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  • 'The Magnetic North'

    Thu, 22 Apr 2010 03:55

    Just longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction is Sarah Wheeler's The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic reviewed in the Guardian late last year:

    To many British people, the word "Arctic" may still conjure up the Canadian High Arctic, the ice-locked wonderland of whalers and lost Victorian expeditions. "Arctic peoples" probably suggests the Inuit, with igloos and sleds. Alternatively, "Arctic" may mean the home of climate change. Ice is frightening, but so is the sudden lack of it. With the Chukchi and Sami peoples we are less familiar, as we are with the "taiga": the vast band of pine forest reaching across the extreme north of Europe and Russia.

    "What is the Arctic?" is a question Sara Wheeler sets out to answer. It's important we update our imaginations, and set aside the igloos, because whatever the Arctic is, "everyone wants what the Arctic has": land, oil and minerals.

    Fifteen years ago, then a younger woman and one without children, Wheeler wrote Terra Incognita, about the Antarctic. After that unpeopled emptiness she was, she admits, prejudiced against the "complicated, life-infested north". There is, however, an irrepressible flavour to Wheeler's writing, and to her sense of project. She sets out on a series of journeys to different parts of the extreme north, travelling into all the Arctic-holding countries: Russia, the US, Canada, Greenland, the Scandinavian states. In a lovely image, she likens the Arctic to a bracelet made of antler horn, which she was given by a Sami man with whom she stayed. It was cold and hard and white, and "I fancied that it smelled of smoke and beechwood". What she discovers, though, is a sorry mess of brutality and ignorance, cruelty and environmental pillage -- and resilience and beauty (more...)

  • The Pulitzer Prize winners...

    Wed, 14 Apr 2010 04:36

    The Pulitzer Prize winners have been announced (go to for the full break down):

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Tinkers by Paul Harding: "An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks..."

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: Versed by Rae Armantrout: "The poems in the first section, 'Versed', play with vice and versa, the perversity of human consciousness. They flirt with error and delusion, skating on a thin ice that inevitably cracks. In the second section, 'Dark Matter', the invisible and unknowable are confronted directly as Armantrout's experience with cancer marks these poems with a new austerity, shot through with her signature wit and stark unsentimental thinking..."

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography: The First Tycoon - The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles: "Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius 'Commodore' Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington's presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation's largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire...

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction: The Dead Hand - The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E Hoffman: "During the Cold War, world superpowers amassed nuclear arsenals containing the explosive power of one million Hiroshimas. The Soviet Union secretly plotted to create the "Dead Hand," a system designed to launch an automatic retaliatory nuclear strike on the United States, and developed a fearsome biological warfare machine. President Ronald Reagan, hoping to awe the Soviets into submission, pushed hard for the creation of space-based missile defenses..."

    Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed: "With penetrating insights for today, this vital history of the world economic collapse of the late 1920s offers unforgettable portraits of the four men whose personal and professional actions as heads of their respective central banks changed the course of the twentieth century..."

  • Orwell Prize longlist announced

    Thu, 25 Mar 2010 07:27

    The longlist for the Orwell Prize has been announced. The Orwell Prize is the pre-eminent British prize for political writing:

    The longlist:

    Andy Beckett: When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies

    The seventies are probably the most important and fascinating period in modern British political history. They encompass strikes that brought down governments, shock general election results, the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the fall of Edward Heath, the IMF crisis, the Winter of Discontent and the three-day week. But the seventies have also been frequently misunderstood...

    Brian Chikwava: Harare North

    When he lands in Harare North, our unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and an email address for his childhood friend, Shingi. Finessing his way through immigration, he spends a few restless weeks as the very unwelcome guest in his cousin's home before tracking down Shingi in a Brixton squat...

    Nick Cohen: Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England

    By the summer of 2007, Britain was close to crashing. A few onlookers realised the danger, but Britain's political leaders were not among them. Politicians and civil servants boasted that the City's economy was booming because of their 'light-touch regulation' of workers in financial services whose number included potential frauds...

    Christopher de Bellaigue: Rebel Land: Among Turkey's Forgotten Peoples

    What is the meaning of love and death in a remote, forgotten, impossibly conflicted part of the world? In Rebel Land the acclaimed author and journalist Christopher de Bellaigue journeys to Turkey's inhospitable eastern provinces to find out...

    Ruth Dudley Edwards: Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing and the Families' Pursuit of Justice

    It was a very domestic atrocity. In Omagh, on Saturday, 15 August 1998, a massive bomb placed by the so-called Real IRA murdered unborn twins, six men, twelve women and eleven children, of whom two were Spanish and one English: the dead included Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon...

