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Recycling Johnson Takes A Literary Turn

Written by Charlotte Murray, 15th June 2011

As Phil and Sheena begin the final stretch of their Scottish cycling tour (only 91 miles to go after today!), my research into Dr Johnson has taken a more literary turn, with the announcement of the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction yesterday. The Samuel Johnson Prize aims to reward the best non-fiction and is open to authors of all non-fiction books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts. This year’s selection appears to be pretty heavy on history and biography, with works on Caravaggio, Bismarck, and Mao’s Great Famine appearing on the shortlist. Other entries include John Stubbs’s Reprobates, which offers an insight into the Cavaliers of the English Civil War, drawing on the writings and experiences of “wits, womanisers and wanderers,” and Maya Jasanoff’s Liberty’s Exiles, which tells the story of the remarkable global diaspora created by the emigration of Americans to other parts of the British Empire, in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The only non-historical entry shortlisted is The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley, a book which apparently proves that, however much we like to think to the contrary, things are getting better and, compared to 10,000 years ago, we are better fed, better sheltered, better entertained and better protected from disease.

The shortlist looks great – I’d be especially interested to read Maya Jasanoff’s book – we’re so used to thinking in terms of people emigrating to America,  I think it would be fascinating to discover the life stories of those who left the country to start a new life in some distant corner of the British Empire. One to add to my summer reading list methinks.

The winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize will be announced on 6th July, with a special edition of The Culture Show the following evening discussing the result and shortlisted entries.

So, as it turns out, Phil and Sheena aren’t the only ones to be inspired by Johnson! But, whilst the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize will receive the princely sum of £20,000, Phil and Sheena are trying to raise £1000 for Get Into Reading. If you’d like to help them reach their target, visit their charity giving page and donate whatever you can.

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