Yesterday evening History Today magazine announced the longlist for the prestigious Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award. The longlist of 20 titles contains three Yale books, The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe by James Mark, Tibet: A History, Sam Van Schaik and Palmerston: A Biography by David Brown. Today we take a look at these three great history titles.
Last January Yale University Press books had considerable success at the Longman–History Today Book of the Year Award, with Alan Allport’s Demobbed: Coming Home After the Second World War scooping the coveted prize and James Mather’s Pashas: Traders and Travellers in the Islamic World being named as a runner up. Yesterday, the 2011 longlist was announced with three Yale titles in the running.
The prize of £2,000, which is given for an author’s first or second history book, will be announced in January 2012, with a shortlist expected in December.
The three Yale books in the longlist cover a diverse mixture of topics, including political history, biography and world history. The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe by James Mark examines how new democratic societies are still divided by the past.
While the West has repeatedly been sold images of a victorious people’s revolution in 1989, the idea that dictatorship has been truly overcome is foreign to many in the former Communist bloc. While some view 1989 as a betrayal and defeat, and continue an ‘unfinished struggle’ against the former regime, others seek to heal the divisions of history, and ex-Communists proclaim themselves to be the real liberators from dictatorship.
The Unfinished Revolution presents the voices of ordinary people who lived through Communism to uncover the variety of ways in which they now come to terms with their choices and experiences. Drawing on a broad range of themes and sources – speeches, public ritual, protest, international disputes, museums, memorials, forensic archaeology, secret police archives, and interviews – James Mark’s book is the first to integrate the study of politics, culture, and social memory across east-central Europe.
Tibet: A History by Sam Van Schaik is a timely and illuminating history of the country, from the seventh century to what it means to be Tibetan today. Tibet is famous for its unique culture and its controversial assimilation into modern China. Yet in the twenty-first century it can only be properly understood in the context of its extraordinary history.
In his book Sam van Schaik (a previous contributor to this blog) brings the history of Tibet to life by telling the stories of the people involved, from the glory days of the Tibetan empire in the seventh century through to the present day. He explores the emergence of Tibetan Buddhism and the rise of the Dalai Lamas, Tibet’s entanglement in the ‘Great Game’ in the early twentieth century, its submission to Chinese Communist rule in the 1950s, and the troubled times of recent decades. Tibet sheds light on the country’s complex relationship with China and explains often-misunderstood aspects of its culture, such as reborn lamas, monasteries and hermits, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the role of the Dalai Lama. Van Schaik works through the layers of history and myth to create a compelling narrative, one that offers readers a greater understanding of this important and controversial corner of the world.
Finally, Palmerston: A Biography by David Brown is the first comprehensive biography of the charismatic Lord Palmerston (1784–1865), a grand and fascinating figure in Victorian politics who became foreign secretary, prime minister, and one of the defining figures of his age. Palmerston presided over a period of great political and social change. He served as foreign secretary for fifteen years and prime minister for nine, engaged in struggles with everyone from the Duke of Wellington to Lord John Russell to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, engineered the defeat of the Russians in the Crimean War, and played a major role in the development of liberalism and the Liberal Party.
David Brown’s biography, informed by unprecedented research in the statesman’s personal archives, gives full weight not only to Palmerston’s foreign policy achievements, but also to his domestic political activity, political thought, life as a landlord, and private life and affairs. Through the lens of the period, the book pinpoints for the first time the nature and extent of Palmerston’s contributions to the making of modern Britain.
Watch this space for further news of this prize next month, when the shortlist is announced.
The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe by James Mark, Tibet: A History, Sam Van Schaik and Palmerston: A Biography by David Brown are all available from Yale University Press.
Read Sam van Schaik’s author article on this blog, where he discusses how Tibet is perceived by the West.