    Petina Gappah: An Elegy for Easterly

    A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlour brings unexpected riches; a politician's widow quietly stands by at her husband's funeral watching his colleagues bury an empty coffin...

    David Gardner: Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance

    As Barack Obama seeks to chart a new course in American foreign policy, one of the English language media's most respected authorities on the Arab world, David Gardner, addresses the controversial but urgent question: why is the Middle East so dysfunctional?

    Andrea Gillies: Keeper

    Three years ago, Andrea Gillies made the decision to take on the full-time care of her mother-in-law, Nancy, an Alzheimer's sufferer. With her family, she moved to a remote peninsula in northern Scotland to a house with sufficient space to accommodate Nancy and her elderly husband Morris and there embarked on an extraordinarily challenging journey...

    Tristram Hunt: The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

    Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous mercantile family in west Germany, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable, middle-class life of a Victorian gentleman. Yet Engels was also the co-founder of international communism...

    John Kampfner: Freedom For Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty

    Governments around the world -- whether they fall into the authoritarian or the democratic camp -- have drawn up a new pact with their peoples. These are its terms: repression is selective, confined to those who openly challenge the status quo, who publicly go out of their way to 'cause trouble'. The number of people who fall into that category is actually very few...

    Kenan Malik: From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy

    When a thousand Muslim protestors paraded through a British town with a copy of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses before ceremoniously burning the book, it was an act motivated by anger and offence as well as one calculated to shock and offend. It did more than that: the image of the burning book became an icon of the Muslim anger...

    Vesna Maric: Bluebird: A Memoir

    Vesna Maric left Bosnia the beginning of the war, at the age of 16, on a convoy of coaches carrying refugees to Penrith, in the north of England. This title is Vesna's memoir of the experience, from the beginning of the war through to her eventual return to Bosnia, years later...

    Fintan O'Toole: Ship of Fools: How Corruption and Stupidity Killed the Celtic Tiger

    Between 1995 and 2007, the Republic of Ireland was the worldwide model of successful adaptation to economic globalisation. The success story was phenomenal: a doubling of the workforce; a massive growth in exports; a GDP that was substantially above the EU average. Ireland became the world's largest exporter of software and manufactured the world's supply of Viagra...

    Michael Peel: A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier

    Nigeria is a country where petroleum prices and polio are both booming, where small villages challenge giant oil companies, and scooter drivers run their own mini-state. The oil-rich Delta region at the heart of it all is, as Peel shows us, a troublespot as hot as the local pepper soup. Through a host of characters, from the prostitutes of Port Harcourt to the Area Boys of Lagos, from the militants in their swamp forest hide-outs to the oil company executives in London, Peel tells the story of this extraordinary country, which grows ever more wild and lawless by the day as its crude oil pumps through our cities...

    Sara Wheeler: The Magnetic North: Notes From the Arctic Circle

    Smashing through the Arctic Ocean with the crew of a Russian icebreaker, herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps and shadowing the Trans-Alaskan pipeline with truckers, Sara Wheeler uncovers the beautiful, brutal reality of the Arctic...

    Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

    It is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Large inequalities of income are likewise often regarded as divisive and corrosive. This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, goes an important stage beyond either of these ideas: it demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them -- the well-off as well as the poor...

    Ben Wilson: What Price Liberty? How Freedom Was Won and is Being Lost

    Individual liberty will be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. With fear of terrorism, crime and social chaos putting our ideals of it into retreat in recent years, how do we, as individuals, negotiate the maximum amount of freedom in such a complex world? How can we resist the growth of intrusive authoritarianism without exposing ourselves to those risks?

    Michela Wrong: It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle Blower

    When Michela Wrong's Kenyan friend John Githongo appeared one cold February morning on the doorstep of her London flat, carrying a small mountain of luggage and four trilling mobile phones he seemed determined to ignore, it was clear something had gone very wrong in a country regarded until then as one of Africa's few budding success stories...

  • The Bookseller magazine is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2009 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, its yearly list of books with bonkers names! I'm particularly fond of What Kind of Bean Is This Chihuahua? Fabulously silly title. What is your favourite?

    Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter by David Crompton

    The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Impact of Generation, Gender, and Global Trends by Ellen Scherl and Marla Dubinsky

    Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich by James A. Yannes

    Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina

    Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots by Ronald Arkin

    What Kind of Bean Is This Chihuahua? by Tara Jansen-Meyer, illustrated by Swapan Debnath

  • Costa Book Awards' shortlists

    Wed, 25 Nov 2009 08:57

    The shortlists for the Costa Book Awards have been announced:

    Costa First Novel Award:

    Costa Novel Award:

    Costa Biography Award:

    Costa Poetry Award:

    Costa Children's Award:

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