What are the best English-language non-fiction books of the year?

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The Bailey Gifford Awards in the UK honor the best non-fiction book in English every year.
This year’s winner is “Super Unlimited: The Transformations of John Donne” by Katherine Rundell. This is a biography of the poet John Donne, who was also a legal scholar, sea adventurer and member of Parliament.
Here’s a look at Super Infinity and the five other shortlisted titles.
The Bailey Gifford Prize is an annual UK book award for the best non-fiction in the English language. Its predecessor was the Samuel Johnson prize named after the compiler of the first English dictionary in history. Established in 1999, the Samuel Johnson Awards honor books in all areas of nonfiction, from current events, history and politics to sports, science and travel.

Books that have won the £50,000 ($59,000) prize in the past include Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl: A Tragic History in 2018 and Craig Brown’s History of the Beatles in 2020 . Also included are Steve Silberman’s Mental Tribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to See People Who Think Differently and Helen Macdonald’s In the Name of an Eagle , the latter about the author spending a year training an eagle after his father’s death. Goshawk’s story.

2022 Bailey Gifford Award Winner: Katherine Rundell’s Super Unlimited
This year’s Bailey Gifford winner is Katherine Rundell’s Super Unlimited , subtitled John Donne’s Transformation. This is a biography of poet John Donne, who was also a legal scholar, sea adventurer, member of Parliament, priest and dean of London’s iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Katherine Rundell’s Super Infinite is the winner of the 2022 Bailey Gifford Award for Nonfiction. Image: Faber
Donne (1572-1631) was considered a “metaphysical poet” at the time, an expression coined by the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson. According to the Poetry Foundation, metaphysical poets refer to “a group of poets in the 17th century whose work is characterized by philosophical exploration, colloquial rhetoric, ingenious design, irony, and flexible sentence patterns, and whose topics of interest often include love, Religion and Morality”.

Rundell describes Donne as “the best writer of desire in the English-speaking world” . One of Donne’s most famous poems, “The Flea” , shows the famous “ingenious conception” of those metaphysical poets, using the image of a flea sucking the blood of a pair of lovers to explore the relationship between conflict and desire.

But as the title of “Super Unlimited” suggests, the book isn’t just about Donne’s poetry, it’s about his inability to settle for just one thing . The British “Guardian” wrote in its review: “If there is a general point to be summarized, then this book is about Donne as an ‘infinite merchant’ who, in the process of embracing the infinite, turns eternity into A mathematical concept. Donne has always pursued this quality with gusto.”

Bailey Gifford Award shortlist
Here are five other books that were also shortlisted for this year’s Bailey Gifford Award.

Sally Hayden, “The Fourth We’re Sinking: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route”
The book didn’t win the Bailey Gifford Prize, but Sally Hayden’s investigation of the migrant crisis across North Africa has already won the Orwell Prize for Political Writing and the Michel de Eng Prize for Nonfiction .

Bailey Gifford Award finalist My Fourth Time, We Drowned has already scooped two prestigious awards. Image: HarperCollins
Hayden started writing the book after she received a Facebook message from a refugee in a Libyan prison . The book highlights just how devastating human suffering has become and delves into the systemic issues behind it, from the slave trade in the 21st century to the frustration of aid workers and issues of European policymaking.

Caroline Elkins, A Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire
Caroline Elkins won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya . In her new book, the mistakes of the British Empire are once again under the microscope. The nearly 900-page book dissects what fellow author Amitav Ghosh calls a “hidden legacy” whose “bitter fruits are becoming more evident every day”.

Based on records from 37 former colonies, Caroline Elkins concludes that violence has always been at the heart of the British Empire. This work is shortlisted for the 2022 Bailey Gifford Award. Image: Penguin
Elkins argues that defending the British Empire on the sole grounds that it helped spread modernity and the rule of law is deeply flawed. Based on records from 37 former colonies, she argues that violence was always at the heart of the British Empire, whose purpose was more about economic exploitation than empowerment .

Jonathan Freedland, The Escape Artist: The Man Who Raised Auschwitz to Warn the World
Rudolf Vrba was the first person to escape from Auschwitz. He was taken to a death camp at the age of 17, where he remained captive for nearly two years before finding his way out.

The Escape Artist, shortlisted for the Bailey Gifford Award, tells the story of the first man to escape from Auschwitz. Image: HarperCollins
And before escaping, Vrba systematically recorded what he saw . A very gifted science student, he took to heart every detail of what he saw. As soon as he was out of the concentration camp, he compiled this information into a report. The report was later passed on to world leaders, saving thousands of lives .

Anna Keay, A Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II this year, her son immediately became King Charles III, allowing for an immediate and uninterrupted continuation of the British monarchy. However, in 1649, the British monarchy was completely abolished after the outbreak of the revolution.

Anna Keay uses various people from the 1650s as a guide to a time when England had no monarch. Image: HarperCollins
A Restless Republic by Anna Keay traces the events of the 10 years following the execution of Charles I for treason in 1649 . However, she does not write like a traditional history book, but uses the perspectives of various people of the time as a guide to the era, from a shipbuilder’s daughter to the lawyer who tried Charles I.

Polly Morland, Lucky Woman: The Story of a Country Doctor
John Berger’s 1967 book A Fortune Man tells the story of a country doctor at the birth of England’s National Health Service. Polly Morland consciously borrows that title in her book, which tells the story of a female doctor working in the same Valley community 50 years later.

Polly Morland, shortlisted for the 2022 Bailey Gifford Award, explores what it means to be a doctor in today’s world. Image: Pan Macmillan
The book’s publisher, Pan Macmillan, said: “Following half a century of dramatic changes in our society and the way medicine is practiced, Lucky Woman revisits the story Berger describes, revealing how it can be done in today’s complex and challenging world. What it means to be a doctor .” Book reviewers agree.

Daniel J. Brown

Daniel J. Brown (Editor-in-Chief) is a recently retired data analyst who gets a kick out of reading and writing the news. He enjoys good music, great food, and sports, with a slant towards Southern college football, basketball and professional baseball.

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