UK: The £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize Names Its Longlist

In News, Opinion & Commentary by Porter Anderson

The 26th award from the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction will come from the 13-title longlist announced today in London.

Image: Baillie Gifford Prize

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

Three Debut Publications on the Longlist
As many of the world’s book awards begin their annual competition for news-media and consumer attention, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction today (September 6) has released its longlist from an initial pool of 265 titles, all published or scheduled still to be published between November 1 of last year and October 31.

Authors of these longlisted titles represent seven markets and include two writers getting second-time recognition from the program. David Grann was shortlisted in 2009 for The Lost City of Z and Siddhartha Mukherjee was longlisted in 2016 for The Gene: An Intimate Story. Today’s longlist includes three authors nominated for debut publications: Hannah Barnes, Tania Branigan, and Jeremy Eichler.

Swift Press–the independent publisher of Richard V. Reeves‘ Brookings-based book Of Boys and Men– is on the Baillie Gifford Prize longlist for the first time, for its publication of Barnes’ Time To Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children.

Of particular note on this year’s longlist is All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake from Penguin Random House. This of course is the book for which the American MacArthur fellow Tiya Miles–director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard–won Canada’s 2022 US$75,000 Cundill History Prize.

For our Americans readers, the title and Miles’ work may ring a bell because Miles won the 2021 National Book Award in nonfiction for All That She Carried. She has also been given the American Historical Association’s Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, which recognizes work in women’s history and/or feminist theory. A prolific writer, her most recently published work is a historical novel released in mid-June by Penguin Random House, The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts.

She’s also known for previous titles including Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom from the University of California Press as well as The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story and Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery From the Civil War Era, both published by the University of North Carolina Press.

The Baillie Gifford, known until 2015 as the Samuel Johnson Prize, is open to titles in current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. Books must be published in English in the United Kingdom, but their authors may be of any nationality. The prize was first awarded in 1999 as the Samuel Johnson, which is still the name of the nonprofit that owns this award. This gave rise to the program’s “winner of winners” prize for of its 25th anniversary in April.

Now that the program has passed its 25th effort, the understanding is that the Baillie Gifford will provide a purse of £50,000 (US$62,735) to its winner, with the attendant shortlistees each getting £5,000 (US$6,275). That shortlistee purse is up £1,000 to bring the total prize money for the year to a handsome £75,000.

The Proof of Impact Question

As the Baillie Gifford starts this year’s cycle of award announcements it’s worth noting that it stands among the several well-funded and/or high-level awards operating in the English-language space, of course, honoring strong and much-needed quality in the nonfiction sector. These include the Cundill History Prize, the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the German Nonfiction Prize, the Wolfson History Prize, the Business Book of the Year Award, the Royal Society Science Book Prize, and the Parliamentary Book Awards.

Winner of the Baillie Gifford 25th anniversary ‘winner of winners’ award

However, it has yet to put its reputation where its golden stickers are and follow the lead of the Booker Prize Foundation in reporting information on the impact its highest honors have on unit sales. Does a Baillie Gifford win trigger extra press runs? Can a rise in sales be detected by a winning book’s publisher? Might a Baillie Gifford winner enjoy a boost in interest on the international rights-trading markets, propelling the book into new languages and territories? We simply don’t know.

It’s a fond assumption by many professionals and consumers in book publishing that an award helps increase a title’s sales. But for the most part, that’s an article  more of bookish faith and eternally springing hope than something based on actual data.

This perhaps signals a sentimental tendency well understood by many of this prize’s historians of human endeavor, but it can cause, of course, the appearance of a reticence to reveal lackluster sales following a win. It doesn’t take a historian to spot bad optics.

The start of this new year of programming would be a great moment for the prize’s executive director Toby Mundy, his board members, and the program’s Four Culture administrators to institute a plan to report the impact on unit sales of the Baillie Gifford’s next winner.

The Baillie Gifford Prize 2023 Longlist

For our internationalist readership, a note that the publishers listed here are the UK publishers of the Baillie Gifford’s longlisted titles. In cases of books originally published in other markets before being released in the United Kingdom, you may have encountered a title as another publisher’s release and in an earlier year.

Author, Translator (Nationality) Title Publisher and/or Imprint, Year of Win
Daron Acemoglu (Turkish-American) and Simon Johnson (British-American) Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity Hachette UK / John Murray Press / Basic Books
Hannah Barnes (British) Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children Swift Press
Tania Branigan (British) Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution Faber & Faber
Christopher Clark (Australian) Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849 Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Jeremy Eichler (American) Time’s Echo: The Second World War, The Holocaust, and The Music of Remembrance Faber & Faber
David Grann (American) The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder Simon & Schuster
Jennifer Homans (American) Mr. B: George Balanchine’s Twentieth Century Granta / Granta Books
Katja Hoyer (German) Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Tiya Miles (American) All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake Profile Books
Siddhartha Mukherjee (Indian-American) The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human Penguin Random House UK / Vintage, Bodley Head
Nathan Thrall (American) A Day in the Life of Abed Salama: A Palestine Story Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Chris van Tulleken (British) Ultra Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food and Why Can’t We Stop? Penguin Random House / Cornerstone
John Vaillant (American-Canadian) Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World Hachette UK / Hodder & Stoughton / Sceptre
Jurors and Sponsor

The jurors for this year’s Baillie Gifford are Frederick Studemann (chair), the literary editor of the Financial Times; author Andrea Wulf; The Guardian theater critic Arifa Akbar; writer and historian Ruth Scurr; journalist and critic Tanjil Rashid; and the Royal Society of Arts CEO Andrew Haldane.

The Baillie Gifford is now named for its funding sponsor, the independent investment partnership founded in 1908 and headquartered in Edinburgh. In the literary world, Baillie Gifford sponsors a number of literary festivals, including principal sponsorship of Hay Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival and headline sponsorship Stratford Literary Festival, Henley Literary Festival, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

It’s at the Cheltenham public-facing festival that the prize will name its six-title shortlist on October 8. The winner’s announcement is planned for November 16 at London’s Science Museum.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the international publishing business’ myriad book and industry awards is here, more on the United Kingdom’s market is here, more on the Baillie Gifford Prize is here, and more on nonfiction 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.