Friday, 15 July 2011

Mao’s Great Famine – winner of 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.

Mao’s Great Famine by Dutchman Frank Dikötter has been awarded the 2011 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction. The book explores how Mao's 'Great Leap Forward' resulted in the deaths of 45 million Chinese people who were worked, starved or beaten to death as Mao attempted to overtake the West in less than 15 years. Chair of the judges Ben Macintyre commented, "this meticulous account of a brutal manmade calamity is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the history of the 20th century. With access to hitherto hidden archives, Frank Dikötter has created a harrowing, superbly-written indictment of Mao's disastrous revolutionary experiment that led to the unnecessary deaths of 45 million Chinese people. This epic record of human folly is stunningly original and hugely important, and casts Chinese history in a radical new light, with a devastating psychological portrait of the dictator whose ‘Great Leap Forward’ plunged China into catastrophe." He continued "this is not just an important book now, but it will become in some ways more important, as China becomes more powerful in the world and a greater part of global consciousness. To understand why China is the way it is, you almost have to read this book. If you want to understand why it's a materialistic, non-ideological place, you need to realise that just a generation ago, this appalling, manmade catastrophe was visited on its people." Jung Chang has described the book as "the most authoritative and comprehensive study of the biggest and most lethal famine in history. A must-read." Frank Dikötter wins £20,000. Each of the other five shortlisted authors receives £1,000.

The full BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2011 shortlist was:
Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikötter (Bloomsbury);
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham Dixon (Allen Lane);
Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff (HarperPress);
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (Fourth Estate);
Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg (Oxford University Press);
Reprobates by John Stubbs (Viking).

Dikötter becomes the second writer giving an insight into the communist east to win the Samuel Johnson prize in two years after Barbara Demick took it in 2010 for her book Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

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