RSL Jerwood Awards for Non-Fiction

The Royal Society of Literature and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation offer three annual awards, one of £10,000 and two of £5,000, to authors engaged on their first major commissioned works of non-fiction.

I am over the moon to receive an RSL Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction. It is a great and unexpected honour. It will open up thrilling possibilities for my research.
Violet Moller
RSL Jerwood Award winner, 2016

The RSL Jerwood Award is a really meaningful boost to my confidence as a first-time author.
Afua Hirsch
RSL Jerwood Award winner, 2016

It’s immensely heartening to know that the judges share my belief in the book, especially given the calibre of books that have received RSL Jerwood Awards in the past.
Damian Le Bas
RSL Jerwood Award winner, 2016

Photo of Afua Hirsch, Damian Le Bas and Violet Moller by Phil Gammon.

The 2016 Awards

The recipients of the 2016 RSL Jerwood Awards are:

Violet MollerThe Geography of Knowledge (Pan Macmillan, 2018) explores how the big ideas of the ancient world found their way into Western culture from 8th century Baghdad to Renaissance Venice.

Afua HirschBRIT(ish): Getting Under the Skin of Britain’s Race Problem (Cape, 2018) looks at Britain’s failure to allow non-white people a history and makes the case for change.

Damian Le Bas – Stopping Places (Chatto, 2018), is a Traveller history showing how ‘alien’ culture is an ancient part of the UK and how an urge for freedom co-exists in an increasingly restrictive environment

For full details please download the press release.

If you have any media enquiries, please contact Annette Brook: or call 020 7845 4680.

This year’s judges are John Agard, Daisy Hay and Laurence Scott.



Download the press release for more details on the 2015 winners.

Thomas Morris – £10,000
The Matter of the Heart, (Bodley Head, May 2017). A history of the heart in twelve operations – it is a compendium of the 20th Century’s greatest technological inventions and medical miracles.

Catherine Nixey – £5,000
The Darkening Age, (Macmillan, early 2017). An account of early Christians, from the Roman viewpoint.

Duncan White – £5,000
Cold Warriors: Waging Literary War Across the Iron Curtain, (Little,Brown, September 2018).  A focus on writers on both sides of the Cold War which aims to give a complete view of the relationship between writing and politics during the era.


Jonathan Beckman, Jonathan Keates and Kate Summerscale.



Download the press release for more details on the 2014 winners.

The Four-Dimensional Human Ways of Being in the Digital World_Laurence Scott


Laurence Scott – £10,000
The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World (Heinemann, Summer 2015)
An exploration of digital life, which Scott describes as a ‘poetics of cyberspace’ from ‘a phenomenological and aesthetic perspective’.

‘A richly complex portayal of the ways we live today’ TLS


      • Minocher Dinshaw – £5,000
        A Life of Sir Steven Runciman (Allen Lane, Spring 2016)
        A personal view and analysis of writing by the 20th-century historian.
      • Aida Edemariam – £5,000
        An as yet untitled biography of author’s grandmother (Fourth Estate, Spring 2016)
        Through the story of her 97-year-old Ethiopian grandmother, a child bride at 8 years old, Edemariam explores Ethiopia’s history over the past century.


Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Andrew O’Hagan and Jane Ridley.



the-looting-machine Tom Burgis Tom Burgis – £10,000 The Looting Machine (William Collins, Feb 2015)
An investigative journey into the ways the resource trade wreaks havoc on Africa.

‘An excellent book… Burgis ensures that we don’t stop wondering who does what in Africa and how we are all party to what Western ‘investors’ are up to.’ Jon Snow



Portobello Road Lives of a Neighbourhood_Julian Mash


Julian Mash – £5,000

Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood (Francis Lincoln, June 2014)
An exploration of the famous street.

‘A fascinating book about a fascinating part of London.’
Robert Elms, BBC London

  • Dr Corri Waitt – £5,000
    The Wisdom of Chickens (Quercus, March 2015)
    An exploration of food resources, eco-ethics and animal behaviour.


Damian Barr, Richard Holmes and Kathryn Hughes.



