The American Library in Paris Book Award
Honoring literature. Interpreting France.
Congratulations to this year's winner:
Graham Robb for France: An Adventure History
Congratulations to Graham Robb for France: An Adventure History (Picador), winner of the tenth annual American Library in Paris Book Award. The book is an original, surprising, and fun survey of French history, from the Roman occupation in the first century, B.C., all the way through to modern times. Robb includes new historical research and his own personal discoveries from three decades of exploring France, often by bicycle.
This year’s jury—Thomas Chatterton Williams, Alexandra Schwartz, and jury chair Charles Trueheart—wrote of the book:
“This exceptional work of history and exploration showcases the virtuosity and erudition of an author already renowned for his understanding of France’s character. Here Graham Robb beckons us along a two-millennium odyssey through an unexpected country, from the primitive mists that led pilgrims to a legendary tree to the complex latter-day national bonding of the Tour de France. The jury is proud to recognize France: An Adventure History for its enterprise, its originality, and its eloquence.”
Historian Robb is also the author of The Discovery of France, Parisians, and other works about France, the British Isles, and their history and peoples. He was born in Manchester, attended Exeter College, Oxford, and currently lives in the UK.
ABOUT THE AWARD: The American Library’s $5,000 literary prize, now celebrating its tenth year, is given to a title originally published in English that best realizes new and intellectually significant ideas about France, the French people, or encounters with French culture.
SUPPORTERS: The Book Award is supported by a grant from the Florence Gould Foundation, which will sustain the Book Award for many years to come.
The Library thanks the prize’s generous Patrons: Mary Duncan, Jeanne Fellowes, Clydette de Groot, Suzanne Justen, and Usha Viswanathan.
Special thanks to the U.S. Embassy, France and Counselor for Cultural Affairs Michael Turner for hosting the evening. Thanks also to Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for donating copies of the winning title.
THIS YEAR’S CEREMONY took place on 3 November at the George C. Marshall Center in the Hôtel de Talleyrand on the Place de la Concorde.
Photos of the evening are available on the Library’s Flickr page, courtesy of photographer Krystal Kenney.
The 2022 shortlist
Five titles have been selected as finalists for the 2022 American Library in Paris Book Award. The American Library’s $5,000 literary prize, now celebrating its tenth year, is given to a title originally published in English that best realizes new and intellectually significant ideas about France, the French people, or encounters with French culture. The award is supported by a generous grant from the Florence Gould Foundation.
A screening committee chaired by Rachel Donadio, the award administrator, selected the shortlist from fifty-nine submissions. The finalists include a thriller set in a posh Parisian suburb (The Caretakers: A Novel by Amanda Bestor-Siegal); a galvanizing history of France from the ground up (France: An Adventure History by Graham Robb); an encyclopedic survey of French thought (The French Mind: 400 Years of Romance, Revolution and Renewal by Peter Watson); a poetic dive into the experiences of dispossessed women (City of Incurable Women by Maud Casey); and a retelling of one of France’s most brutal and least-known colonial undertakings (In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism by J.P. Daughton).
The choice of the winning title is now in the hands of an independent jury. This year’s jury chair is Charles Trueheart, the founder of the Book Award and a former Director of the Library. Trueheart is joined by Thomas Chatterton Williams, a writer and cultural critic; and Alexandra Schwartz, a staff writer for the New Yorker.
The winner of the 2022 award will be announced at a ceremony in November 2022. If you are interested in becoming a patron of the Book Award ceremony or have questions about the prize, please contact bookaward@
All fifty-nine of the submissions for the 2022 Book Award are in the Library’s circulating collection and are available for checkout by members.
The shortlisted titles
The Caretakers: A Novel by Amanda Bestor-Siegal (William Morrow US / Little, Brown and Company UK)
City of Incurable Women by Maud Casey (Bellevue Literary Press)
France: An Adventure History by Graham Robb (Picador UK / W. W. Norton & Company US)
The French Mind: 400 Years of Romance, Revolution and Renewal by Peter Watson (Simon & Schuster UK)
In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism by J.P. Daughton (W.W. Norton & Company)
The 2022 coups de cœur
Six exceptional new books about France have been selected as “coups de cœur” in the runup to the 3 November announcement of the 2022 American Library in Paris Book Award winner. The coups de cœur were selected from fifty-nine submissions by the award’s screening committee as having special merit. They are available for checkout at the Library.
Half-Blown Rose (Grand Central Publishing), a rich and sensual novel about marriage, betrayal, and self-realization, by Leesa Cross-Smith.
