Shortlist revealed for 2012 Charles Taylor Prize

The shortlist for the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction was announced last week (10th Jan) at the RBC Plaza in downtown Toronto, by Prize founder Noreen Taylor. From a pool of 115 books from 35 publishers around the world, the final list of five, together with the judging jury’s comments for each title, is as follows (all links lead to publisher websites in Canada):

  • Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis (Alfred A. Knopf Canada)“In this monumental volume, Wade Davis narrates explorer George Mallory’s heroic attempt to scale Everest following the Great War. With remarkable new research in previously unexplored British archives and in the Himalayas, Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest powerfully links the devastating carnage and demoralization of the War to the transcendent aspiration of Mallory and his compatriots to ascend Everest. With skill and insight, Davis explores the meaning of this valorous yet tragic climb for post-war Britain and the world.”
  • Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe by Charlotte Gill (Greystone Books)“Only a writer as skilled as Charlotte Gill could make the back-breaking work of planting more than a million seedlings sound like one of life’s essential adventures. In a carefully balanced story of science, business and friendship, and one that is surprisingly unsentimental, Gill shares her love for Canada’s boreal forests, the tragedy of their disappearances and the grueling work involved in replacing them. Reader, you might finish this book feeling relieved you don’t plant trees — but you will be wishing you could.”
  • The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit by JJ Lee (McClelland & Stewart)“As an experienced radio current affairs producer, JJ Lee knew what it took to make a good story though he never expected his own life to end up in a book. The Measure of a Man, Lee’s account of trying to remake one of his late father’s old suits into one for himself, began as a CBC Radio documentary. An editor suggested it would make a good book. She was right. Beautifully crafted, Lee’s memoir is a heartbreaking page-turner about a family, an abusive father, and men’s fashion. Who could have thought these themes could work together? In his first book, Lee has shown us how.”
  • Afflictions & Departures: Essays by Madeline Sonik (Anvil Press)“Startlingly original, Madeline Sonik’s moving story of her childhood defies all our expectations of memoir. She captures crystalline moments of childhood memory and links them in a daisy-chain with corresponding events of the tumultuous societal change taking place outside her home. It is North America in the 1960s and 70s and her letter-perfect, child’s-eye view of the world brings back that time with such intensity that the reader can almost smell and taste it. Droll, tragic, and absolutely compelling, Afflictions and Departures is a visceral portrayal of a family imploding.”
  • The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery by Andrew Westoll (HarperCollins Publishers)“Brilliantly blending science and storytelling, primatologist and author Andrew Westoll takes us deep into the world of the haunted and haunting rescued research chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. Pulled from decades of horrific lab conditions, rescued chimps live out the balance of their long lives in sanctuaries such as Fauna, cared for and loved by an extraordinary group of people. Westoll deftly draws the reader into the wild day-to-day ride of life with the Fauna chimps and soon their Otherness falls away. Through his lens, the chimps are revealed as the individuals they are, with all their foibles, damage, and possibility – and the reader’s world view shifts on its axis. Heartrending and heart-warming, this is a stunning and important work of art and documentary and science.”

The overall winner of the eleventh Charles Taylor Prize – who will receive $25,000, while the four runners-up will each receive $2,000 – will be be announced on March 5th. For further details, please visit the Charles Taylor Prize website.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Amy (Twitter: amckiereads)

    Great list of books! This is one of my fave prizes from Canada, though I rarely actually read the winner. heh. Must get better at doing that!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      I like it Amy, because it’s one of the only awards in the world that gives a nod to the wonderful world of literary nonfiction.