Orwell prize shortlist dominated by books on Middle East


The shortlist for the 2016 for the best political writing, announced on Thursday evening, is dominated by the Middle East, from a guide to Islamic militancy to an exploration of the Egyptian revolution.

There are six books in the running for the £3,000 prize, which goes to the book that is judged to come closest to George Orwell’s ambition to “make political writing into an art”. Jason Burke () was chosen for , Wendell Steavenson for , which traces the revolution in Egypt from Mubarak’s fall to Mohamed Morsi’s, and .

Sky’s book is an account of how she volunteered to help rebuild Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, ending up as political adviser to the US general Raymond Odierno in 2007. The Guardian’s review said that it “reads almost like a novel: a detailed and darkly humorous account that tries to understand everyone involved, Iraqis and Americans, on their own terms”.

Lord William Waldegrave, one of this year’s judges, called Sky’s “an extraordinary story”. “She writes in a very deadpan, unexaggerated way about being involved in the most extraordinary things, and gives an account of what went wrong,” he told the Guardian.

Waldegrave said that he and his fellow judges – Cambridge academic Andrew Gamble, Prospect editor-at-large David Goodhart and Fiammetta Rocco – felt that “if there is a united theme for the shortlist this year, it’s one of chaos and disorder”, whether this is in economist John Kay’s analysis of what has gone wrong in the financial sector, Other People’s Money, or Arkady Ostrovsky’s look at Russia from Gorbachev to Putin, .

“It’s an absolutely wonderful book,” said Waldegrave of Ostrovsky’s contender. “It’s also very interesting in terms of the Orwell prize – one of its theories is about how important control of the media is in Russia. It really is Orwellian.”

The Orwell prize shortlist is completed with Ferdinand Mount’s , a history of the British in India told through the eyes of the family of Mount’s grandmother.

“Apart from Ferdinand Mount’s exploration of the Raj, which has its own continuing relevance, all these books left me feeling a lot better informed, and somewhat more anxious, about several of today’s most pressing issues … and they were all damn good reads,” said Goodhart. “Good writing about the things that matter, what more could you ask for in a shortlist?”

The winner of the award, which has been taken in the past by Alan Johnson, Raja Shehadeh and Andrea Gillies, will be announced on 26 May.

The 2016 Orwell prize for books shortlist

by Jason Burke (Bodley Head)
(Profile Books)
by Ferdinand Mount (Simon and Schuster)
by Arkady Ostrovsky (Atlantic Books)
by Emma Sky (Atlantic Books)
by Wendell Steavenson (Granta Books)