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The Baillie Gifford Prize 2020 shortlist announced

15 October 2020

The shortlist for the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Thursday 15 October.  
The 2020 shortlist is:
One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown (Harper Collins, 4th Estate)
The Idea of the Brain: A History by Matthew Cobb (Profile Books)
Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh (Penguin Random House, Allen Lane)
Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women by Christina Lamb (Harper Collins, William Collins)
The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury Publishing, Bloomsbury Circus)
The shortlist 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 Ings, New Statesman writer Leo Robson, New York Times opinion editor Max Strasser and journalist and author Bee Wilson.
Martha Kearney, chair of judges, says: 
“In 2020 we certainly learned that truth is stranger than fiction and our shortlist shows the sheer power of real life stories. From brain science to Beatlemania, Shoguns to suburban poltergeists, sex slavery to slave rebellions, this is our eclectic lockdown library.” 
The shortlist reflects the wide spectrum on offer in non-fiction publishing, with a particular focus on history.  The finalists showcase the ways in which detailed research, and quality writing can be combined to tell powerful true stories. 
Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time is a unique take on the cultural history of The Beatles, telling the story of that most iconic band in an entirely new way. 
The Idea of the Brain by Matthew Cobb, the only science book on this year’s shortlist, is an examination of what we think we know about the brain and why, despite technological and scientific advances, the organ remains somewhat of a mystery. 
In Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture, historian Sudhir Hazareesingh uses intricate original research to provide a definitive and vivid account of the extraordinary life of the leader of the 18th century slave rebellion in Haiti. 
In Christina Lamb’s book, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women, the renowned foreign correspondent presents an indelible portrait of the ways in which rape is weaponised in modern warfare. 
In Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan, the historian Amy Stanley describes the life of her protagonist, Tsuneno, and presents a vibrant portrayal of nineteenth-century Tokyo. 
The shortlist is completed by The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story, by Kate Summerscale, the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, 2008. Her new book is a captivating narrative describing a series of apparently inexplicable paranormal events in a suburban home in 1930’s London. 
The winner of the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction will be announced in a live virtual celebration, generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation, on Tuesday 24 November at 6pm GMT. 
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.