Hostages of Empire (University of Nebraska Press), an examination of structures of racial difference and hierarchy under the Vichy regime, by Sarah Ann Frank.
The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures (Simon & Schuster), a thrilling look at the life and mysterious death of photography pioneer Louis Le Prince, by Paul Fischer.
Soundscapes of Liberation (Duke University Press), a comprehensive survey of the transatlantic cultural power of African-American music, by Celeste Day Moore.
Sprinting Through No Man’s Land (Little A), a riveting story of cyclists navigating the ruin and hope of post-WWI France, by Adin Dobkin.
A Waiter in Paris (Monoray), a witty and moving memoir about down-and-out life in a Parisian café, by Edward Chisholm.
The 2022 Jury
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, and a recipient of the Berlin Prize. He has written for Harper’s and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. He lives in Paris.
Alexandra Schwartz is a staff writer and theater critic at the New Yorker and a former editor at the New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing given by the National Book Critics Circle.
Charles Trueheart (Chair) is a contributing editor at the American Scholar. He is a former Washington Post correspondent and director of the American Library in Paris. His book about Vietnam in the early 1960s, Two Gentlemen in Saigon, will appear next year.
About the American Library in Paris Book Award
The American Library in Paris Book Award was launched in 2013 and carries a $5,000 prize, which is supported by generous funding from the Florence Gould Foundation. The past recipients of the prize reflect the diversity of intellectual and literary output that the Book Award seeks to recognize.
The Book Award honors a title that best realizes new and intellectually significant ideas about France, the French people, or encounters with French culture. Qualities considered in submitted works include literary merit, depth of insight, and originality. The Book Award considers works in all genres, published originally in English.
The Book Award follows a long tradition of showcasing and celebrating authors at the American Library. The Library was created in part as a memorial to a young American poet, Alan Seeger, who wrote the well-known poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” not long before he died in action in France in 1916. One of the Library’s founding trustees was Edith Wharton. Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, among many other writers of note, contributed reviews to the Library’s literary magazine, Ex Libris. Stephen Vincent Benét composed sections of John Brown’s Body at the Library. Authors of every generation have worked and spoken at the Library: Ford Madox Ford, Archibald MacLeish, Colette, Henry Miller, André Gide, Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, Irwin Shaw, James Jones, and Mary McCarthy, to name a few from the past. As the Library approaches its centennial, it remains the pre-eminent center in Paris for evening talks by prominent authors, artists, and other public figures.
The Book Award 2021: Sudhir Hazareesingh and Black Spartacus
Sudhir Hazareesingh accepted the prize for Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Allen Lane UK / Farrar, Straus & Giroux US) at a hybrid Library ceremony on 20 January 2022. Hazareesingh logged on from his native Mauritius to accept the prize and speak about the book, which the jury’s citation declared to merit “passionate consideration.”
This 2021 award jury chair was Lauren Collins, a staff writer at the New Yorker. Collins was joined by Julian Jackson, historian and winner of the 2018 American Library in Paris Book Award, Dinaw Mengestu, a novelist and writer of non-fiction, and Maggie Paxson, an anthropologist and winner of the 2020 American Library in Paris Book Award.
The shortlist was announced in July 2021:
Michaela Carter. Leonora in the Morning Light (Avid Reader Press)
Edmund de Waal. Letters to Camondo (Farrar, Straus & Giroux US / Chatto & Windus UK)
Sudhir Hazareesingh. Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture (Allen Lane UK / Farrar, Straus & Giroux US)
Emma Rothschild. An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries (Princeton University Press)
Jane Smiley. Perestroika in Paris (Alfred A. Knopf US / Mantle Books UK)
All eighty-three of the submissions for the 2021 Book Award are in the Library’s circulating collection and are available for checkout by members.
The 2020 Book Award: Maggie Paxson and The Plateau
Maggie Paxson accepted the prize for The Plateau (Riverhead Books) in a moving speech during the Library’s first-ever virtual Book Award ceremony on 14 January 2021, now available to watch on our YouTube channel.
The 2020 jury chair was Ethan Katz, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley whose book The Burdens of Brotherhood won the 2016 Book Award. The other two jurors were Rachel Donadio, former European cultural correspondent of The New York Times and The Atlantic contributing writer, and Jake Lamar, former Time correspondent and Paris-based novelist, essayist, and playwright.
