Canada’s $75,000 Cundill History Prize Names Its Three 2020 Finalists

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Saying that each book has ‘a striking resonance for the world around us in 2020,’ the Cundill History Prize juror chair Peter Frankopan names the award’s shortlisted titles.

Image: Cundill History Prize

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Riveting, Revelatory, and Revolutionary’
Tuesday (October 20), the international Cundill History Prize—a program based in Montreal—announced the three finalists of its 2020 cycle, from its unusual shortlist of 10 rather than eight candidates.

The award, produced by Montreal’s McGill University, is among the richest in the world, with US$75,000 going to the winner each year. More than 300 submissions were received for this year’s program from publishers—only in digital formats which were sent to the jury panel on e-readers.

Those jurors, as our readers will remember, are Peter Frankopan; author and columnist with The Atlantic Anne Applebaum; British-Sri Lankan historian Sujit Sivasundaram; BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet OBE; and University of New Hampshire history professor Eliga Gould.

As is the case each year, US$10,000 will go to each of the two runners-up in addition to the winner’s purse of $75,000.

Cundill History Prize 2020 Finalists

The Cundill History Prize finalists are, from left, Vincent Brown (image: Sharona Jacobs); Camilla Townsend (image: Rutgers SAS); and William Dalrymple (image: Bikramjit Bose)

More about the finalists is available here.

The Cundill is producing its awards activities digitally, of course, and has moved that programming–amid a season teeming with awards competing for attention–from the originally anticipated November slot to early December. Its three main events are branded as a “festival” across two days:

  • December 2, 1 p.m. ET / 1800 GMT (the UK reverts from BST to GMT this Sunday, October 25): The Cundill Lecture–annually given by the previous year’s winner–is to be given by Julia Lovell, whose win last year was for Maoism: A Global History, published in the United States by Knopf and in the UK and Canada by Penguin’s Bodley Head. For this event, a partner called HistoryExtra–the site that houses the BBC History and BBC World Histories magazines–will be involved.
  • December 2 (no time determined as yet): The Cundill Forum is a talk among the three nervous finalists about world affairs.
  • December 3, 1 p.m. ET / 1800 GMT: The Cundill Winner announcement is to be hosted by Dan Snow of the HistoryHit podcast with the three finalists “from where they are,” as the prize’s press information charmingly puts it, and input from the jurors with excerpts from the previous two events. Frankopan will make the announcement and Snow will interview the winner. The Timeline YouTube channel is involved with this part of the program.

Frankopan, in his announcement of the finals, is quoted, saying, “These are three magnificent books chosen from an extraordinarily strong shortlist.

“The works of the finalists shine new light on topics that are riveting, revelatory and revolutionary. But they don’t just offer important insights into the past. They also each have a striking resonance for the world around us in 2020.”

Antonia Maioni

Antonia Maioni, dean of the faculty of arts at Québec’s McGill University, is quoted, saying, “The Cundill History Prize finalists probe difficult pasts that continue to have serious repercussions today.

“How important—as we navigate this challenging year—to champion books that deliver outstanding scholarship and analysis in such page-turning reads.”

The jurors have worked together this year on its choice of finalists from Chobielin, Poland (Applebaum); Kabul (Doucet); New Hampshire in the States (Gould); and Cambridge, England (Sivasundaram).

Here’s the finalists’ announcement, as made by Frankopan.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Cundill History Prize is here. And more on literary prizes in general is here.  More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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