Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Award Announced

July 17, 2008

Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, “a detailed account of the famous murder, in 1860, of a three-year-old child of a respectable middle-class family,” won of the £30,000 (US$60,064) Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. Patrick French’s biography of V.S. Naipaul had been the favorite.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Samuel Johnson Prize. Sponsored by BBC Four, it celebrates diverse and thought-provoking writing in non-fiction. The prize covers current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. The competition is open to authors of any nationality whose work is published in the UK in English.

“The judges were unanimous: this is one of those great non-fiction books that uses the techniques of fiction to magnificent effect,” said judging panel chair Rosie Boycott. “On first reading, it is an absolute page-turner. Then, when you reread it, you realise how many levels it has, how much it tells you.”

The shortlist included:

The World Is What It Is: the authorized biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French – available in the US in November, 2008

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher -available in the US in October, 2008

Crow Country by Mark Cocker – currently unavailable in the US

The Whisperers by Orlando Figes

The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross.