British Academy prize shortlist

This is an exhilarating article in the Guardian about the six books on the shortlist for the British Academy prize, “launched last year to celebrate the best of accessible scholarly writing within the humanities and social sciences.” What an excellent idea for a prize. Two words that don’t normally seem to go together–accessible and scholarly–joined up and rewarded. Accessible scholarly writing is perhaps my favorite kind of reading, there is a lot of it about, and more attention should be paid to it. It always strikes me as odd how much more glory there is in writing fiction, even (all too often) quite mediocre fiction, than there is in writing good or even brilliant history or biography or sociology or philosophy for an educated but broad public. Simon Blackburn’s Ruling Passions, Richard Jenkyns’ Virgil’s Experience, Terry Pinkard’s Hegel, just to take three examples more or less at random that I (more broad than educated perhaps) have found illuminating as well as inspiring, should all be better known than the latest memoir of house-hunting in Tuscany or novel of angst in Hampstead.

The article gives a summary and brief discussion of each of the six, and I want to rush out and read each one of them. Long live books for the general reader, and prizes for those who write them.

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