A look at Leonardo da Vinci as he created the masterwork The Last Supper, a portrait of the founder of the National Ballet of Canada and Robert Fowler's recount of his kidnapping and captivity are among the compelling biographical stories nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction.


Author Ross King of Estevan, Sask., left, receives the Governor General's Literary Award for his book Leonardo and The Last Supper from Governor General David Johnston in Ottawa on Nov. 28. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Organizers of the $25,000 prize revealed a 15-book list of contenders for the honour on Tuesday.

Ross King's Leonardo and The Last Supper examines the artist and his great fresco, as well as the society and powerful people that surrounded its creation. Saskatchewan writer King, now based in the U.K., won a Governor General's Literary Award for the book last month.

Toronto writer Carol Bishop-Gwyn is longlisted for The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca, touted as a candid examination of the famously severe, British-born ballet diva who helped bring Canada's National Ballet to life.

Fowler's A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara With Al Qaeda, about the nearly five months the Ottawa-based career diplomat spent as an al-Qaeda hostage, is also nominated.  

The long list also features other personal tales, including the story of poet and artist P.K. Page in Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page by Vancouver author Sandra Djwa and March Forth: The Inspiring True Story of a Canadian Soldier's Journey of Love, Hope and Survival,by Nanaimo, B.C.'s Trevor Greene and his wife, Debbie. Greene miraculously survived an axe attack while stationed in Afghanistan.


Canadian soldier Trevor Greene, who was injured in an axe attack in Afghanistan, wrote about his ordeal in the book March Forth, co-authored by his wife, Debbie. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Several prominent journalists and non-fiction authors help round out the list of contenders, which includes:

  • Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King, and Canada’s World Wars by Tim Cook (Ottawa);
  • Walls: Travels Along the Barricades by Marcello Di Cintio (Calgary);
  • Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age by Modris Ecksteins (Toronto);
  • Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else by Chrystia Freeland (New York City);
  • Working the Dead Beat: 50 Lives That Changed Canada by Sandra Martin (Toronto);
  • Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy by Andrew Preston (Cambridge);
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About War by Noah Richler (Toronto);
  • Chronic Condition: Why Canada’s Health-Care System Needs to be Dragged Into the 21st Century by Jeffrey Simpson (Ottawa);
  • Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaithe by Julija Sukys (Montreal);
  • The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos by Neil Turok (Waterloo).

The jurors for this latest edition of the prize — broadcast executive Susanne Boyce, author Joseph Kertes and author, columnist and past winner Richard Gwyn — selected the long list from 129 titles submitted by 43 publishers.

A short list of finalists will be unveiled Jan. 9, 2013, with a winner to be announced at a gala in Toronto on March 4, 2013.

Established in the memory of Canadian writer and former newspaper correspondent Charles Taylor, the annual prize celebrates the author of a book that "demonstrates a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style and a subtlety of thought and perception."

Past winners have included Andrew Westoll, Carol Shields, Ian Brown and Charles Foran.