The Samuel Johnson Prize: A Preview

by eal-admin 5. November 2012 10:11

The premier award for works of non-fiction, this year's Samuel Johnson Prize will explore Mumbai's notorious slums, Britain's historic footpaths and the diminishing influence of violence on society.

With 2012's shortlist announced early last month, it's just six days until the winner is revealed on Monday (12th November) in a BBC-televised ceremony. There are six books in contention this year, and according to the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, the Samuel Johnson Prize chair of judges, each has the "ability to change our view of the world". Here's our guide to the shortlist:

Into The SilenceWade Davis: Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

In 1924, an expeditionary team headed by George Mallory attempted to conquer Everest. Britain was reeling from the effects of the First World War, and there was a hope that scaling the world's highest mountain would hand a much-needed boost to the nation's psyche.

But it was to be a journey shrouded in mystery, for nobody knows if Mallory or Sandy Irvine, a fellow climber, made it. Rather than asking if Mallory and Irvine reached the summit, Davis contemplates what encouraged them to keep climbing on the day they lost their lives.

Harking back to the Great War and its effects, Wade's epic book explains how Mallory and his disappearance became representative of the millions who died on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

> Click here to buy the book!

The Old WaysRobert Macfarlane: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Setting off from his home in Cambridge, Robert Macfarlane embarks on an epic series of walks. Fifteen of the routes are the authors own and involve him traversing Britain's paths, tracks and drovers' roads. But he also travels to farther-flung destinations, namely Spain, Tibet and Palestine.

One of the book's highlights is the author's walk with the late Roger Deakin, a celebrated environmentalist and film maker. It was he who revealed that a small crack in the limestone wasn't something to pass by, but a "fabulously wild" landscape in itself.

Macfarlane doesn't walk purely for walking's sake - his aim is to uncover the secrets that lie underfoot and explore landscape's influence on literature, cartography and archaeology. He discovers that paths allow us to feel, to learn and to contemplate, with his lucid anecdotes full of affection for walking and exploration.

> Click here to buy the book!

The Spanish HolocaustPaul Preston: The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain

Between 1936 and 1945, tens of thousands of people across Spain were executed at the hands of General Franco. With the country only recently coming to terms with the scale of his reign of terror, Paul Preston - the leading expert on 20th century Spain - attempts to assess the Generalísimo's motives in The Spanish Holocaust.

Using cold, hard evidence and a series of revealing descriptions, Preston reveals the true extent of the terror the Franco regime inflicted on Spain's population - something the author believes is tantamount to a holocaust, such was the extent of cold-bloodied killings.

Nothing is concealed in Preston's work, which makes it one of the most important contemporary history books of 2012.

> Click here to buy the book!

Behind The Beautiful ForeversKatharine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum

At the perimeter of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport stands the Annawadi slum. Here, next to one of Asia's busiest transport hubs and the city's gleaming glass towers, live rubbish collectors, builders and migrants from rural India.

Boo spent the best part of four years in Annawadi. Her time there was spent primarily with three families, and her experiences with them are beautifully documented in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's first book.

Her writing documents the November 2008 terrorist attacks, the knock-on effects of the global recession and a serious crime in the slums, which has major repercussions for those who live there.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a dramatic, fast-paced and at times heartbreaking account of families fighting for a better life in India's economic powerhouse.

> Click here to buy the book!

Better Angels Of Our NatureSteven Pinker: The Better Angels of our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity

The modern era - one that encompasses the Holocaust and 9/11 - is less violent that any other in history. So argues Steven Pinker in this critically-acclaimed book - armed with pages of evidence, he presents a compelling case that humanity has become progressively less violent.

In the age of 24-hour news, dominated by conflict, crime and atrocities, this seems hard to believe - but according to the author, we're now less likely to die at the hands of another person than any other period in history. Why is this the case?

Pinker has identified six stages - from pacification (humans no longer being hunter-gatherers) to legislation protecting human rights in the wake of 20th century conflicts - to back up his claims, and the result is a lucid coming together of storytelling, science and history.

Strindberg A LifeSue Prideaux: Strindberg: A Life

August Strindberg is the man credited as being the father of modern theatre - a figure who did away with painted backdrops and tried to banish the interval. But he was a man of controversy, attracting the wrath of suffragette Rebecca West for his apparent misogyny and masculine stance.

Sue Prideaux's biography of the playwright and writer, inspired by new research, describes the eventful life of one of the theatre's world's leading lights. Despite being regarded as a difficult, opinionated man, Prideaux has brought a sense of humour and humanity to her entertaining narrative.

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