Two Canadian authors compete for Baillie Gifford non-fiction ‘winner of winners’ prize

By Jill Lawless

LONDON (AP) – Two Canadian books are competing to be named the best-ever winner of Britain’s leading non-fiction book prize.

The Baillie Gifford Prize is marking its 25th year with a Winner of Winners prize, in which six of the 24 past winners of the award are up against each other.

The books by Canadians on the list are Wade Davis’ mountaineering odyssey “Into the Silence” and Margaret MacMillan’s history of the post-First World War peace talks, “Paris 1919.”

Also on the short list announced Thursday vying for the 25,000-pound (CAD$40,000) purse are three books from the U.S. and one from Britain.

The prize was launched in 1999 to reward English-language books from any country in current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

The winner will be announced April 27 at a ceremony in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The eclectic short list also includes cultural kaleidoscope “One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time” by Craig Brown.

The U.S. finalists are Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea”; Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Empire of Pain,” about the Sackler family and its links to the opioid crisis; and James Shapiro’s “1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare.”

Just two of the six books are by women, reflecting a historic imbalance in non-fiction publishing that prize organizers say is being rectified. In the past decade, 40 per cent of the prize winners have been women.

Editor Jason Cowley, chair of the judging panel said that despite their disparate topics, “there is a family resemblance” among the six books.

He said the works combine literary distinction with “a kind of formal innovation.”

“All the books are very good at conveying what Hilary Mantel called the atmospheric pressure of the times,” he said.