Halik Kochanski’s ‘Resistance’ Wins the Wolfson History Prize in England

In News by Porter Anderson

The UK’s Wolfson History Prize gives its top honor this year to Halik Kochanski’s ‘Resistance,’ on the World War II underground.

The 2023 Wolfson History Prize winner Halik Kochanski speaks at the award ceremony at London’s Claridges, accompanied by juror Carole Hillenbrand. Image: Wolfson History Prize, Jo Jomieszkowski

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

‘Breathes Life Into Forgotten Voices’
As we recoup some of the latest book- and publishing-award news during an unusually heavy news cycle, we look today (November 21) at the United Kingdom’s £50,000 (US$62,674) Wolfson History Prize, which has gone to author Halik Kochanski for Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945 (Penguin Random House / Allen Lane), a 2023 release.

In the United States, the book is published by WW Norton / Liveright, a 2022 release. The focus of the book is on surfacing the heroic acts of largely unrecognized citizens on the European continent. Kochanski is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History. She has taught history at several universities and is the author of The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War from Harvard University Press (2012).

David Cannadine

David Cannadine

In a comment of rationale, the jury chair, David Cannadine, says, “Resistance is impressive in its breadth, blending macro and micro history into a single narrative.

“This book does more than recount the past; it breathes life into forgotten voices and untold tales of bravery, illuminating the spirit of ordinary people who challenged oppression.

“Through meticulous research and powerful writing, Halik Kochanski highlights the indomitable courage of those who resisted the Nazis. In our own times of conflict and instability, Resistance is a timely winner of the Wolfson History Prize, and we offer our warmest congratulations to Halik.”

Paul Ramsbottom

Paul Ramsbottom, who is CEO of the Wolfson Foundation, says, “For more than half-a-century, the Wolfson History Prize has celebrated history writing that is rooted in excellent research and which captivates readers.

“Resistance joins a roll-call of winners that achieve both—and with considerable elegance.

“Halik Kochanski presents an overarching analysis of European resistance during the Second World War, without ever losing a sharp focus on the human narratives that lie at its heart.’

The UK cover design from Penguin Random House

The £50,000 award goes to Kochanski, with the attendant shortlistees each getting £5,000 (US$6,267). One of the things that makes this program valuable is that its jurors look for work that “challenges readers to rethink accepted historical narratives [by] exploring themes that are pertinent to current world events.” In this, it’s a close thematic cousin to the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding and Canada’s Cundill History Prize.

The jury this year comprises Cannadine as chair, joined by Mary Beard; Sudhir Hazareesingh; Richard Evans; Carole Hillenbrand; and Diarmaid MacCulloch.

An Interest in the Wolfson’s Marketplace Impact

Between the Wolfson History Prize’s release of its shortlist and the announcement of its winner, another major United Kingdom-based award program operating partly in much the same content space as the Wolfson announced that it was beginning to report the impact it has been able to measure for winners’ books print unit sales in the marketplace.

The US cover from WW Norton

As Publishing Perspectives readers know from our exclusive report, the £50,000  Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction has worked with Nielsen to determine that its winner can anticipate a boost of as much as 857 percent in the United Kingdom during the first four weeks after being named its winner–this year, the American-Canadian author John Vaillant for Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World (Hachette UK / Hodder & Stoughton / Sceptre).

To date, the Baillie Gifford is the largest of the world’s major English-language nonfiction award programs to begin reporting specific numbers on what sort of market influence its highest honors may have. What that means for the international professional book trade is that the Baillie Gifford is no longer depending on the kindness of strangers to assume that its top awards are going to promote sales: they now can demonstrate it in hard numbers.

Many observers will now look to the Wolfson History Prize in hopes that its organizers will undertake a plan to learn and report on how Halik Kochanski’s Resistance fares in the marketplace as a Wolfson winner.

Thanks to the leadership of Toby Mundy and Truda Spruyt at the Baillie Gifford; Gaby Wood and the £50,000 Booker Prize Foundation; and Jane Acton and her associates at the £25,000 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding; there’s a clear pathway toward making the value of book publishing’s multitudinous awards programs evident–instead of something we’re all asked to take on faith.

It’s to the advantage of the many other awards programs—and to the publishing industry and authors on which they depend—to report on their work’s marketplace efficacy in highlighting good publication. The good news is that for these three groundbreaking programs—the Booker, the British Academy, and the Baillie Gifford—the news has been encouraging, all three of them showing positive effects on the high street. It looks like a trend to which their sister award organizations need mount no resistance.

The Wolfson History Prize 2023 Shortlist

Shortlistees of the 2023 Wolfson History prize are, from left, Henrietta Harrison; Emma Smith; Oskar Jensen; James Belich; Halik Kochanski; and Hakim Adi. Image: Wolfson History Prize, Jo Jomieszkowski

To review, this year’s Wolfson shortlist gave three of its six accolades to work published by Penguin Random House’s Allen Lane division. Princeton University Press is the publisher of two more of these works. And the independent house Duckworth Books is the publisher of the sixth shortlistee.

Title Author Publisher and/or Imprint
African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History Hakim Adi Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
The World the Plague Made: The Black Death and the Rise of Europe  James Belich Princeton University Press
The Perils of Interpreting: The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators Between Qing China and the British Empire  Henrietta Harrison Princeton University Press
Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-1945 Halik Kochanski Penguin Random House / Allen Lane
Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth Century London Oskar Jensen Duckworth Books
Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers Emma Smith Penguin Random House / Allen Lane

Also by Hilak Kochancski

The winner of the Wolfson History Prize this year was announced at Claridges in central London on November 13, two days before the United States’ National Book Awards were announced at that program’s gala in New York City; three days before the UK’s Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction announcement; and three days after Canada’s Cundill History Prize’s winner announcement in Montreal.

Some other competitions’ announcements moving in this same space of time have been the Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist; the German Nonfiction Prize jury announcement; the American Literary Translators Association’s winners; the An Post Irish Book Awards; and more.

More from Publishing Perspectives on world publishing’s book and industry awards is here. More from us on the Wolfson History Prize is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market 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.com, 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.