British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding Shortlist Revealed

The shortlist has been revealed for the £25,000 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the international book award that rewards and celebrates the best works of non-fiction that have contributed to public understanding of world cultures. 

Previously known as the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, this year’s shortlist, in the prize’s ninth year, features four books "on urgent and globally significant topics".

Designed to illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide, the shortlist is:

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Highlands-based writer Cal Flyn – which explores the ecology and psychology of abandoned places.

Waves Across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire by Sujit Sivasundaram. The Sri Lankan-born Cambridge historian approaches the maritime history of empire from the perspective of indigenous peoples in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Today by Princeton University’s Eddie S Glaude Jr (pictured), which “presents a searing indictment of racial injustice in America, inspired by the life and work of the American essayist, novelist and playwright James Baldwin".

Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities by Ugandan academic and author Mahmood Mamdani, which sets out the argument that “the nation-state and the colonial state created each other”. Mamdani describes the study as “an in-depth inquiry into political modernity, colonial and postcolonial, and an exploration of the roots of violence that has plagued post-colonial society”.

Patrick Wright, fellow of the British Academy, chaired the judging panel and is joined on the jury by Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed, Professor Catherine Hall, Channel 4 broadcaster Fatima Manji and lawyer Philippe Sands. 

Wright said: “Through meticulous research and compelling argument each writer shortlisted for this important prize casts new light on a globally significant problem, raising important questions, and suggesting the lessons that might be learnt for the future. Each of the selected books reaches out to invite the reader to make their own interrogation and thereby to participate in an increase of ‘global understanding’. In different ways, the books all speak directly to the urgent challenges of the times in which we live.”  

The four 2021 shortlisted writers will be brought together from around the world for a live online event, in partnership with the London Review Bookshop on 13th October. The event, which is free to attend, can be booked via the British Academy. The winner will be announced on 26th October.    

Previous winners include:

Hazel V Carby for Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands (2020)

Toby Green for A Fistful of Shells (2019)

Kapka Kassabova for Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe(2018)

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