The Cundill History Prize has announced a controversial thesis on inequality, a myth-shattering history of Vietnam, and a study of Siberian exile under the Tsars as this year’s finalists. Three historians — a Briton, a Canadian and a US-based Austrian — are in contention for the US$75,000 prize, the richest in non-fiction for a single work in English.
The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
by Daniel Beer (Allen Lane)
Vietnam: A New History
by Christopher Goscha (Allen Lane)
The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century
by Walter Scheidel (Princeton University Press)
Run by Canada’s McGill University, the Cundill History Prize rewards the best history writing in English. The jury of world-class historians and authors has chosen the finalists from a longlist stretching the globe and covering pertinent issues ranging from religion to race relations. The winner will be awarded US$75,000; the two runners up receive US$10,000 each. Previous winners include Lisa Jardine and Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Margaret MacMillan, Chair of the Jury, said: “The three finalists for the 2017 Cundill History Prize are extraordinary works of history: beautifully crafted, well-researched, and ambitious. They tackle big issues and help us to know ourselves and our world better. We live in complicated times and the work of historians such as these provides us with the necessary background, understanding and insights to enable us to formulate the sorts of questions we ought to be asking.”
The Great Leveler turns Thomas Piketty on its head: the Austrian-born, US-based historian Walter Scheidel uses a sweeping look at history, from the Stone Age to the 21st century, to demonstrate why inequality is so persistent — and unlikely to go away.
Jeffery Simpson said: “If you are someone who wants more equality in your society, you’re going to hate this book. Walter Scheidel has backed up a very controversial thesis with an enormous amount of economic data. The Great Leveler is going to be quite unpopular in certain circles, but it is a book that we think you have to grapple with, even if you don’t agree.”
With Vietnam: A New History, the Canadian historian Christopher Goscha has written the definitive history of an increasingly influential nation that most have only ever seen through the prism of colonialism and the Vietnam war.
Roy Foster said: “Christopher Gosha’s Vietnam was a revelation to me. This is a book that is written from an inside perspective, from somebody who has immersed himself in the sources, learned the languages, studied the cultures and constructed the story of a country, the story of individuals and people, often tragically, often inspiringly.”
The British historian Daniel Beer delivers a ground-breaking new study of how the Tsars turned Siberia into a vast and brutal prison camp.
Amanda Foreman said: “The House of the Dead is absolutely marvellous, because it presents a 360° view of history. Daniel Beer has a universality of approach that is both innovative and really important. This is the story of an immense tragedy over hundreds of years. It is a huge canvas, and to be able to bring in individual stories, that sense of what it is to be human, is really a triumph.”
Commenting on the shortlist, Rana Mitter said: “One of the things that is most notable about this shortlist is how extensive, how global the questions that it deals with are. These studies speak to something even beyond the particular subjects that they look at.”
The Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan, the British-American historian and author Amanda Foreman, the award-winning Oxford Professor Roy Foster, the UK historian and broadcaster Rana Mitter, and the decorated Canadian journalist and author Jeffrey Simpson are judging the Cundill History Prize in its 10th anniversary year. They chose this year’s contenders from a record 300 submissions.
All three authors will attend the Cundill History Prize Gala in Montreal on November 16, where the winner will be announced.
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