The shortlist was announced in July 2020:
Bill Buford. Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf US / Jonathan Cape UK)
James Gardner. The Louvre: The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Caitlin Horrocks. The Vexations: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company)
Rachel Mesch. Before Trans: Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France (Stanford University Press)
Maggie Paxson. The Plateau (Riverhead Books)
Maurice Samuels. The Betrayal of the Duchess: The Scandal That Unmade the Bourbon Monarchy and Made France Modern (Basic Books)
The 2019 Book Award: Marc Weitzmann and Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us)
Marc Weitzmann accepted the award, and the $5,000 prize, at a reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Thursday 7 November 2019. Library Director Audrey Chapuis and Book Award Administrator Charles Trueheart announced the six titles on the shortlist and the screening committee’s five coups de coeur. The three members of the jury awarded the prize and presented their encomium. Mr. Weitzmann, the Book Award’s first French winner, spoke about how Philip Roth pushed him to develop the series of articles he wrote for Tablet Magazine into a book-length work for an American audience. About writing in English, he said that “thinking in a foreign language gives you another understanding of your own country.”
The jury for the 2019 award included Alice Kaplan, professor of French at Yale University and author of seven books, including Looking for the Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic; New York Times Magazine contributing writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd and Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race; and Pamela Druckerman, Paris-based New York Times columnist and author of There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story and four other books.
The shortlist was announced in July 2019:
Edward Carey. Little: A Novel (Riverhead Books US / Gallic Books UK)
Andrew S. Curran. Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (Other Press)
David Elliott. Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell. A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment (The New Press)
Julie Orringer. The Flight Portfolio: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marc Weitzmann. Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What it Means for Us) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The 2018 Book Award: Julian Jackson and A Certain Idea of France
The jurors were impressed by Julian Jackson’s magnificent biography of the strangest and most significant figure to mark French history in the twentieth century. A Certain Idea of France is a triumph of scholarship and thoughtfulness, and an important contribution to France’s understanding of itself. Jackson’s book is a masterpiece of historical writing that provides an intimate portrait of an unusual man, a profound reflection on the history of France, and a gripping, stylish narrative at the same time. Jackson accepted the award, and the $5,000 prize, at a reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Thursday 8 November 2018. Library Director Audrey Chapuis and Book Award Administrator Charles Trueheart presented the award.
In his remarks, Jackson discussed the challenges of writing about de Gaulle, a “weird” and “extraordinarily pragmatic person,” when there are “no new facts.” Jackson told the assembled guests he tried to convey de Gaulle’s sense of history and understanding of the world, and noted “that wisdom that comes from history—the deep understanding of history—is something we miss today.”
The jury for the 2018 award included Diane Johnson, novelist, essayist, critic, and chairman of the Library’s Writers Council; David Bellos, Princeton professor, translator, and author of the winning 2017 title, The Novel of the Century; and Pierre Assouline, biographer, novelist, critic, and editor of larepubliquedeslivres.com.
The shortlist was announced in September 2018:
Adam Begley. The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (Tim Duggan Books)
Julian Jackson. A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle (Allen Lane UK / Harvard University Press US)
Bijan Omrani. Caesar’s Footprints: A Cultural Excursion to Ancient France: Journeys Through Roman Gaul (Pegasus Books US / Head of Zeus UK)
Rupert Thomson. Never Anyone But You (Corsair UK / Other Press US)
Caroline Weber. Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Alfred A. Knopf)
The 2017 Book Award: David Bellos and The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventures of Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is one of the most popular novels of all time. Biographer David Bellos recounts the fascinating story of the decades-long creation of this masterwork in his just-published book, The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventures of Les Misérables. The screeners and jury of the 2017 Book Award were unanimous. Bellos’s account takes the prize. Bellos accepted the Award, and the $5,000 prize, at the glittering reception at the George C. Marshall Center near the Place de la Concorde on Friday 3 November 2017. The Library’s Writers Council chairwoman and Parisian literary fixture Diane Johnson presented the award.
In his remarks, Bellos stressed the immortal nature of this great work of literature, in continuous print for over 150 years and translated into dozens of languages. According to Bellos, Victor Hugo’s underlying themes of redemption, love, and struggle against poverty remain every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1860s, perhaps more so.
The jury for the 2017 award included New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, and former director of la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bruno Racine.
