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Biography of “repellent” Italian poet and politician awarded 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

Biography of “repellent” Italian poet and politician awarded 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

  • Book which “transcends the conventions of biography” wins UK’s leading non-fiction prize in its 15th anniversary year
  • Winner Lucy Hughes-Hallett tells the story of a celebrated poet and Italian nationalist who was simultaneously repugnant and alluring

Author Lucy Hughes-Hallett has tonight (Monday 4 November) been announced winner of the £20,000 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, for her biography The Pike, published by 4th Estate. 

The Pike is the story of the controversial life of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the debauched Italian artist who became a national hero. His evolution from idealist Romantic to radical right-wing revolutionary is a political parable. Through his ideological journey, culminating in the failure of his attempt at Fiume to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals, readers witness the political turbulence of early 20th-century Europe and the emergence of fascism, while also following a personal story of an outrageous career.

Martin Rees, chair of the judges, said:

“Readers of The Pike will surely admire Lucy Hughes-Hallett's writing, and her intricate crafting of the narrative. Her original experimentation with form transcends the conventions of biography. And they will be transfixed by her vivid portrayal of D'Annunzio - how this repellent egotist quickly gained literary celebrity - and how, thereafter, his incendiary oratory, and foolhardy bravery influenced Italy's involvement in World War I and the subsequent rise of Mussolini.

“The book shows how fascism rose partly as a perversion of nationalism - a trend still sadly relevant in today's world.

"The books on this year's shortlist spanned a wide range of subjects and styles. They testify to the strength and variety of current non-fiction writing. All were enlightening, absorbing and accessible - and, for just these reasons, the judges didn't find it easy to choose the winner.

“We are very pleased to award Lucy Hughes-Hallett the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, in the prize’s 15th anniversary year.”

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of two previous books, Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions and Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and SupermenCleopatra won the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. Lucy Hughes-Hallett is also a highly respected critic for the major British newspapers and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

The winner was announced by Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and chair of judges, at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Martin’s fellow judges were classicist, Mary Beard; Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti; historian, Peter Hennessy; and writer and non-fiction reviewer, James McConnachie.

The winner of last year’s prize was Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, by Wade Davis, published by The Bodley Head.



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