Daniel Beer wins $75K US history writing prize for The House of the Dead

Jury chair Margaret MacMillan praised the book as a "moving and heart-rending account" of prisoners exiled to Siberia by the tsarist regime.
British historian Daniel Beer explores the history exiled prisoners in Siberia in The House of the Dead. (Courtesy of the Cundill HIstory Prize)

British historian Daniel Beer has won the Cundill History Prize for The House of the Dead, which jury chair Margaret MacMillan praised as a "moving and heart-rending account" of prisoners exiled to Siberia by the tsarist regime.

Beer will take home $75,000 US (approx. $95,190 Cdn), one of the world's biggest prize purses for a work of nonfiction. The Cundill History Prize is administered annually by McGill University in Montreal and is open to English-language books published internationally.

"It is a great long way from the regional archives of Siberia to the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. I am deeply humbled by this prize," said Beer.

The House of the Dead examines the brutal history of Siberia, known as "the vast prison without a roof." Over one million prisoners and their families were exiled by the tsarist regime beginning from the early 19th century to the Russian Revolution.

"Daniel Beer has done extraordinary research, using underappreciated and unexamined sources, to show what exile meant to generations of Russians and other nationalities within the Russian Empire," said MacMillan in a news release.

"The House of the Dead is a haunting and important contribution to Russian history, and a hugely deserving winner of the 2017 Cundill History Prize."

Beer is a history lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. The House of the Dead was also shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize and the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize.

The two finalists, Université du Québec à Montréal professor Christopher Goscha for Vietnam and U.S.-based Austrian author Walter Scheidel for The Great Leveler, will each receive $10,000 US (approx. $12,692 Cdn).

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