When public discourse denigrates expertise – when politicians and Twitter trolls alike have learned to dismiss every criticism or uncomfortable truth as ‘fake’ and media outlets compete for clickbait headlines – it’s not surprising to find a corresponding hunger for a deeper more thoughtful form of engagement with ideas and for that – thankfully – there’s still no better medium than a book.
On Wednesday the Baillie Gifford prize will be presented – Britain’s most prestigious award for nonfiction writing.
Whichever of the six shortlisted authors takes home the £30,000 prize and the resulting boost to sales it’s an opportunity for booksellers and publishers to remind the public of the current robust health of nonfiction writing.
Not so long ago nonfiction bestseller lists were dominated by cookbooks and celebrity memoirs – but over the past couple of years a noticeable shift has taken place.
Books about evolution (Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens) – medicine (Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt) – geopolitics (Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography) – physics (Stephen Hawking’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions) and philosophy (Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life) have all held on in the top 10.
Harari’s book in particular – with sales of more than three quarters of a million copies – heralded a renaissance of what the Bookseller magazine this year called the “brainy backlist”.