The finalists for the 2010 Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction, from left, The Boy in the Moon, Just Watch Me, René Lévesque and The Uncrowned King. ((Random House Canada, Knopf Canada, Penguin Group Canada, Random House))

Three noted titles about iconic historical figures — Pierre Trudeau, René Lévesque and William Randolph Hearst — will face an acclaimed, personal tale of raising a son with a rare disease in this year's race for the Charles Taylor Prize.

Noreen Taylor, who founded the literary non-fiction honour, and journalist-author Andrew Cohen, one of this year's three jurors, on Tuesday morning unveiled the four finalists vying for the prestigious annual award in Toronto:

  • Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for His Disabled Son - Toronto-based journalist and broadcaster Brown began sharing stories about his son Walker's rare genetic mutation in a series of Globe and Mail columns. This subsequent book expands beyond simply an unsparing, detailed portrait of Walker's daily life to include Brown's travels to meet others with the syndrome and gene scientists studying it.
  • John English for Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-2000In this second half of a two-part examination of Trudeau, author and University of Waterloo history Prof. English shines a light on the latter half of the influential prime minister's life and the legacy he left after his 2000 death. Jurors called the book an "engaging interpretation of Canada's most provocative, if erratic, prime minister."
  • Daniel Poliquin for René Lévesque - Montreal author and translator Poliquin's concise biography of Lévesque, produced as part of Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians series, offers "an engaging portrait" of the Quebec leader, "a nation-building hero to some, a nation-destroying villain to others," the jurors said in their citation, which also called the book "rightly insightful," "deftly written" and "a high-octane narrative."
  • Kenneth Whyte for The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst - Whyte, the Toronto-based editor-publisher of the venerable Maclean's magazine, former editor of Saturday Night and founding editor in chief of the National Post, writes from a unique vantage point about the late 19th-century rise of newspaper giant Hearst and fellow publishing pioneer Joseph Pulitzer. The judges called The Uncrowned King "a page-turner; readers will never look the same way at their daily newspapers."

The winner receives $25,000, while the other finalists will receive $2,000 each.

"What is special about the prize is not only its statement of the value of non-fiction in a society which favours fiction, but its emphasis on writing," Cohen said at the shortlist announcement.

'What is special about the prize is not only its statement of the value of non-fiction in a society which favours fiction, but its emphasis on writing.'

—Andrew Cohen, juror

"Its mission is to honour books written with distinction, written with flare and grace. It's to look for memorable books, books which rise above the contemporary camp, which rise about the pedestrian — books which will be around for awhile."

Cohen is joined on the jury panel by award-winning translator Sheila Fischman and author-historian Tim Cook, who won the prize last year for his book Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917-1918.

The three jurors whittled down 125 submissions — "a literary feast of many courses," Cohen said — to the four finalists, who will be feted at an author's brunch in Toronto on Feb. 7. The Charles Taylor Prize ceremony will follow on Feb. 8.

Established to honour the memory of journalist and essayist Charles Taylor, who died in 1997, the prize celebrates excellence in the genre of Canadian literary non-fiction over the past year.

In addition to Cook, other past winners have included Rudy Wiebe, Carol Shields, Wayne Johnston, Isabel Huggan, Charles Montgomery and J.B. MacKinnon.