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The Prize announces the 2023 longlist

6 September 2023

The longlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, which celebrates the best in non-fiction writing, is announced today, Wednesday 6 September.

The prize aims to recognise and reward the best of non-fiction and is open to authors of any nationality. It covers all non-fiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. As part of the celebrations marking the prize’s 25th anniversary, it has been decided that as well as the winning author receiving £50,000, the other shortlisted authors will receive £5,000 (up from £1,000), bringing the total prize value up to £75,000.

The longlist of 13 books were chosen by this year’s judging panel: Literary Editor of Financial Times, Frederick Studemann (chair); award-winning author Andrea Wulf, theatre critic for The Guardian Arifa Akbar, the writer and historian Ruth Scurr, journalist and critic Tanjil Rashid and Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts Andrew Haldane.

Their selection was made from 265 books published between 1 November 2022 and 31 October 2023.

The titles on this year’s longlist are:


Title (Imprint)

Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

Power and Progress (Basic Books, John Murray Press UK, Hachette UK)

Hannah Barnes

Time to Think (Swift Press)

Tania Branigan

Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China's Cultural Revolution (Faber & Faber)

Christopher Clark

Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849 (Allen Lane, Penguin Random House)

Jeremy Eichler

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, The Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance (Faber & Faber)

David Grann

The Wager (Simon & Schuster)

Jennifer Homans

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century (Granta Books, Granta)

Katja Hoyer

Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 (Allen Lane, Penguin Press)

Tiya Miles

All That She Carried (Profile Books)

Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (The Bodley Head, Vintage, Penguin Random House UK)

Nathan Thrall

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story (Allen Lane, Penguin Press)

Chris van Tulleken

Ultra Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? (Cornerstone, Penguin Random House)

John Vaillant

Fire Weather (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton)

Frederick Studemann, chair of judges, says: “Given the wealth of options on offer, getting to a longlist was never going to be easy. And indeed, our judging discussions were intense and rigorous - and also enjoyable and highly stimulating. I'm delighted that the resulting longlist spans a wide range of subjects and genres - from history and science to technology and geopolitics along with a flash of swashbuckling adventure. The books on the longlist share an ability to communicate lucidly and engage with readers in an intelligent and relevant way.”

Several authors in this year’s longlist shed new light on familiar periods of history, bringing life to forgotten stories. With her debut book, Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China's Cultural Revolution, Tania Branigan explores the enduring impact of the Cultural Revolution through the rarely heard personal stories of the individuals who experienced Mao’s tumultuous era. In Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849, Christopher Clark vividly portrays this momentous era, marked by the collapse of political order and the spread of new ideas which would shape a new and drastically different Europe. Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans paints a portrait of the 20th Century through the extraordinary life of choreographer George Balanchine, who, born in Russia under the last Czar, experienced the upheavals of World War I, the Russian Revolution, exile, World War II, and the Cold War, before becoming the co-founder of the New York Ballet.

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, The Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance by Jeremy Eichler explores the role of music as a witness to history and a means of preserving cultural memory in the post-Holocaust world, whilst Katja Hoyer’s Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 delves into the unique identity of East Germany, including the development of this distinct German state, shaped by socialist ideals, secret police, central planning, and the geopolitical realities of the Cold War era. With All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, Tiya Miles offers a new and deeply personal history of American slavery. The book centers on a seemingly simple cloth sack and traces its origins to the women named in the embroidered inscription: Rose, Ashley, and Ruth. Ultimately, it challenges readers to consider whose stories and values they prioritise when looking at and preserving history.

A gripping and less familiar historical story is uncovered in The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by bestselling author, David Grann, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2009. Grann tells the story of the battered ship that washed ashore in Brazil in 1742 with thirty emaciated survivors from His Majesty's ship, the Wager. The Wager had embarked on a secret mission during a conflict with Spain but was wrecked off the coast of Patagonia. The crew, facing starvation, built a makeshift boat and sailed for months to safety. Initially hailed as heroes, their narrative took a dark turn when another group of survivors landed in Chile and accused the first group of mutiny, leading to a high stakes court martial.

