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Robert Macfarlane leads Warwick prize shortlist


Man Booker prize judge experiences life on the list as his travelogue The Old Ways vies with poetry and fiction for £25,000 award

History, science, poetry and fiction books are vying for the £25,000 Warwick prize for writing. The shortlist is led by Robert Macfarlane's "intricate, sensuous, haunted" The Old Ways, about walking the pathways of the British Isles, and Jim Al-Khalili's Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science, a history of the "bubbling invention and delighted curiosity of the Islamic world".

"I like to think of the Warwick prize as capacious," said Ian Sansom, professor of English and comparative literary studies at Warwick University and chair of the judges for the biennial prize. "We hope to draw on works of all kinds with intellectual, scientific and imaginative energy and clarity." The prize is unusual in that nominations are invited from members of staff and students, and whittled down by the judges to the six books on the shortlist.

Alice Oswald, winner of the 2002 TS Eliot prize, is shortlisted for Memorial, a reworking of Homer's Illiad memorialising every solider's death to create "remembering on a grand scale". Delusions of Gender, the cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine's study of the science underpinning gender stereotypes, is the third work of non-fiction to make the shortlist.

The fiction contenders are Etgar Keret's short story collection Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, which reflects the "chaos and randomness of everyday existence", according to Sansom's Guardian review; and the novel Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, which is a tale of two young women in an isolated religious community in Wisconsin.

Author Macfarlane, who is chair of judges for the 2013 Man Booker prize finds himself on the other side of the fence this time around.

The Warwick prize for writing is awarded for a substantial piece of work in English in any genre or form, by the University of Warwick and, for the first time in 2013, also by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, following an alliance between the two institutions. "Broadening it out to Australia this year did bring in a more global perspective," Sansom said. The shortlisted authors are British, Iraqi-British, Canadian-British, American-Australian and Israeli.

Joining Sansom as judges this year are acclaimed writer and professor Marina Warner and Professor Ed Byrne, the vice-chancellor and president of Monash University. The shortlist was announced at Melbourne writers' festival, Australia, and the prize will be awarded on 24 September at the Wallace Collection, London.

Naomi Klein was the inaugural winner of the prize in 2009 for her book The Shock Doctrine, an exposé of how a privileged few are making millions from worldwide disasters. Peter Forbes triumphed in 2011 for Dazzled and Deceived, a study of mimicry and camouflage in nature, art and warfare.

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