Q&A with longlisted author and former winner Michael Burleigh
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Having won the prize a decade ago for The Third Reich: A New History, I certainly didn’t think that lightning would strike twice. So I’m very pleased, especially since I discovered the Empire State Building is struck by lightning on average 25 times a year, and a single New York park keeper has been hit seven times.
What research did you do for writing your book?
I enjoyed immersing myself in a period I have no real memories of and using tapes of real-time discussions, which was novel for me.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
I’m hugely encouraged that there is such interest in non-fiction, but I think there is too much concentration on the Second World War (and the Tudors). I’ve contributed to the former myself of course, and both periods are popular for reasons I fully grasp, but maybe more difficult or riskier subjects struggle a bit to be seen and heard. That is not true of the best books on economics past and present, but it is certainly true of history.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Ron Suskind, The Way of the World. It makes surprising inter-cultural connections (like the film Babel) even if it does not quite add up. It is very innovative.
What are you working on next?
I am still thinking about a subject. Plan A had to be scrapped as a Guardian journalist, Rose George, has just published a good book on container freight based on a voyage on such a ship. She got very bored, so I am glad to be spared this. A book on how the world works appeals to me, tracing the skeins of power and influence, some of them not obvious.
Michael Burleigh is the author of longlisted book Small Wars, Far Away Places (Pan Macmillan)