The most urgent concerns of our present and future are also addressed in this year’s longlist. Nathan Thrall’s A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story offers a deeply immersive portrait of life in Israel and Palestine; using the story of Milad, a five-year-old Palestinian boy excited for a school trip to a theme park near Jerusalem, along with the interwoven lives of other Jewish and Palestinian characters, to shed light on the complex reality of one of the world’s most contentious regions. In Ultra Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? Doctor Chris van Tulleken explores the world of food science and Ultra-Processed Food consumption, revealing the harmful effects on our bodies, health, weight, and the environment. This book advocates for our right to understand the impact of what we eat and access affordable, healthy food in an environment that makes it nearly impossible.

With Power and Progress, Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson examine how, historically, technological advances have benefited elites and how today, digital technologies and AI are exacerbating inequality and eroding democracy. Drawing on examples from the past and present, the authors propose a new economic theory and vision for a fairer society. Major climate issues are addressed by John Valliant in Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, which skillfully examines the interconnected narratives of the oil industry and climate science, the immense devastation caused by modern wildfires, and the lasting impacts on the lives of those affected by these disasters.

Topical themes are also explored in Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock's Gender Service for Children by debut author Hannah Barnes. Drawing on internal documents, emails, and testimonies, Barnes examines the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) in Tavistock, which was originally established to provide therapy for young people questioning their gender and has now referred a thousand children for puberty-blocking medication. The book questions whether such medical interventions are appropriate, and highlights concerns that ideological factors may have superseded clinical considerations, leading to a serious medical scandal at GIDS.

The medical world is also examined in The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human by Siddhartha Mukherjee, who was longlisted for the prize in 2016. Mukherjee offers a captivating exploration of the cell, and highlights how cellular research has revolutionised medicine, enabling the treatment of life-altering diseases including Alzheimer’s and AIDS.

Longlisted books: judges’ comments

Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity, Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

“There is no more potent force shaping societies and economies than technology. Historically it has often, but not always, been a force for good. What are the lessons of history, and the lessons from the future, about how to shape technology in ways which benefit the public good for the many, rather than the private gain of the few? Acemoglu and Johnson, drawing on a vast sweep of history and the very latest in academic theory, provide the definitive set of answers to this question. With luck, they will help economies and societies ride the rapids of the fourth industrial revolution without capsizing.”

Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock's Gender Service for Children, Hannah Barnes

“This extensive investigation into the Tavistock Centre’s gender identity development service (GIDS) unpicks its systematic failures, from managerial cover-up to obfuscation and woeful lack of due process. Hannah Barnes steadfastly refuses to enter into the Manichean ideological debates and culture wars around gender identity. Instead she unearths the facts to present an alarming story of medical scandal”

Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China's Cultural Revolution, Tania Branigan

“The Cultural Revolution is one of the most tumultuous and important events in modern Chinese history. And yet it remains something of a proverbial elephant: ever-present and a defining force for so many Chinese today, from President Xi downwards, but rarely discussed. It's therefore no small achievement that Tania Branigan succeeds in revealing the enduring and haunting scars of the Cultural Revolution through the masterful marshalling of the stories of witnesses and victims. As well as putting a human face on to a highly complex story, Red Memory challenges us to consider more broadly the politics of memory.”

Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849, Christopher Clark

“This is a magisterial account of the causes, unfolding and consequences of the European revolutions of 1848. Too often dismissed as failures, Christopher Clark shows how these revolutions shaped European history and reverberated throughout the world. Beautifully written with great sensitivity to the lives caught up in social and political upheaval, Revolutionary Spring is a powerful book that will engage contemporary readers and influence accounts of European history for decades to come.”

Time’s Echo: The Second World War, The Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance, Jeremy Eichler

“Time’s Echo is a wonderful cultural history of classical music as it contended with the chaos and brutality of the Second World War and the Holocaust, zooming in on four major modern European composers - Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Benjamin Britten - and the work they produced in the aftermath of war. Jeremy Eichler, music critic for The Boston Globe, proves himself to be an effective populariser of some quite forbidding music, helping us to understand it by rooting it in the history that made it. We remember music, Eichler says, but music also remembers us: this is the brilliant insight that informs every page of his book.”

