A journalistic investigation into the real lives of North Koreans in the 21st century has been named as the winner of the 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick weaves together the stories of adversity, resilience and survival of six ordinary people living in Chongin. Demick interviewed a range of defectors from North Korea to give a compelling insight into the lives of the citizens of a country where there is no internet access and all radio and television broadcasts are government sponsored. The title of the book comes from a song North Korean children are taught, “We have nothing to envy in the world”, and until recently people seem to have believed this as they had so little access to information about life outside their own borders. Evan Davis, chair of the judges commented "I think we knew this book had something when we found ourselves reading it out loud to spouses and partners. And it is a real testament to Demick’s writing, that a book on such a grim topic can be so hard to put down. It is very, very readable". Barbara Demick is a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. She is currently living in Beijing. Her coverage of the war in Sarajevo won various awards and she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting. The BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction is the richest non fiction prize in the UK, worth £20,000 to the winner. The prize aims to reward the best of 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.
The other shortlisted titles were:
Alex’s Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos – a book about maths;
Blood Knots by Luke Jennings – a fishing memoir;
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin – an account of the financial crisis;
A Gambling Man by Jenny Uglow – a portrait of Charles II and
Catching Fire: How Cooking made us Human by Richard Wrangham – an examination of cooking’s role in human evolution.
Last year’s prize was won by Philip Hoare’s Leviathan, a study of whales.