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The Baillie Gifford Prize 2020 longlist announced

9 September 2020

Today, Thursday 10 September, the longlist for The 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced.

The 2020 longlist is:

The longlist has been chosen by a panel chaired by BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Martha Kearney together with fellow BBC presenter, professor and author Shahidha Bari, editor and novelist Simon IngsNew Statesman writer Leo RobsonNew York Times opinion editor Max Strasser and journalist and author Bee Wilson.

Martha Kearney, chair of judges, says:
"Narrowing more than two hundred books down to a long list has been a Herculean task, made even more challenging by the lockdown. Despite the joys of Zoom, we have managed to agree on thirteen exceptional books which reflect the creative power of 21st century non-fiction from new writers to accomplished authors, spanning war, art, science, history, ghosts and The Beatles.”

The 13-strong list features a diverse list of topics and features two former winners, as well as the youngest ever author in prize history to be longlisted. 16-year old activist and autism advocate Dara McAnulty’s Diary of a Young Naturalist is series of diary entries about wildlife provides a unique insight into a teenager’s connection with the natural world.

Biographies of iconic creative figures of the twentieth-century also are included in the list. The second half of William Feaver’s Baillie Gifford-shortlisted work of biography, The Lives of Lucian Freud: FAME 1968-2011 continues the story the artist’s life following him at height of his career. In One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time, Craig Brown builds a fresh kind of social and musical history of the Beatles.

Looking back further in history is Sudhir Hazareesingh with a modern biography of the great slave leader, military genius and revolutionary hero in Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture.

Two books on the list deal with care and kindness – especially within the UK healthcare context. In Labours of Love: The Crisis of Care by Madeleine Bunting combines a history and language of care with testimonies from nurses, doctors, social workers from across the UK to create a portrait of the country that seems to prioritise profit and productivity over compassion.  NHS doctor and specialist in palliative care medicine Rachel Clarke’s personal memoir Dear Life reveals the care and kindness found in the hospice.

The brain is arguably the most mysterious object in the universe and to allow a complete breakthrough in understanding how it works, Matthew Cobb looks at the science from a historical perspective in his book The Idea of the Brain: A History.

In Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women, Christina Lamb gives voice to the women of conflicts and exposes how in today’s modern warfare, rape has recently been increasingly weaponised across the world. War and ideology is also explored in Those Who Forget: One Family’s Story; A Memoir, a History, a Warning by Geraldine Schwarz. It is an account of her family’s complicity with fascism, but also collective guilt and the rise of extremism today. 

Following on from recent trends in group biographies, Francesca Wade’s debut Square Hunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars groups together five creatives, activists and revolutionaries - H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf - who were living in Mecklenburgh Square, on the fringes of interwar Bloomsbury.

Asia also features on the longlist with two books that provide fresh insight into Tibet and its relationship with China and nineteenth-century Japan. Barbara Demick (who won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010) paints a recent portrait of Tibetan history from the town of Ngaba in Eat the Buddha: The Story of Modern Tibet Through the People of One Town. In Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan, historian Amy Stanley chronicles the life of Tsuneno and as such provides a window into nineteenth-century Tokyo and Japanese culture.

Finally from the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize winner Kate Summerscale is The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story. This is a compelling narrative non-fiction account of supernatural events in a suburban home.

The shortlist for the 2020 award will be announced on Thursday 15 October.

The winner of the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction will be announced in a virtual celebration, generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, on Tuesday 24 November.

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

Last year’s winner was Hallie Rubenhold for The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, which in paperback went on to become a Waterstones Book of the Month and a Sunday Times number one bestseller