Past Winners of the Baillie Gifford Prize Reflect on Their Year in Reading
Craig Brown, Antony Beevor, and Philippe Sands Reflect on the Books They Read in 2022
The Baillie Gifford Prize is the most prestigious nonfiction literary award in the world. We checked in with some past winners about their year in reading.
Craig Brown, 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize-winner for 150 Glimpses of the Beatles, recommends:
Geoff Dyer is the funniest and most original nonfiction writer we have. In The Last Days of Roger Federer, Dyer uses Federer’s retirement as a springboard into loop-the-looping observations on things coming to an end, taking in such diverse figures as JWM Turner, Anna Karenina, Gillian Welch and George Best, with hilarious disquisitions on such overlooked subjects as the morality of pilfering shampoo bottles from hotel bedrooms and the tedium of poetry readings: “At any poetry reading, however enjoyable, the words we most look forward to are always the same: ‘I’ll read two more poems.’ It’s lovely hearing this. You can feel a sigh of relief passing through the audience.”
I am pretty much a stranger to graphic novels, and I had certainly never read a graphic memoir before I stumbled across Murder Book: A Graphic Memoir of a True Crime Obsession by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell. You wouldn’t expect any book with that title to be good fun, but that’s what it is: she examines her own fascination with well-known murderers like Manson and Ted Bundy in a way that is gripping, amusing, intriguing, entertaining and shocking—and often all at the same time.
Antony Beevor, 1999 winner for Stalingrad, recommends:
The irony was clear. As soon as I delivered my new book Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921 at the end of 2021, I started my usual novel-reading binge to make up for the deliberate avoidance of fiction during the recent years of researching and writing my own nonfiction. But then in February, the focus on Russia following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine suddenly meant that there were more important books on the subject to cover. Publishers sent me two short histories by two experts I greatly admire, Orlando Figes’s The Story of Russia and Rodric Braithwaite’s Russia: Myths and Realities.
And with journalists from so many different countries requesting interviews on Russia and the war in Ukraine, I also caught up on other books I had intended to read, such as Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People, which was a triumph of both research and then courage in facing the oligarchs trying to destroy it. Mark Galeotti’s Putin’s Wars is of course a major contribution and a reminder that our worldview of democratic confirmation bias blinded us to the danger of another land war in Europe. Nevertheless, along the way I have also reread Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, and I hugely admired Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist, shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford.
Philippe Sands, 2016 winner for East West Street, recommends:
2022 has been a very readerly year. emails, blogs, tweets (but for much longer?), newspapers, magazines, parliamentary materials, court pleadings and judgments, class materials and student exams, and books, of a fictional, nonfictional, cookery and graphic variety.
What stands out in the nonfiction side (beyond a written parliamentary statement by the UK Foreign Secretary, just a few weeks ago, that Britain and Mauritius were now engaged in negotiations on Chagos, opening a possible door to a decent close to the injustices of Chagos, the subject of my latest book, The Last Colony to be published in the US by Knopf in 2023.
This year I have served as a judge on two literary prizes, a highly collegial experience with a small group of wonderful writers and academics, a plow through about two hundred works of non-fiction. The two winners educated, entertained and thrilled: Alia Trabucco’s When Women Kill, and Lea Ypi’s Free. Beyond that, I finally caught up with Patrick Radden Keefe’s devastating Empire of Pain; was exhilarated by Diego Garcia: A Novel (Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams); swept away by Caroline Elkins’ Legacy of Violence; engrossed by Javier Cercas’ Terra Alta and Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s Retrospective.
Finally, as war returned to Europe on a scale not seen since the 1940s, mention must be made of Diary of an Invasion, by Andrei Kurkov, the writer for our times. There is a line that runs through so many of these works: the idea of a sharp line of division to separate matters of fact and fiction seems to be increasingly permeable.