McGill University announces tenth annual Cundill History Book Prize finalists

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS

McGill University is celebrating the 10th anniversary of world’s richest history book prize, the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature. The university announced the 2017 long list finalists on Sept. 26, will announce the top three on Oct. 26, and the winner on Nov. 16. McGill University

The richest history book prize in the world just announced their long list finalists for the tenth annual award. Canada’s McGill University announced on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, ten long list finalists for their $75,000 American annual international Cundill Prize in Historical Literature for history non-fiction books published in the last year. This year’s finalists include historians from five countries including one from Montreal on a variety of topics, areas and periods, although religious history is prominent among the finalists chosen.

The prize is open to any authored history book across the globe. For the tenth anniversary, the university “rebranded” the prize to “illuminate the truth at a time in world affairs when informed, factual debate is increasingly losing out to populism and retrenchment is on the rise.” A jury of five historians determines who wins the book prize. Canadian historian and Oxford University professor Margaret MacMillan is chairing this year’s jury. The jury is predominantly British, with Oxford University professors Roy Foster and Rana Mitter, but includes one American British-American historian and columnist Amanda Foreman and one Canadian, journalist Jeffrey Simpson. The Cundill Prize also has a committee of McGill faculty members.

This year’s long list was shortened from a record 330 submissions, double the amount McGill received for their 2016 prize. Jury Chair MacMillan remarked about the quantity and quality of the books under consideration. MacMillan said, “Our long list reflects the exciting and varied state of history today. The books on it cover subjects from Vietnam to Native American history and range in time from prehistory to the present. Their outstanding men and women authors come from around the world. It certainly wasn’t easy for our jury to whittle down over 300 entries into 10 but I am happy that we have come up with such a strong and interesting selection.”

The long list heavily features religious history with three books included, Christopher de Ballaigue’s The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times (WW Norton), Lyndal Roper’s Martin Luther (Bodley Head), and Frances FitzGerald In The Evangelicals (S&S US). This year’s finalists include one book by an academic at neighboring Université du Québec à Montréal, Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam: A New History. American published books dominate the list with six, four published in Britain, and only one from Canada.

Jury member Mitter counters saying the list is varied and global. Mitter commented, “As a historian of China I’m particularly delighted at how wide the geographical range of these books are. All are outstanding in quality. I note in terms of range that we have a long study of Vietnam, a major country in Southeast Asia that is little understood in the west; an examination of Islam over several centuries; and an analysis of inequality that draws on material from China as well as the west. In addition, North America and Europe are richly represented. This is a very global list.”

The long list will be further narrowed down to three short finalists on October 26. MacMillan will announce the finalists at a “press conference at Canada House in London.” McGill will then announce the winner at a gala in Montreal on Nov. 16 after a lecture by the top three on Nov. 15. All three finalists will be winners as each runner-up receives a Recognition of Excellence Award and $10,000 American. Qualifying and winning books have to include “historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal.” The prize was “founded by McGill alumnus F. Peter Cundill,” with the first prize was announced in 2008.

Cundill Prize Finalists

Black Elk by Joe Jackson, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy by Heather Thompson, Pantheon Books
Martin Luther by Lyndal Roper, Bodley Head
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel, Allen Lane
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald, Simon & Schuster US
The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsar by Daniel Beer, Allen Lane
The Islamic Enlightenment: The Struggle Between Faith and Reason, 1798 to Modern Times by Christopher de Bellaigue, W. W. Norton & Company
Vietnam: A New History by Christopher Goscha, Basic Books
Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928 by Stephen Smith, Oxford University Press
The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by Walter Schneidel, Princeton University Press

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @

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