Canada’s $75,000 Cundill History Prize Names Its 2022 Finalists

In News by Porter Anderson

Authors Ada Ferrer, Tiya Miles, and Vladislav Zubok are this year’s finalists in the Canada-based Cundill History Prize.

Image: Cundill History Prize

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

McNeill: ‘Three Superb Finalists’
In one of the many awards-related stories delayed by the priority of Frankfurter Buchmesse news, the Cundill History Prize, seated at Montréal’s McGill University, has announced its three-title finalists list.

The Cundill follows a different protocol from some of its sister programs, naming not a longlist, but an eight-book shortlist and then a trio of finalists. The winner of this award and its US$75,000 purse, will be named on December 1.

Prior to that event, on November 30, the annual Cundill Lecture is to be delivered by last year’s winner—the University of Maryland historian Marjoleine Kars, who won for Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (New Press). In addition, a “Cundill Forum” program is to feature the three finalists in a discussion.

When the winner is named, the two finalists who become runners-up will each receive US$10,000. These generous cash prizes make the Cundill History Prize the richest for a book of nonfiction in English. The Cundill competition is open to books from anywhere in the world, regardless of the author’s nationality and including works translated into English.

You’ll find juror videos, text extracts, and interviews with the three finalists on the Cundill site.

JR McNeill

In his jury-rationale comment for the announcement of these three finalists, this year’s jury chair, JR McNeill, is quoted, saying, “Arriving at a list of three superb finalists from the shortlist of eight excellent books required making difficult judgments and fine distinctions.

“Still harder judgments remain, as [each of] these three books differ[s] markedly from the other two in scope and approach.

“What they share is the imagination, craft, and modulated passion that underlie all lasting creative achievement.”

The panel of jurors joining McNeill includes Martha S. Jones; Misha Glenny; Kenda Mutongi; and Yasmin Khan.

The Cundill History Prize’s 2022 Finalists

From left are Cundill History Prize 2022 finalists Ada Ferrer (image: Teresita Fernandez); Tiya Miles (image: Kimberly P. Mitchell); and Vladislav Zubok (image: Elena Vitenberg). Images: Provided by Cundill History Prize

Author Title Publisher / Imprint
Ada Ferrer Cuba: An American History Scribner
Tiya Miles All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake Penguin Random House
Vladislav Zubok Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union Yale University Press

This year’s shortlist includes a 2022 Pulitzer Prize winner, Ada Ferrer’s Cuba: An American History from Scribner. Two publishing houses had two shortlistees each, Yale University Press and WW Norton. Yale now has a finalist in Vladislav Zubok’s Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union, which may attract special attention, as the world grapples with the unforgivable savagery of Vladimir Putin in the USSR’s aftermath.

The Question of an Award Program’s Impact

The Cundill History Prize is, of course rightly, one of the most respected awards programs in world publishing for nonfiction. It annually surfaces accessible, pertinent historical and social writings that help a complex international readership understand and assess many forces in the contemporary geopolitical framework.

One thing this program does not do, as yet, is provide follow-up to the news media and the international book publishing industry about what impact its honors are having on book sales. We wrote about this earlier this month in our article on the United Kingdom’s Baillie Gifford’s shortlist, and the need for this kind of information applies, of course, to the good work of the Cundill, as it does to many other awards regimes.

This point is especially apparent in the international book business’ leading nonfiction prizes because none is providing such indications of how responsive the world readership may be to such prize attention.

By contrast, in fiction, the Booker Foundation faithfully reports to the news media on the impact that its high-visibility titles experience in terms of added press runs and increased sales. This has created an excellent example for other leading awards programs. The fact that other prize regimes don’t do this regrettably makes them less valuable to the industry, skipping this informational service that they could be providing to the very book business on which they, the prize programs, depend for their own existence.

It would be good of the Cundill History Prize administration to consider this, exactly as it would be good of the Baillie Gifford’s leadership and other programs to take this issue under serious consideration. As we wrote in our earlier note on this point, cash prizes are terrific, the cachet of these honors is welcome, and the commendations of discerning jurors is profoundly satisfying, no question. But book sales are the currency of the realm.

About the Cundill History Prize

Previous winners of the award are:

  • Marjoleine Kars (2021)
  • Camilla Townsend (2020)
  • Julia Lovell (2019)
  • Maya Jasanoff (2018)
  • Daniel Beer (2017)
  • Thomas W. Laqueur (2016)
  • Susan Pedersen (2015)
  • Gary Bass (2014)
  • Anne Applebaum (2013)
  • Stephen Platt (2012)
  • Sergio Luzzatto (2011)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch (2010)
  • Lisa Jardine (2009)
  • Stuart B. Schwartz (2008)

Peter Cundill

The Cundill History Prize was founded by Peter Cundill (1938-2011), who was the founder of the Cundill Value Fund.

He established the Cundill History Prize in 2008, two years after being diagnosed with Fragile X Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome, with which he died in London.

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 184th awards-related report published in the 190 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Cundill History Prize is here. More on the international industry’s publishing and book awards is here, more on the Canadian book market is here, and more on nonfiction is here.  

More from us on the still-ongoing 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 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.