LONDON — A book that argues Elizabethan poet John Donne should rank alongside William Shakespeare as a literary genius won Britain’s leading nonfiction book award on Thursday.
British writer Katherine Rundell’s biography “Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne” was named winner of the 50,000 pound ($59,000) Baillie Gifford Prize at a ceremony in London.
Journalist Caroline Sanderson, who chaired the judging panel, said winner was a unanimous choice by the six judges from among 362 books submitted for the prize. She said Rundell, who has published several prize-winning novels for children, had written “a masterpiece of passion and persuasion,” that “sends you off on a journey of discovery.”
Sanderson said the book argues that Donne — best known four centuries after his death for a poem that begins “No man is an island” – is “a writer perhaps as great as Shakespeare, and a writer we should all read for his writing on love, sex and death.”
She said Donne — who over the years was a seafarer, a legal scholar, a lawmaker and a priest — is a writer who “understands our slapdash, chaotic humanity. He understands the harshness of the world but also its beauty.”
The Baillie Gifford Prize recognizes English-language books from any country in current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.
The other finalists were Caroline Elkins’ “Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire;” Sally Hayden’s “My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route;” Jonathan Freedland’s “The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World;” Anna Keay’s “The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown;” and Polly Morland’s “A Fortunate Woman: A Country Doctor’s Story.”
Last year’s winner was Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty,” an expose of the family that helped unleash the United States’ opioid epidemic.