Ramita Navai – £10,000
City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, May 2014). An exploration of the rich history and elusive character of the city of Tehran.

‘Gripping – a dark delcious unveiling of the secret decadent life of Tehran.’
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard Book of the Year.



  • Edmund Gordon – £5,000
    Angela Carter – The Biography. (Chatto & Windus, 2016)
    The first fully authorized biography of the novelist Angela Carter and a perspective on the social and cultural history of the 1960s.
  • Dr Gwen Adshead – £5,000
    A Short Book About Evil (Jessica Kingsley, April 2015)
    An exploration of the nature of evil, from the perspectives of psychology, literature and theology, combined with clinical vignettes.


Richard Davenport-Hines, Caroline Moorehead and Gaby Wood.



Raptor_James Macdonald LockhartJames Macdonald Lockhart – £10,000
Raptor: A Journey Through Britain’s Birds of Prey (Fourth Estate, February 2016)
A blend of natural history and travel writing.

‘James MacDonald Lockhart puts the rapture back in the raptor. This is in-the-moment writing, raw in beak and claw… this is a unique and wonderful work.’ Philip Hoare


Russell-Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms coverGerard Russell – £5,000
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Basic Books, October 2013)
A record of the past, present and perilous future of some remarkable religions.

‘It is unbearably poignant that a book so learned and so beautifully written should have been written about the religious minorities of the Middle East just as many of them seem on the verge of extinction. Rarely have I read anything so timely.’ Tom Holland


  • Helen Smith – £5,000
    Edward Garnett: The Uncommon Reader (Jonathan Cape)
    Charting Garnett’s life in literature.

Polly Moreland-how to be brave coverPolly Morland –  £2,000
The Society of Timid Souls: Or How to be Brave (Profile Books, April 2013).
An exploration of what it means to have courage.

‘Using her documentarian’s eye, Polly Morland has written a moving and deeply personal book; an examination of courage brimming with humanity.’ Amanda Foreman


Andrew Holgate, Mark Lawson and Christopher Potter.



Alexander Monro – £10,000
The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of the World’s Greatest Invention (Allen Lane, May 2014).
The story of how paper has wrapped itself around the world.

Page-turningly readable … Exceedingly well informed.
John Sutherland, Literary Review



  • Roger Beam – £5,000
    Englandspiel: The England Game, SOE’s Worst Wartime Disaster (Haynes, 2016)

Jonathan Beckman – £5,000
How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne (John Murray, June 2014).
Focusing new light on the famous affair.

Stranger than fiction but just as gripping.
Hilary Mantel


Claire Armistead, Tristam Hunt MP and Robert Macfarlane



Caspar Henderson – £10,000
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: a 21st Century Bestiary (Granta, October 2012)
An extraordinary, vivid combination of natural history, spiritual primer and philosophical meditation.

Eloquent as well as encyclopaedic, witty and warm, Caspar Henderson is the perfect companion for this tour of the strange and beautiful. Times Literary Supplement



  • Miles Hollingworth – £5,000
    St Augustine: an Intellectual Biography (Continuum, June 2013)
    A portrait of one the West’s first public philosophers, ranking amongst the great figures of Christian late antiquity.

This is a book whose style and feel are really worthy of Augustine himself – humane and probing, full of telling metaphor and seriousness about the strangeness of human experience. Rowan Williams

  • Selina Mills – £5,000
    Life Unseen: How Blindness Shaped the West (IB Tauris)
    An investigation of how the physical state of not seeing, either from birth or during life, affects the life of an individual, a community and a civilization.


Mark Bostridge, Ferdinand Mount and Claire Tomalin



Rachel Hewitt – £10,000
Map of a Nation: a Biography of the Ordnance Survey (Granta, July 2011)
The story of the creation of the Ordnance Survey map – the first complete, accurate, affordable map of the British Isles.

The sweep of [the book’s] history has true grandeur, and the incidentals of the tale are like desirables found in a cluttered antique shop.
Jan Morris, The Times


  • Matthew Hollis – £5,000
    Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (Faber, January 2012)
    An account of the final five years in the life of perhaps the most beguiling and influential of the First World War poets.

