Q&A with longlisted author Jesse Norman
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Unexpected and thrilling, especially to see my biography of Burke alongside all those magnificent works by others. I've tried to make Edmund Burke as gripping as a novel, with a cast of characters ranging from Dr Johnson to the younger Pitt, but also to convey the intellectual excitement and continuing relevance of his ideas. With luck being longlisted will lead more and more people to learn about this extraordinary man.
What research did you do for writing your book?
A great deal. The book draws biography and history together with my own background in philosophy and my experience as a working politician. One way or another I have been thinking about Burke for nearly three decades. But until I got stuck into the book I forgot just how much Burke wrote himself, across a vast range of subjects. And I underestimated just how much work I would need to do on 18th and 19th Century social and political history, as well as on more recent research in the social sciences.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
Non-fiction is a strange catch-all, embracing fact and philosophy and much poetry, and readers and authors alike are, I think, becoming much more sophisticated about where the boundaries lie, and more willing to cross them. One of the joys of biography is its huge flexibility: it can have a great narrative driving the book on, but then take the reader by the hand and coax and encourage them into reflection on what they've read. I've found some readers really enjoying the purely biographical elements, others the politics and ideas; and many who like both, and the mental stretch of combining them.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
I have lots of favourites. Here's an old one: Exit, Voice and Loyalty by Albert Hirschman, who died earlier this year. Short, profound and fantastically thought-provoking.
What are you working on next?
I forget. In the meantime I am doing a new edition of Burke's writings for Everyman.
Jesse Norman is the author of Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet (William Collins)