its impact, personal stories, the environment and notorious historical figures
  • A range of international authors figure, including two books in translation
  • Shortlist to be announced on 15 October at Cheltenham Literary Festival

The longlist for the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Thursday 9 September.

The titles on this year’s longlist are:

This year’s 13 strong longlist includes two translated books: Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory translated by Sasha Dugdale (also shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize). Maria, a Russian poet, essayist and journalist tells the survival story of her seemingly ordinary Jewish family who somehow managed to resist a myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century. Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945–1955 by Harald Jähner, translated by Shaun Whiteside, is a revealing exploration of the lesser told yet incredibly important history of Germany in the first decade after World War II.

Two books on the list look at the British Empire and its impact on society.  Sunday Times bestseller Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera provides an insightful and frank revelation of the many ways modern Britain is rooted in its imperial past. Blood Legacy: Reckoning With a Family's Story of Slavery by Alex Renton addresses his family’s contribution to the transatlantic slave trade, through a compelling story of personal discovery, Alex considers how we can begin to make reparations for the past.

New York Times bestseller Empire of Pain:  The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Pattrick Radden Keefe is a grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin.

Books navigating the life of notorious historical figures include Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston, also a Sunday Times bestseller, tells the gripping story the rise and fall of the infamous business tycoon Robert Maxwell. Burning Man: The Ascent of DH Lawrence by Frances Wilson, a judge of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2019, follows the life of DH Lawrence from the peninsular underworld of Cornwall in 1915 to post-war Italy to the mountains of New Mexico, and traces the author's footsteps through the pages of his lesser known work.

Blending memoir and medical history Consumed: A Sister's Story by Arifa Akbar tells the story of Arifa’s sister and her battle with a serious illness exploring grief, loss, sisterhood and family. Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi tell the coming of age story of Lea Ypi during Albania’s turbulent political upheaval after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Societal changes and personal revelations lead Lea to challenge our beliefs about ideals and reality, hopes and fears, and what freedom really means.

Island of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn looks at what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place, through an examination of ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s land and post-industrial hinterlands.

Minarets in the Mountains:  A Journey into Muslim Europe by Tharik Hussain is an eye-opening account that sheds light on a Europe often not acknowledged or understood. The first English travel narrative by a Muslim writer on this subject, Minarets in the Mountains takes us through regions where Islam has had in integral role shaping the places and culture of people.

The Mutant Project:  Inside the Global Race to Genetically Modify Humans by Eben Kirksey takes us on a continent-hopping journey to meet the key scientists, lobbyists, and entrepreneurs who are bringing cutting-edge genetic engineering tools like CRISPR to their local clinics. The author ventures beyond the scientific echo chamber, talking to disabled scholars, doctors, hackers, chronically ill patients and activists who provide alternative visions of a genetically modified future for humanity.

Things I Have Withheld by award-winning poet and novelist Kei Miller is a collection of essays that examines the silence in which so many important things are kept. Miller powerfully and imaginatively recounts everyday acts of racism and prejudice and challenges us to interrogate what seems unsayable and why – our actions, defence mechanisms, imaginations and interactions – and those of the world around us.


Andrew Holgate, chair of judges, says:
“We have worked incredibly hard as a group of judges on this longlist, and ranged a long way out of our boundaries to ensure we picked up promising books that might not otherwise have been considered. I think and hope that the results of that speak for themselves - a list full of rigour, endeavour, variety and real verve, open to a broad readership, with some terrific surprises, and an onus on originality. I can’t thank my fellow judges enough for their generosity, commitment and cohesiveness, and I can’t wait for the shortlist now.”

The longlist has been chosen by a panel chaired by Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate, alongside award winning novelist Sara Collins, physicist, oceanographer, writer and broadcaster Dr Helen Czerski, biographer and critic Kathryn Hughes, author and TV and radio presenter Johny Pitts and historian and writer Dominic Sandbrook.

The shortlist for the 2021 award will be announced on Friday 15 October, live from the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The winner of the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction will be announced at an event at the Science Museum, generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, on Tuesday 16 November.

The winner will receive £50,000 and each of the shortlisted authors will receive £1,000.

Last year’s winner was Craig Brown for One, Two, Three, Four: The Beatles in Time, which in paperback went on to become a Waterstones Book of the Month.