Scrupulous book … a bravura critical performance. Sunday Times


Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts – £2,500 each
Edgelands: Journeys into England’s Last Wilderness (Vintage, February 2012)
A book about the blank spaces on the A-Z: the lost and unloved ‘edgelands’ between cities and countryside.

This book is a delight: witty and wryly contrarian. Robert MacFarlane, The Guardian


Alice Albinia, Piers Brendon and James Meek



Andrew Stott – £10,000
The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian (Canongate, September 2010)
A vivid biography of the most celebrated of English clowns.

Grimaldi’s is a story of comedy mixed with pathos, endurance with absurdity. It is exceptionally well told here.
Sam Leith, The Daily Mail

Rachel Campbell-Johnston – £5,000
Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer (Bloomsbury, June 2012)
The first biography of the Romantic artist and visionary, Samuel Palmer for over thirty-five years.

Not just a good book, it is a perfect book. Its sentences sing like poems … It is a book to read, and, rapturously, tearfully, read again.
Financial Times


Daniel Swift – £5,000
Bomber County: The Lost Airmen of World War Two (Hamish Hamilton, June 2011)
Both a personal investigation into the disappearance of the author’s grandfather and a mediation on aerial bombing.

Strikingly original and beautifully written. Anthony Beevor


Hermione Lee, John Stubbs and Sara Wheeler



Carolyn Steel – £10,000
Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives (Vintage, March 2013)
An examination the way in which modern food production has damaged the balance of human existence.

Lively, wide-ranging, endlessly inquisitive… a smorgasbord of a book: dip into it and you will emerge with something fascinating.
The Independent


Sarah Irving_Natural Science and the Origins of the British EmpireSarah Irving – £5,000
Natural Science and the Origins of British Empire (Pickering & Chatto, June 2008)
How men of science used new data to build an intellectual as well as a geographical empire.

A masterfully written history of the construction of the British Empire. Jonathan Goldstein


Thomas Wright – £5,000

Oscar’s Books: A Journey Around the Library of Oscar Wilde (Chatto & Windus, September 2008)
Exploring the personality of Oscar Wilde through his reading.

No other scholar of Wilde has succeeded so well in moving into his head. Irish Times


Roland Chambers, Moris Farhi and Hilary Spurling



Alice Albinia – £12,500
Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River (John Murray, February 2009)
From Tibet to Pakistan, a mesmerising history of the Indus River’s civilizations, emperors and explorers.

A magnificent book, a triumphal melding of travel and history. The Financial Times



Christopher Turner – £10,000
Adventures in the Orgasmatron: Wilhelm Reich and the Invention of Sex (Fourth Estate, August 2011)
The untold story of Wilhelm Reich and the dawn of the sexual revolution.

This book will change the way in which we employ that increasingly lazy phrase ‘thinking outside the box’.
Christopher Hitchens, The New York Times



  • Druin Burch – £5,000
    Digging Up the Dead: Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon (Chatto & Windus March 2007)
    The remarkable world of Astley Cooper, surgeon extraordinaire.

A brilliant portrait of surgical life before the coming of anaesthesia. Literary Review


Matthew Green
– £5,000
The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted (Portobello, February 2008)
A history of Joseph Kony, a fugitive rebel-leader who, with an army of child soldiers, leaves a trail of devastation.

A penetrating insight into one of the worst conflicts in the world. Jon Snow


Brenda Maddox, Peter Parker and Matthew Parris



Jim Endersby – £10,000
A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology (Heinemann, December 2007)
The history of modern biology.

This is a cutting-edge history of science that everyone should read. New Scientist



  • Roland Chambers – £5,000
    The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome (Faber, August 2009)
    A biography of an English icon and his controversial Soviet double life.

This sombre biography absorbs from start to finish.
Ian Thomson, The Daily Telegraph

John Stubbs – £5,000
Donne: The Reformed Soul (Viking, August 2006)
A biography of John Donne.

One of the best literary biographies I have ever read.
Jonathan Bate, The Sunday Telegraph


Michael Holroyd, Libby Purves and D.J. Taylor