Books about Cuba, Russia and China are shortlisted for $100K Cundill History Prize

The prize, administered by McGill University, annually recognizes the year's best work of historical nonfiction.

The historical writing prize is administered by McGill University

The $100,000 prize prize, administered by McGill University, annually recognizes the year's best work of historical nonfiction. (Submitted by the Cundill History Prize)

Books that span the globe, exploring the evolution of Cuba, Russia, China and beyond, comprise the 2022 Cundill History Prize shortlist.

The $75,000 US ($100,047 Cdn) prize annually recognizes a book that demonstrates historical scholarship, literary excellence and broad appeal. It is open to books from anywhere in the world, by authors of all nationalities and translated into English from different languages. It is administered by McGill University in Montreal.

No Canadians made the 2022 shortlist.

Cuba by Ada Ferrer, which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for History, explores the evolution of modern-day Cuba from its record of conquest and colonization to independence. 

Ferrer is a professor of history and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Born in Cuba and raised in the United States, Ferrer is now based in New York City.

Collapse by Vladislav M. Zubok sheds light on the fall of the Soviet Union from Russian democratic populism to the Baltic struggle for independence and the fragility of authoritarian state power.

Zubok is a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His other books include A Failed Empire, Zhivago's Children and The Idea of Russia. He was born in Moscow. 

Two books exploring China's relationship with the West have made the shortlist: The Chinese Question by Mae Ngai and The Perils of Interpreting by Henrietta Harrison.

The Chinese Question looks at the friction between Chinese miners and white settlers working on the goldfields of California, Australia and South Africa, and how racist laws that excluded Chinese people from immigration and citizenship emerged. The Chinese Question won the 2022 Bancroft Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in the field of American history. 

Ngai is a U.S. legal and political historian interested in the histories of immigration, citizenship, nationalism and the Chinese diaspora. She is author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America and The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America

The Perils of Interpreting examines China's relations with the West through the lives of two language interpreters who participated in the famed Macartney embassy in 1793.

Harrison is a British professor, who teaches modern Chinese studies at the University of Oxford. She is also the Stanley Ho Tutorial Fellow in Chinese History at Pembroke College. Her books include The Man Awakened from Dreams and The Missionary's Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village

The complete shortlist is:

  • In The Forest of No Joy by J.P. Daughton
  • Cuba by Ada Ferrer
  • The Perils of Interpreting by Henrietta Harrison
  • Aftermath by Harald Jähner
  • All That She Carried by Tiya Miles
  • The Chinese Question by Mae Ngai
  • Not One Inch by M.E. Sarotte
  • Collapse by Vladislav M. Zubok

This year's prize jury is chaired by J.R. McNeill, an American environmental historian, author and professor. 

"The eight [books] on the shortlist span a wide range of the historian's craft, but all share certain virtues: they demonstrate imagination in research, clarity in writing and they invite readers to see their topics in novel ways. The variety of approaches, methods, perspectives and subjects on offer in these books confirms my sense that history nowadays is in very good hands," McNeill said in a press release.

McNeill is joined by jurors Kenda Mutongi, a professor of history at MIT, British writer and historian Yasmin Khan, American historian Martha S. Jones and British journalist Misha Glenny. 

The finalists will be announced on Oct. 20, 2022 and the winner will be announced on Dec. 1, 2022.

Two runners-up will each receive $10,000 U.S. ($13,337 Cdn).

Last year's winner was Marjoleine Kars for Blood on the River: a Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast.

Previous winners also include Camilla Townsend, Julia Lovell, Maya Jasanoff and Daniel Beer. 

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