Violence of British empire in focus on Baillie Gifford longlist

Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins among potential winners of £50,000 nonfiction prize

Books about the history of the British empire and the abolition of the monarchy have been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction.

The announcement of the longlist for the £50,000 prize was originally due to take place on 13 September, but was delayed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Among the 12 books on this year’s longlist are Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins, which examines the empire’s use of violence in the 20th century. It was described by Tim Adams in the Observer as a “formidable piece of research that sets itself the ambition of identifying the character of British power over the course of two centuries and four continents”.

Also making the list is Anna Keay’s The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown, which chronicles the decade after 1649, when King Charles I was executed for treason, the English monarchy abolished and the House of Lords discarded.

Four first-time authors have made the longlist: Andrea Elliott, Thomas Halliday, Sally Hayden and Matt Rowland Hill.

Elliott’s book Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, which won the 2022 Pulitzer prize for nonfiction, is based on nearly a decade of reporting and follows the life of Dasani Coates, who lives in a homeless shelter with her family and who comes of age as New York City’s homelessness crisis is exploding.

The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.
The books in the Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction longlist. Photograph: The Baillie Gifford Prize

Otherlands: A World in the Making by Halliday, who is a palaeobiologist, is a look at ancient landscapes across all seven continents.

Journalist Hayden’s My Fourth Time, We Drowned won the Orwell prize for political nonfiction, and is an investigation into the migrant crisis across north Africa and into Europe which centres the experience and testimony of refugees.

Hill’s Original Sins is a memoir about his time growing up in an evangelical Christian church and his drug and alcohol addiction following his loss of faith. Anthony Cummins in the Guardian called the author “a blazing talent whose next move isn’t obvious”.

The longlist includes one book in translation, The Barefoot Woman by French Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump. It is about the author’s early years in exile and her family’s massacre in the Rwandan genocide, and was described by Lucy Popescu in the Observer as a “tender paean to motherhood and community”.

Legacy of Violence by Caroline Elkins (Vintage)

Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott (Cornerstone)

The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland (John Murray)

Otherlands by Thomas Halliday (Allen Lane)

Dinner With Joseph Johnson by Daisy Hay (Vintage) 

My Fourth Time, We Drowned by Sally Hayden (4th Estate)

Original Sins by Matt Rowland Hill (Vintage)

The Restless Republic by Anna Keay (William Collins)

 A Fortunate Woman by Polly Morland (Picador) 

The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump (Daunt)

Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell (Faber)

Kingdom of Characters by Jing Tsu (Allen Lane)


Three books about literature feature on the longlist. Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell is about the myriad lives of the poet Donne, while A Fortunate Woman: A Country Doctor’s Story by Polly Morland is about the author’s discovery of the book A Fortunate Man by Booker prize winner John Berger. Daisy Hay’s biography of Joseph Johnson, Dinner With Joseph Johnson: Books and Friendship in a Revolutionary Age, explores the bookseller and publisher’s weekly meetings with a number of writers.

Completing the lineup is Kingdom of Characters by Jing Tsu, which charts China’s mission to make the Chinese language accessible to a globalised, digital world, and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland’s book about Rudolf Vrba, The Escape Artist. Vrba and fellow inmate Fred Wetzler were the first Jews ever to break out of Auschwitz.

Chair of judges Caroline Sanderson said the longlist “shows off nonfiction in all its splendid breadth, depth and scope; from outstanding reportage, and compelling memoir to illuminating history books and mind-expanding popular science”.

Sanderson was joined on the judging panel, which selected its longlist from 362 books, by writer and science journalist, Laura Spinney; critic and writer for the Observer, Rachel Cooke; BBC journalist and presenter, Clive Myrie; author and New Yorker writer, Samanth Subramanian; and critic and broadcaster Georgina Godwin.

The shortlist of six books will be announced on 10 October at Cheltenham Literature festival, and the winner will be announced on 17 November at the Science Museum.

Last year’s winner was Patrick Radden Keefe for his investigation of the Sackler family, Empire of Pain.

  • To explore all the books on the Baillie Gifford prize 2022 longlist visit Delivery charges may apply.


Sarah Shaffi

The GuardianTramp

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