Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War wins PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize 2016

History prize awarded to 'elegant and eloquent' account of ordinary people who lived through Hitler's Germany

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English PEN today announces that the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize for History 2016 is awarded to Nicholas Stargardt for his book The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45, published by Bodley Head.

The prize, endowed by former PEN member Marjorie Hessell Tiltman’s bequest, celebrates the best non-fiction on a historical subject in any period up to and including the 1960s. The winner receives a cheque for £2,000.

Stargardt was shortlisted alongside Mary Beard, Peter Frankopan, Sarah Helm, Raghu Karnad and James Shapiro.

The judging panel for the Hessell Tiltman Prize was this year chaired by Lara Feigel, Senior Lecturer in English at Kings College London. Feigel was joined on the panel by two former winners of the prize: Jessie Childs and David Reynolds.

Lara Feigel said:

It was almost impossible to choose between six such brilliant books, especially given their very different strengths, but we are delighted with our winner. Nicholas Stargardt’s The German War is a bold attempt to understand why and how the German people supported Hitler’s war for as long as they did. It expertly combines analysis of the bigger picture with a more intimate focus on the experiences of a diverse selection of individuals. And it fulfils the aims of the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize in blending this all into an elegant and eloquent whole.

Responding to the annoucement, Nicholas Stargardt said:

What an extraordinary line-up. I’m astonished, and my thanks to the judges, to Marjorie Hessell Tiltman and to English PEN.

This is a book which forced itself onto me as I realised that historians had written about everything except how ordinary Germans experienced the Second World War. And it started from the grimmest point: how people began to talk in public about the Holocaust in the wake of the fire-bombing of Hamburg. To reconstruct the journeys individuals had travelled to get to that point, what they loved and hoped for – and how they went on rationalising what they were fighting for – that’s taken me ten years. So, of course I’d no idea what readers would be interested in that long ahead. I’ve been moved by their responses – and I’m deeply touched by this honour.

The German War and the other shortlisted titles will be discussed at ‘How to write a prize-winning history book’, a special event at the Cambridge Literary Festival to celebrate the PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize. Jessie Childs, Lara Feigel and David Reynolds will reflect on current trends in history writing, discussing which techniques historians can use to bring the past to life, and whether history is still the story of ‘great men fighting vast battles’.

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