Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize Series, with Margaret MacMillan

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Margaret MacMillan

In Canada, the name Margaret MacMillan has become synonymous with fine non-fiction. Her previous books, including Paris 1919 and Nixon in China are bookshelf staples across the country. So it's fitting indeed to see that her latest publication, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (Allen Lane Canada) has captured a coveted spot on the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing shortlist.

This year will mark the 14th iteration of the prize, presented annually by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. The prize rewards the year's finest book tackling a political subject of interest to Canadian readers.

The winner of the prize, who will receive $25,000, will be announced at Politics & the Pen on April 2, 2014, a gala that has become Ottawa's hottest ticket over the years. In addition to the finalists, the event draws hundreds of politicians, staffers, diplomats and philanthropists as well as playing hosts to dozens of respected Canadian authors.

Margaret speaks with Open Book about the experience of writing on one of the most contentious events in modern history, some past favourites from the storied Shaughnessy Cohen Prize archives and the job she needs to tackle before starting her next book.

Visit Open Book in the lead up to the award announcement in order to catch interviews with all five acclaimed finalists for the 2014 prize!

Open Book:

Tell us about the book for which you were shortlisted and how the project came about.

Margaret MacMillan:

My book is on the origins of the First World War, a subject which remains one of the most hotly debated in modern history. The war had such huge and far-reaching consequences that every historian of the 20th century cannot help but be interested in it. I wanted to ask as well why the long period of peace and prosperity that Europe had been enjoying failed to continue.

OB:

In your opinion, what qualities or characteristics signify that a book qualifies as political writing as opposed to simply non-fiction?

MM:

While you could argue that almost any subject could have political dimensions — in the sense of having to do with public life or public affairs — perhaps books dealing with pressing political issues or events such as wars fit that subcategory of non-fiction. I think the organizers of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize may be able to answer better than me.

OB:

The prize is presented at an evening event in Ottawa called Politics and the Pen. What are you most looking forward to about P&P? Have you attended before?

MM:

I have attended before and thought it was fun because of the way it mixed politicians and writers as well as a whole range of interesting people. I hope that it will be the same this time.

OB:

If you were to recommend one past finalist or winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize to readers, which title would you choose?

MM:

That is an impossible question because they are all so different. I have read and really enjoyed a number of them from Marcello Di Cintio’s wonderfully imaginative book on walls to John English’s biography of Trudeau.

OB:

If you win the prize, how will you celebrate?

MM:

Quietly.

OB:

What can you tell us about your next project?

MM:

Cleaning up my emails is top of the list. Then I might think about another book.


Margaret MacMillan is the warden of St Antony’s College and a professor of international history at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, among other titles, and was the first woman to win the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; a senior fellow of Massey College, University of Toronto; and an honorary fellow of Trinity College, University of Toronto, and of St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford. She is a finalist for this year’s BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction.

For more information about the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, please visit the Writers' Trust of Canada website.

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