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder, David Grann

“This is an astonishing-yet-true story of an 18th century shipwreck that would become a tale of human endurance and survival - and went on to provide inspiration for writers such Herman Melville and William Golding. As well as bringing all the swaggering drama of a clandestine voyage, mutiny and murder to life, David Grann confidently illuminates the bigger issues of the times in which this all played out: Big Power rivalry, imperial conquest, profound social change and the economics of naval warfare. Add in a lively cast of characters, including Byron's grandfather, and the result is an entertaining and gripping tale.”

Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century, Jennifer Homans

“The first non-academic biography of probably the greatest choreographer of modern times, Mr B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century tells the story of a Russian-born Georgian-American dance genius against the background of two world wars and the Soviet Union from which Balanchine fled as part of that talented generation of exiles that included Nabokov and Stravinsky (with whom Balanchine collaborated). Biographer Jennifer Homans, a professor of history with an unusual background as a trained professional dancer, really gives us a sense of the magic of dance as an art form at the same time as demystifying for us all the thought, creativity and athleticism that goes into it.”

Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990, Katja Hoyer

“Beyond the Wall is history at its best. Katya Hoyer evokes life – many lives – in the GDR in all its complexity without just focusing on the Stasi but also without being nostalgic. The book provides a powerful panoramic sweep from politics and economics to fascinating details of ordinary people’s domestic life and experience. Richly researched, Beyond the Wall is illuminating and immensely readable.”

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, Tiya Miles

“This is a book about maternal and familial love and its power to survive in the hardest of circumstances. Tiya Miles meditates on a single sack given by an enslaved woman, Rose, to her nine-year old daughter, Ashley, as she was sold away from her in 1850s South Carolina. The sack, inherited by Ashley’s granddaughter, Ruth, was embroidered with their story, then later lost and eventually found again for posterity. Tiya Miles invites the reader to think about how love falls out of historical narratives and she shows us that there are ways to recover what is most personal, precious and painful for the historical record. All That She Carried is an innovative, uncompromising and life-affirming book.”

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human, Siddhartha Mukherjee

“The cell is the foundational unit of life. Its discovery reshaped our understanding of our bodies and brains as never before. This revolutionised medical practice in the past and, centuries on, holds ever-greater clinical promise for the future. Mukherjee provides the definitive account of this remarkable cellular story, authoritative yet at the same time personal. He has that rarest of scientific gifts – the ability to pull back the magical curtain of complexities to reveal, like cells themselves, the foundations of life.”

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story, Nathan Thrall

“This is a book that stays with you – as heart-wrenching, as it is brilliant. By taking one (devastating) day in the life of a father in Anata just outside Jerusalem, Nathan Thrall unpeels the history and realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a spell-binding way. The backstory of each person we meet, adds another perspective and layer – thereby painting a harrowing and intimate portrait of life in Palestine.”

Ultra Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food…and Why Can’t We Stop?, Chris van Tulleken

“Chris van Tulleken takes the dictum that ‘you are what you eat’ and applies it to the ultra processed food industry to highlight how food production is both ruining our health and that of our planet. He shows how the politics of food processing intersect with urgent issues around environmental damage, global inequality, obesity and disease. A lucidly written, grimly fascinating and essential read.”

Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, John Vaillant

“Fire Weather is a meticulously researched, beautifully told and vitally relevant account of an environmental and industrial disaster that erupted in the heart of the giant subarctic oil sands fields of northern Canada in 2016. John Vaillant tells the story of a particular disaster - one of this century's most intense fires that emerged from the vast boreal forests and went on to destroy neighbourhoods, displaced tens of thousands of people and cost billions of dollars - to explore the broader issues of the economics, politics and environmental aspects of the global oil industry (the petrocene age) and our relationship with and dependence on fossil fuels.”

The shortlist and winner announcements

The announcement of the six books shortlisted for this year’s prize will take place on Sunday 8 October in a live event at Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 16 November at an award ceremony at the Science Museum, generously supported by the Blavatnik Foundation. The announcement will also be livestreamed across the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction social channels.

This year, students studying the new Digital Media & Communications course at University of Birmingham will be undertaking a project on the prize. Their involvement will include attending the shortlist event hosted at Cheltenham Literature Festival, reading and commenting on a selected book from the shortlist, and creating content for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction’s official podcast: Read Smart.

Last year’s winner was Katherine Rundell for Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, which became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller.