British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2023 Shortlist announced

Tuesday 12 September 2023

  • £25,000 international non-fiction prize
  • Sweeping themes from the invention of books in the ancient world to the role of ritual in human civilisation
  • Winner announced Tuesday 31 October

London: today, Tuesday 12 September, the British Academy reveals the shortlist for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding (2023).

Now in its 11th year, the international book prize, worth £25,000, rewards and celebrates ground-breaking research-based works of non-fiction that have made an outstanding contribution to the public understanding of world cultures and the ways in which they interconnect.

This year’s esteemed jury of academics and journalists has chosen a shortlist of six exceptional books from almost 200 submissions, introducing readers to a wide range of globally significant topics: the invention of books and libraries in the ancient world; the early use of photography to document colonial conflict; the role of ritual in human civilisation; China’s Cultural Revolution; a retelling of the story of global emancipation; and the origins of empire in India.

The six books on the 2023 shortlist, alphabetically by author surname, are:

Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution by Tania Branigan (Faber & Faber)
Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire by Nandini Das (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Violence of Colonial Photography by Daniel Foliard (Manchester University Press)
Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation by Kris Manjapra (Allen Lane / Penguin Books)
Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World by Irene Vallejo
(Hodder & Stoughton)
Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living by Dimitris Xygalatas (Profile Books)

In Red Memory the journalist Tania Branigan, who spent seven years as the Guardian’s China correspondent, explores the Cultural Revolution and how memories of that period in history have shaped the China of today. In her compelling debut, Branigan unearths the rarely-heard stories of the people who lived through those times.

Two books on the shortlist look at colonial history. Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire is a ground-breaking new history telling the story of England’s first diplomatic mission to India in the early seventeenth century. In this major debut, Nandini Das, who was brought up in India and is Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture in the English faculty at the University of Oxford, reveals important insights into global connections and changing power dynamics in this pivotal period of world history.

Meanwhile in Daniel Foliard’s brutally honest The Violence of Colonial Photography, the role of photography in the history of British and French imperialism is explored as never before. Foliard, who is Professor of Modern History at Université Paris Cité, applies extensive research in public and private collections to examine how photography was used to record conflict in the period before the First World War and to ask important questions about the portrayal of its subjects. First published in French, it is translated by Daniel Foliard, Saskia Brown and Martha Evonuk.

In Black Ghost of Empire Kris Manjapra – who was born in the Caribbean of mixed African and Indian parentage and grew up in Canada – examines the slow drawn out death of slavery and the failure of emancipation. In this powerful retelling of history, Manjapra, who is Stearns Trustee Professor of History and Global Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, argues that during each of the supposed emancipations from slavery, Black people were actually dispossessed by the measures intended to free them.

Journeying far back in time, the classicist Irene Vallejo, who is a regular columnist for El País and Heraldo de Aragón in Spain, chronicles literary culture in the ancient world and the story of its survival over thousands of years in the captivating Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World. Originally published in Spain, this international bestseller is translated into English by Charlotte Whittle.

Completing the shortlist is the thoughtful and entertaining Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living by Dimitris Xygalatas, an anthropologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Connecticut. Through cutting-edge technology and traditional ethnography, Xygalatas, who has spent his career studying rituals in their natural settings all over the world, reveals the importance of ritual – from fire-walking ceremonies to silent prayer – and how it can improve lives.

Two of the authors on this year’s shortlist live in the UK – Tania Branigan and Nandini Das; two in north America ¬– Kris Manjapra and Dimitris Xygalatas; whereas Irene Vallejo lives in Spain and Daniel Foliard in France.

Three of the books on the shortlist come from independent publishers – Faber & Faber, Profile Books and Bloomsbury Publishing. Penguin Random House, Hodder & Stoughton and Manchester University Press have one title each.

Chair of this year’s jury Professor Charles Tripp, Fellow of the British Academy comments:

“This eleventh year of the British Academy Book Prize has attracted record numbers of entries from across the humanities and social sciences. We were greatly impressed by the exceptional quality of writing in this year’s shortlist and the ability of the authors to unearth extraordinary new discoveries and to find new perspectives on old perceptions. With my fellow jury members, we hope that readers will be inspired to explore the shortlist and thereby to discover something new about the world.”

Charles Tripp (Chair) is joined on the 2023 jury by Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed FBA, Visiting Professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics; Professor Rebecca Earle FBA, food historian and Professor of History at the University of Warwick; Fatima Manji, award-winning Channel 4 News broadcaster and journalist and Professor Gary Younge Hon FBA, the award-winning author, broadcaster and Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester.


The 2023 shortlisted writers will be brought together for a special event on Monday 30 October at the British Academy, in partnership with London Review Bookshop, and chaired by the award-winning journalist Rosie Goldsmith. The winner of the £25,000 prize will be announced at an award ceremony on Tuesday 31 October. Each of the shortlisted writers will receive £1,000. Both events will be livestreamed.


The winner in 2022 was Alia Trabucco Zerán for When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold.
After winning the prize, her UK publisher, And Other Stories, reported a sales uplift of 132%. Worldwide interest in When Women Kill continued to grow and, subsequently, film and TV rights have been optioned. Rights have also been sold in Brazil to Fosforo and in China to The Writers Publishing House Company Ltd, adding to previous deals where French rights were sold to Laffont and German rights to Hanser Verlag.

For media enquiries, images or to request interviews with Professor Charles Tripp and the shortlisted authors, please contact:

Jane Acton E:
T: 07971 661576