Baillie Gifford Prize 2023: longlist looks at historical storytelling

Baillie Gifford Prize 2023: longlist looks at historical storytelling

by Suswati Basu
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The longlist for the prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize 2023 for Non-Fiction was unveiled today (September 6th). Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the prize has undergone a transformation, significantly increasing the financial recognition bestowed upon the shortlisted authors.

The Bailee Gifford Prize announces the 2023 longlist

The award aims to honour and reward the best in non-fiction writing, welcoming authors from across the globe to participate. It encompasses a wide array of non-fiction genres, from current affairs to history, politics to science, sport to travel, biography to autobiography, and the arts. As part of its milestone anniversary, the Baillie Gifford Prize has not only retained its coveted £50,000 prize for the winning author but also increased the reward for the other shortlisted authors to an impressive £5,000, elevating the total prize value to a remarkable £75,000.

Read: Polari First Book Prize: 12 thrilling debut reads on longlist

The 13 books that have earned a spot on this year’s longlist were meticulously chosen by a distinguished panel of judges, including Frederick Studemann, Literary Editor of the Financial Times (chair); award-winning author Andrea Wulf; theatre critic for The Guardian, Arifa Akbar; the esteemed writer and historian Ruth Scurr; journalist and critic Tanjil Rashid; and Andrew Haldane, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts. Their selections were made from an impressive pool of 265 books published between 1st November 2022 and 31st October 2023.

Baillie Gifford Prize 2023 longlist

Here is the esteemed longlist for the 2023 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction:

  • Power and Progress by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson. Acemoglu and Johnson examine how technological advances have historically benefited elites and that digital technologies and AI are exacerbating inequality and eroding democracy. (Basic Books, John Murray Press UK, Hachette UK)
  • Time to Think by Hannah Barnes. The book raises doubts about the appropriateness of such medical interventions and underscores concerns that ideological factors may have taken precedence over clinical considerations, resulting in a significant medical scandal at GIDS. (Swift Press)
  • Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan. Branigan delves into the lasting repercussions of the Cultural Revolution by shedding light on the seldom-shared personal narratives of those who lived through Mao’s tumultuous era. (Faber & Faber)
  • Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849 by Christopher Clarke. Clark vividly captures this historic period, characterised by the disintegration of political structures and the dissemination of innovative concepts that would ultimately mould a profoundly transformed Europe. (Allen Lane, Penguin Random House)
  • Time’s Echo: The Second World War, The Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance by Jeremy Eichler. The author delves into the role of music as both a testament to history and a vehicle for safeguarding cultural memory in the post-Holocaust era. (Faber & Faber)
  • The Wager by David Grann. 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 and the eventual mutiny. Check out our review. (Simon & Schuster)
Read: The Wager by David Grann on ‘the mutiny that never was’ – review
  • Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century by Jennifer Homans. Homans skillfully illustrates the 20th Century by tracing the remarkable life journey of choreographer George Balanchine. Born in Russia during the final years of the Czarist regime, Balanchine endured the tumultuous events of World War I, the Russian Revolution, forced exile, World War II, and the Cold War before co-founding the New York Ballet. (Granta Books, Granta)
  • Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 by Katja Hoyer. The book explores the distinctive identity of East Germany, encompassing the formation of this unique German state, shaped by socialist principles, covert surveillance, centralised economic planning, and the geopolitical complexities of the Cold War period. (Allen Lane, Penguin Press)
  • All That She Carried by Tiya Miles. Miles presents a fresh and profoundly intimate perspective on the history of American slavery. At the heart of the book lies a seemingly unremarkable cloth sack, whose origins are meticulously traced back to the women bearing the embroidered names: Rose, Ashley, and Ruth. In doing so, it prompts readers to re-evaluate the narratives and principles they prioritise when examining and conserving history. (Profile Books)
Read: Bulgarian first to win International Booker Prize
  • The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee presents a captivating journey into the world of the cell, emphasizing how advancements in cellular research have transformed the field of medicine, allowing for the treatment of debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and AIDS. (The Bodley Head, Vintage, Penguin Random House UK)
  • A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story by Nathan Thrall. The book provides an immersive and intimate depiction of existence in Israel and Palestine. It achieves this by following the narrative of Milad, a five-year-old Palestinian boy eagerly anticipating a school trip to a theme park close to Jerusalem. Through his story and the interconnected lives of various Jewish and Palestinian individuals, it illuminates the intricate and multifaceted nature of one of the globe’s most contentious regions. (Allen Lane, Penguin Press)
  • Ultra Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? by Chris van Tulleken. Dr. Tulleken delves into the realm of food science and examines the consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods, unveiling the detrimental impacts they have on our bodies, health, weight, and the environment. (Cornerstone, Penguin Random House)
  • Fire Weather by John Vaillant. The book delves into the profound devastation wrought by contemporary wildfires and the enduring repercussions they impose on the lives of those who bear the brunt of these disasters. (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton)
Read: Hawai’i fire: books to understand how climate affects state

Following the announcement, Frederick Studemann, the chair of the judging panel, expressed his enthusiasm, saying, “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.”

All of the longlisted 2023 Baillie Gifford Prize books. Credit: Baillie Gifford Prize.
All of the 2023 Baillie Gifford Prize books on the longlist. Credit: Baillie Gifford Prize.

This year’s longlist is particularly noteworthy for its authors’ ability to shed new light on familiar periods of history, breathing life into forgotten stories and offering fresh perspectives on historical events.

“The books on the longlist share an ability to communicate lucidly and engage with readers in an intelligent and relevant way.”

Frederick Studemann, Baillie Gifford Prize Judging Panel chair

The shortlist of the remaining six books will be announced on Sunday, 8th October, during a live event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Finally, the winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction will be unveiled on Thursday, 16th November, at a prestigious award ceremony hosted at the Science Museum. Last year’s winner, Katherine Rundell, with her work Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, achieved the coveted status of becoming a Sunday Times top ten bestseller.

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This article contains affiliate links via in which we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, in order to support local bookshops. We have not been commissioned to review books and services.


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