History writers dominate Samuel Johnson Prize longlist

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BBC History Magazine contributor Charlotte Higgins is among a number of history writers nominated for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

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Her book Under Another Sky, about the Roman legacy in Britain, is one of 18 competing for the £20,000 accolade.

The prize, which follows the motto “all the best stories are true”, aims to reward thought-provoking books in the areas of current affairs, history and politics.

In our August issue Higgins, who is chief arts writer for the Guardian, described how ancient Britons waged guerilla war against their conquerors.

Her book Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain appears on the prize longlist alongside Disraeli or the Two Lives by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young, and The War That Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan.

Hurd last month discussed his book in our podcast, available here, and you can read an interview with Macmillan in our December issue.

Time’s Anvil by Richard Morris and Modernity Britain: Opening the Box by David Kynaston also feature in the longlist. Morris was reviewed in our February issue and discussed his book in our January podcast, while Kynaston’s book was reviewed in our September issue.

Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher has also been nominated for the prize. Earlier this year our books editor Matt Elton spoke to Moore about the first volume of his biography – listen to the podcast here.

Also up for the Samuel Johnson accolade are Lucy Hughes-Hallett and Simon Schama. Their books, The Pike and The Story of the Jews respectively, will be reviewed in our November issue.

Charlotte Higgins told historyextra: “I’m delighted and humbled to have been longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize. It’s an extraordinary honour to have been named amid such distinguished fellow writers.

“I struck out on this book with a conviction that the material was intriguing and exciting – the fact that such an erudite panel of judges agrees is an unlooked for and wonderful surprise.

“I worked on Under Another Sky for four years – an incredibly rewarding combination of work in the British Library and research in the field, setting out to encounter the remains of Roman Britain from Perthshire to Penzance, and using Britain’s Roman remains as a lens through which to discover modern Britain anew.

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“What started me on the book was a feeling about how peculiar our gaze on our Roman past is: how elusive, how slippery, and how political it is even (or especially) today.”