Book about dark side of tech among finalists for $15K Lionel Gelber Prize

The Lionel Gelber Prize is awarded to the world's best nonfiction book on foreign affairs. The winner will be announced on March 30.
Power to the People is a nonfiction book by Audrey Kurth Cronin. (Oxford University Press, Alexis Glenn)

The Lionel Gelber Prize, a $15,000 award for the world's best nonfiction book on foreign affairs written in English, has announced its five finalists for 2020.

The shortlist, selected by six jurors, is comprised of:

  • The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
  • Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow's Terrorists by Audrey Kurth Cronin
  • The Unsettling of Europe: How Migration Reshaped a Continent by Peter Gatrell
  • Roller-Coaster: Europe 1950-2017 by Ian Kershaw
  • The Light that Failed: A Reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes

This year's jury panel is comprised of Janice Gross Stein from Toronto, Cameron Abadi from Berlin, Lawrence Freedman from London, Margaret MacMillan of Toronto and Oxford, Kishore Mahbubani from Singapore and Jeffrey Simpson from Ottawa.

In The Narrow Corridor, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson look at the American civil rights movement and other examples in both recent and ancient history to explore how political liberty is won, lost and regained.

"They emphasize that preserving liberty is an ongoing struggle that never finishes," said the jurors in a press release.

"Liberty is clearly at peril. In a compelling and important book, they explain why."

Acemolgu and Robinson are professors at MIT and the University of Chicago, respectively.

Power to the People by intelligence expert Audrey Kurth Cronin argues that governments should use regulation to ensure that digital technologies — from smart phones to artificial intelligence — aren't used in dangerous ways.

"Audrey Kurth Cronin meticulously shows how digital technologies have expanded the reach and force of malicious non-state actors," said the jury in a press release.

"The book's greatest virtue may be its calm voice. Cronin shows that the destructive potential of digital technologies is a predictable result of market forces."

Kurth Cronin is based in Washington, D.C., and is considered one of the world's leading experts on security and terrorism.

Peter Gatrell's The Unsettling of Europe is a comprehensive look at the history of migration on the continent.

"Since World War Two, migration of people within countries, from one country to another, and from outside Europe to the continent has been the rule rather than the exception," said the jury in a press release.

"Peter Gatrell has produced a sweeping and engrossing history of these migrations: why they occurred, how host countries saw and see them, and why governments often found themselves caught between welcoming new arrivals that will stimulate economic activity and facing the hostility of voters."

Gatrell is a history professor at the University of Manchester.

Roller-Coaster by Ian Kershaw explores post-Second World War Europe and the ways it was divided over the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

"Kershaw shows how the division affected peoples from the Atlantic to the Urals but also illuminates how economic progress and ideas of liberty bridged that divide," said the jury in a press release.

"With his acute eye for the telling detail and a sure grasp on the great sweep of history, his telling of the latest chapter in the long history of a continent that is no longer at the centre of the world is a fascinating and engrossing read."

Kershaw is a British historian known for his biographies of Adolf Hitler. He received a knighthood for his services to history in 2002.

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes are nominated for The Light that Failed: A Reckoning. The book explores why liberal democracy failed in the aftermath of the Cold War, despite its triumph over communism.

"The authors show how Western triumphalism of the 1990s failed to take into account the distinctive history and culture of states that were seeking to imitate and embed democracy," said the jury in a press release.

"Although the peoples of former communist countries joined the EU and NATO and signed up to liberal values and the rule of law, they became alienated by the corruption and inequality that followed. The analysis of politics and culture in the former Eastern Europe is original and riveting."

Krastev is a fellow at the Institute for Human Science in Vienna and opinion writer for the International New York Times. Holmes is a law professor at New York University.

The winner will be announced on March 10, 2020 and will give a public lecture in Toronto at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy on March 30, 2020.

The prize was founded by Canadian diplomat Lionel Gelber in 1989.


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