Philippe Sands Wins the UK’s Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction

In News by Dennis Abrams

Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands won the Baillie Gifford Prize for his book, ‘East West Street’, about his family’s WWII history, genocide and the origins of international law.


By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘Crimes Against Humanity
Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands has been named the winner of the £30,000 (US$37,200) Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction for East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

East West Street uses historical, legal and familiar narratives to tell the story of the origins of international law beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg Trial,as well as Sands’ family history during World War II.

In an interview given for the awards ceremony, Philippe Sands says:

Philippe Sands

Philippe Sands

“As a litigator you are a storyteller.

“East West Street is really a double detective story. It’s a search to unlock a family secret: the circumstances in which my grandfather and my grandmother, along with my mother, left Vienna in the course of the years that followed.

“And then it’s a detective story about the origins of crimes against humanity and genocide: two subjects that occupy my life as an academic but also as a practicing lawyer doing cases in international courts.”

Press materials describe Philippe Sands as “Professor of Law at University College London and a practicing barrister at Matrix Chambers. He frequently appears before international courts, including the International Criminal Court and the World Court in The Hague, and has been involved in many of the most important cases of recent years, including Pinochet, Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq and Guantanamo. His previous books include Lawless World (on the Iraq war), and Torture Team (on the embrace of torture by the Bush Administration).”

Stephanie Flanders, chair of the judges, is quoted as commenting, “Any one of the shortlisted books would have been a worthy winner. But in the end we all agreed that Philippe Sands had pulled off something extraordinary with this book that deserved to reach as wide an audience as possible.

east-west-street-jacket-cover-lined“This is not just one story but several different stories, woven together—each important and each deeply personal to the author. The result is a multi-layered history that is impressive in its own right but also a satisfying, suspenseful read. A stunning achievement.”

Along with East West Street, the three other titles on the shortlist were Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time; Margo Jefferson’s Negroland: A Memoir; and Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between.

The Baillie Gifford Prize is intended to reward the best of nonfiction and is open to authors of any nationality. It covers all nonfiction in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

Formerly known as The Samuel Johnson Prize (1999 – 2015), it is considered the leading nonfiction accolade in the UK.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.