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Revealed: the 8 history books shortlisted for the 2019 Cundill History Prize

The shortlist of eight authors for the $75,000 prize has been revealed…

Published: September 20, 2019 at 9:03 am
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From injustice in post-Holocaust Europe to the lingering legacy of slavery in the United States, the authors shortlisted for the 2019 Cundill History Prize seek to "illuminate contemporary dilemmas”, says Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor.


The shortlist of five women and three men was revealed on 19 September by Taylor, who chairs the prize, alongside a jury of world-class historians at an event in New York City. It includes books that tackle issues from climate change in Asia to Maoism as an international force.

Commenting on the shortlist, juror Charlotte Grey highlighted the contemporary resonance of the stories told, “proving, once again, that today has been irrevocably shaped by yesterday”. Fellow juror Rana Mitter, meanwhile, drew attention to the global element of the shortlist. “It grapples with empires,” he said, “both at the wide scale (a history of the United States) and the micro-level (the fate of the orphans who lived in the times of empire).”

The jurors of the 2019 Cundhill History Prize at an event to launch this year's shortlist, in New York City. (Yuan Images / Alexander F. Yuan)
The jurors of the 2019 Cundhill History Prize at an event to launch this year's shortlist, in New York City. (Yuan Images / Alexander F. Yuan)

Previous winners of the $75,000 prize – awarded annually to a book that “embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal” – include Daniel Beer, Thomas W Laqueur and Anne Applebaum. Maya Jasanoff took the prize in 2018 for her account of the Polish-born British writer Joseph Conrad, and will deliver the annual Cundill History Prize lecture when the 2019 prize is awarded on 14 November 2019 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Find out more about the 2019 shortlist below:

In Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, Coasts, and Seas Have Shaped Asia’s History, Harvard historian Sunil Amrith follows monsoons, mountain rivers, and ocean currents to trace the dramatic history of water in South Asia, providing a new perspective on the region and urgent input into how to address global climate risks. | Basic Books (US), Allen Lane (UK)

Sunil Amrith - Unruly Waters (Basic Books)

British historian Helen Berry investigates what happened to the children who were raised at the London Foundling Hospital, Britain’s first home for children at risk of abandonment, in Orphans of Empire: The Fate of London’s Foundlings. | Oxford University Press (UK)

Helen Berry - Orphans of Empire (Oxford University Press)

With Frederick Douglass: American Prophet, Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight delivers the definitive biography of the most important African American of the 19th century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists. | Simon & Schuster (US)

David Blight - Frederick Douglass (Simon & Schuster)

Mary Fulbrook, professor of German History at UCL, explores the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest of Justice, winner of this year’s Wolfson History Prize. | Oxford University Press (UK, US)

Mary Fulbrook - Reckonings (Oxford University Press)

In A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution, Toby Green collects the histories of west and west-central Africa in an effort to show the complex kingdoms of art and finance that existed before colonial influence. | The University of Chicago Press (US), Allen Lane (UK)

Toby Green - A Fistful of Shells (University of Chicago Press)

A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History, American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by New York-based historian Victoria Johnson, tells the untold story of one doctor’s visionary quest to build America’s first botanical garden in Manhattan. | Liveright Publishing (US)

Victoria Johnson - American Eden (Liveright)

With These Truths: A History of the United States, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore delivers an ambitious one-volume history of the US that places truth itself – a devotion to facts, proof, and evidence – at the centre of the nation’s history. | W. W. Norton & Company (US)

Jill Lepore - These Truths (W. W. Norton)

From the tea plantations of north India to the sierras of the Andes, from Paris’s fifth arrondissement to the fields of Tanzania, Julia Lovell, professor of Modern China at Birkbeck College, University of London, re-evaluates Maoism as both a Chinese and an international force, in Maoism: A Global History. | The Bodley Head (UK), Knopf (US)

Julia Lovell - Maoism (Bodley Head)

Find out more at www.cundillprize.com, or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram


HistoryExtra is the media partner for the Cundill History Prize this year.


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