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Italian historian wins $75K Cundill Prize

A book about controversial 20th century saint Padre Pio has won the Cundill Prize, a $75,000 award from McGill University for historical literature.
A silicon hand-painted bearded mask of the face of Padre Pio is seen inside a crystal casket in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, on April 24, 2008, where it was put on public display. A book about him has won the Cundill Prize. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

A book about controversial 20th century saint Padre Pio has won the Cundill Prize, a $75,000 award from McGill University for historical literature.

Italian historian Sergio Luzzatto won the top award on Sunday in London for his book Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age.

Padre Pio was an Italian Capuchin priest famous for his stigmata who was declared a saint because of his popularity, despite much skepticism at the Vatican. The Cundill jury called the book "masterful" and acclaimed it as an examination of the politics of sainthood and the persistence of mysticism in the modern world.

"The research is staggeringly deep and wide – embracing runs of archival arguments never before consulted and rare books and pamphlets preserved in obscure libraries," said jury member Ramachandra Guha.

The prize, now in its third year, accepts books in English or translated into English. Padre Pio was translated by Frederika Randall and published by Metropolitan Books

Two other finalists won $10,000 awards of recognition. They are:

•  Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles:  American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Alfred A. Knopf)/ U.K. title is Liberty’s Exiles:  The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (HarperPress).

•  Yale professor Timothy Snyder for Bloodlands:  Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books).