PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017 shortlist announced

Chair of judges Jean Seaton praises shortlist as an 'antidote to the irrationalism of post-truth politics'

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English PEN today announces the judges and shortlisted titles for the Hessell-Tiltman Prize 2017. The prize, endowed by former PEN member Marjorie Hessell Tiltman, celebrates the best non-fiction on any historical subject.

The 2017 shortlist:

  • Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Café (Chatto & Windus)
  • Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle (Allen Lane)
  • Susan L. Carruthers, The Good Occupation (Harvard University Press)
  • Dan Cruickshank, Spitalfields (Random House Books)
  • Frank Dikötter, The Cultural Revolution (Bloomsbury)
  • David Olusoga, Black and British (Macmillan)
  • Tim Whitmarsh, Battling the Gods (Faber & Faber)

The PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize judging panel is chaired this year by Professor Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell Prize. Seaton is joined on the panel by the critic and historian Frances Stonor Saunders and the 2016 winner of the Hessell-Tiltman Prize Nicholas Stargardt, who was awarded the prize for The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 (The Bodley Head).

Jean Seaton said:

This is a very satisfying shortlist. It shows how vigorous writing about history is and how topical and illuminating the issues historians pursue. The shortlisted books are argument for the vital relevance of history, but also for the authority and grace of history as an antidote to the irrationalism of ‘post truth politics’. They are all a delight to read: yet each one has a different tone that fits their subjects. Great reads for an intelligent summer.

The range of topics is wide. It covers the centuries from Tim Whitmarsh’s unexpected history of atheism in the ancient world, to David Olusoga’s Black and British, which both reveals the story of black people in Britain, but more unexpectedly the way in which reactions to them have been a key part of changing British identity. Jerry Brotton’s This Orient Isle again locates our island story in a far wider international context in the Tudor period. Dan Cruikshank’s recreation of the history of Spitalfields teaches one how to use one’s eyes more intelligently and Susan L. Carruthers’s The Good Occupation, with an uncanny relevance, tells the hard story of rebuilding defeated nations after World War Two. Frank Dikötter’s path-breaking history of the Cultural Revolution in China takes us to an unfolding catastrophe and yet argues for the unexpected consequences of this story – known but of course barely discussed in China. Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café is in the end a plea for the value of human responsibility in a book that rediscovers the role and lives of the existentialist philosophers.

The winning book will be announced at the inaugural Wimpole History Festival.

Nicholas Stargardt will be in conversation fellow former Hessell-Tiltman prize winner David Reynolds at Wimpole History Festival on Sunday 9 July 2017 at 6pm.

Book tickets

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