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Shortlist announced for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

15 October 2021

  • A sweeping, panoramic shortlist that ranges over post human futures and post-war Germany, post-communist Albania, hubris and greed in the empires of the Sackler family and Robert Maxwell; and intimate reflections on everyday racism and discrimination.

The shortlist for the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Friday 15 October at a live event at the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

The titles on this year’s shortlist are:

This this year’s shortlist explores history, race and the environment and reveals the hidden history a society in profound transition; a notorious historical figure and a global philanthropic dynasty.

In Island of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, Cal Flyn examines the places left behind when humans have gone — ghost towns, exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands — to consider what happens after all the people have gone. And how far can our damage to nature be undone?

In a revealing, revisionist history, Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945–1955 by Harald Jähner (translated by Shaun Whiteside), shed new light on the complex relationship between the victors and vanquished in Germany in the decade after the Second World War.

New York Times bestseller Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe is a relentless investigation of the greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s greatest fortunes.

Things I Have Withheld by award-winning poet and novelist Kei Miller is a collection of essays that uses bodies and the histories our bodies inherit to examines everyday acts of racism and prejudice. In doing so, it invites us to interrogate what is, and isn’t, sayable — and why.

In his revelatory Sunday Times Bestseller Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, John Preston lays bare the epic insecurity, avarice and vanity that Maxwell tried to keep hidden.

The shortlist is completed by Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi. Ypi’s  memoir describes how the seismic political rupture that took place in Albania after the collapse  of the Berlin Wall challenged the author’s beliefs about freedom — and even reality itself.

Andrew Holgate, chair of judges, says:
“I'm not sure I've ever been on a judging panel on which I've felt so invigorated and excited by the shortlist as I have on this Baillie Gifford Prize panel. Every one of these books is an enveloping read. There's attack here, deep learning, challenge, keen analysis and revelation, but above all, there is outstanding storytelling, and deep pleasure to be had in reading all six of the books on this list.”

The shortlist 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, historian and author Kathryn Hughes, author and TV and radio presenter Johny Pitts and historian and writer Dominic Sandbrook.

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 went on to become number 1 on The Sunday Times Bestseller List.