Who Are America’s Best Nonfiction Book Reviewers?

Meet the 2020 Kukula Award finalists—a first-of-its-kind prize honoring public affairs book criticism.

The Washington Monthly magazine is pleased to announce the finalists for the inaugural Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing—the only journalism prize dedicated to highlighting and encouraging high-quality reviews of serious, public affairs–focused books. The award honors the memory of the late Kukula Kapoor Glastris, the magazine’s longtime and beloved books editor.

“Nonfiction book reviewing plays a key role in transmitting hard-won reporting, research, and ideas on major issues of the day, like racial injustice and the rise of illiberalism, to policymakers and citizens who can’t possibly read more than a fraction of the important books being published each year,” said Washington Monthly editor in chief Paul Glastris, Kukula’s husband of 31 years. “The aim of the award is to highlight the work of the talented individuals who practice this undervalued craft—work Kukula devoted herself to editing and publishing.”

Selected from more than 100 outstanding submissions published across a wide range of print and online media in 2019, the finalists were honored for their clear and artful exposition; original and persuasive thesis; and ability to enlighten readers with new and valuable information. Judges gave priority to works of politics, public affairs, history, and biography.

Finalists were chosen in two categories based on size of the publication. In the larger category, finalists are:

  • Sophie Pinkham in the New York Review of Books, for her review of a trio of books on the lessons of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by Kate Brown, Adam Higginbotham, and Serhii Plokhy
  • Casey Cep in the New Yorker, for her review of “Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter” by Kerri Greenidge
  • Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, for his review of “How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century” by Frank Dikötter
  • Laura Miller in Slate, for her review of “You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes” by Vanessa Place
  • Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post, for his review of “The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free” by Rich Lowry

Among smaller publications, finalists are:

  • Morten Høi Jensen in Literary Hub, for his review of “On the End of the World” by Joseph Roth
  • Jordan Michael Smith in Longreads, for his review of “Seeking the Fabled City” by Allan Levine and “A Specter Haunting Europe” by Paul Hanebrink
  • Boris Dralyuk in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for his review of “Stalin’s Scribe: Literature, Ambition, and Survival: The Life of Mikhail Sholokhov” by Brian Boeck
  • Paul W. Gleason in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for his review of “The Diversity Delusion” by Heather Mac Donald
  • John Siman in Naked Capitalism, for his review of “Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud” by Tom Mueller

The top winner in each category will be announced on Monday, June 29. Each winner will receive a $1,000 honorarium.

Six judges selected this year’s best book reviewers. They are:

Debra Dickerson, essayist, Washington Monthly editorial advisory board member, and author most recently of The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to Their Rightful Owners.

Gregg Easterbrook, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, and author of Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear and 11 other books.

Haley Sweetland Edwards, a senior editor at Time magazine, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, and author of Shadow Courts: The Tribunals That Rule Global Trade.

Paul Glastris, editor in chief at the Washington Monthly, co-author of The Other College Guide: A Roadmap to the Right School for You.

Phillip Longman, policy director at the Open Markets Program, senior editor at the Washington Monthly, and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It and numerous other books.

Stephanie Mencimer, senior reporter at Mother Jones, contributing editor at the Washington Monthly, and author of Blocking the Courthouse Door. 

About Kukula Kapoor Glastris

The beloved and brilliant books editor of the Washington Monthly, Kukula (“Kuku” to her legions of friends and fans) made the book review section the home of some of the magazine’s best thinking and writing. A keen editor and diplomatic manager of writers, she served as den mother and provisioner of delicious late-night home-cooked meals to a generation of young Washington Monthly journalists. “I’ve never met anyone whose combination of personal goodness, plus intellectual and professional abilities, exceeded Kukula’s,” the journalist James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic.

To learn more about Kukula’s life, please read Kuku: A Love Story. For more on the Kukula Award, go here.

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