The shortlist was announced in July 2017:
David Bellos. The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables (Particular Books UK / Farrar, Straus and Giroux US)
Adam Gidwitz. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Dutton Children’s Books)
Ross King. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies (Bloomsbury)
David McAninch. Duck Season: Eating, Drinking, and Other Misadventures in Gascony—France’s Last Best Place (Harper)
Nadja Spiegelman. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This: A memoir (Riverhead Books)
Susan Suleiman. The Némirovsky Question: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in Twentieth-Century France (Yale University Press)
The 2016 Book Award: Ethan Katz and The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France
Ethan B. Katz’s book about the relations between Jews and Muslims of North African descent living in France was awarded the fourth annual Book Award Thursday 3 November at a ceremony in Paris. Diane Johnson, chairman of the Library’s Writers Council, announced the choice of The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France, published by Harvard University Press, in the presence of Katz, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, who went on to speak of his book and its subject. (Full transcript of Ethan B. Katz’s remarks.)
The jury stated: “The book’s highly original and fresh earlier chapters explore a common Maghrebi culture in which Jews and Muslims had good neighborly relations, and in which their identities were set not only by religion but also by profession, education, tastes in food and music, and many other characteristics. Katz’s powerful analysis about how identities are shaped will surely prove to be influential far beyond the subject of Jews and Muslims in France.”
The jury for the 2016 award included Laura Auricchio, the chair, whose biography The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, won the 2015 award; British novelist Robert Harris, whose An Officer and a Spy, about the Dreyfus affair, won the 2014 award; and Robert O. Paxton, the historian and leading American scholar on Nazi Occupation in France.
The shortlist was announced on 11 July 2016:
Jo Baker. A Country Road, A Tree: A Novel (Knopf)
Sarah Bakewell. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails (Other Press)
Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau. The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed (St. Martin’s Press US / Duckworth Publishers UK)
David Drake. Paris at War: 1939-1944 (Harvard University Press)
Ethan B. Katz. The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France (Harvard University Press)
Luc Sante. The Other Paris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux US / Faber & Faber UK)
The 2015 Book Award: Laura Auricchio and The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered
Laura Auricchio’s biography of the Marquis de Lafayette was awarded the third annual American Library in Paris Book Award Friday 6 November at a ceremony in Paris. Laura Furman, chairman of the jury, announced the choice of The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, published by Knopf, in the presence of Auricchio, an art historian and dean at the New School in New York, who went on to speak of her book and its subject.
Diane Johnson, chairman of the Library’s Writers Council, presented Auricchio with a custom-bound copy of her book.
The jury for the 2015 award included Laura Furman, the chair, editor of the O. Henry Prize Stories since 2002; novelist and biographer Lily Tuck, winner of the National Book Award in Fiction; and Fredrik Logevall, author of Embers of War, winner of the first American Library in Paris Book Award in 2013.
The shortlist was announced on 14 July 2015:
Laura Auricchio. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered (Knopf)
Nancy L. Green. The Other Americans in Paris: Businessmen, Countesses, Wayward Youth 1880-1941 (University of Chicago Press)
Richard C. Keller. Fatal Isolation: The Devastating Paris Heat Wave of 2003 (University of Chicago Press)
Sue Roe. In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse, and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 (Fig Tree UK / Penguin Press US)
Ronald Rosbottom. When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation 1940-1944 (Little, Brown US / John Murray UK)
The 2014 Book Award: Robert Harris and An Officer and a Spy
The second annual American Library in Paris Book Award was presented Monday 3 November 2014 to Robert Harris for his historical novel An Officer and a Spy. Alice Kaplan, chairman of the jury, revealed the honored book to 100 guests at a ceremony within the gilded walls of the George C. Marshall Center in the Hôtel de Talleyrand. The other two jurors were Pierre Assouline and Sebastian Faulks. The novel, published by Random House and Hutchinson in the UK, recounts the conspiracy at the heart of the Dreyfus affair and centers on French army officer Georges Picquart, who discovered that Dreyfus was innocent.
In his remarks, Harris spoke of realizing the approach needed to write the novel: “I can honestly say that the writing of the book was an absolute joy from beginning to end. The dirty little secret of writing, as E.L. Doctorow once said, is that you have to find the voice. And the moment I realized that I should write this as Georges Picquart’s memoir, I had the voice. And thereafter, history gave me all the characters and all the story.” Harris went on to say that he was drawn to Picquart “because he seemed to me a truly interesting French hero. He could only be French. if the Dreyfus affair reflects discredit upon France, the fact and the behavior of Picquart reflects enormous credit.”
The jury for the 2014 award included authors Alice Kaplan, Sebastian Faulks, and Pierre Assouline.
The shortlist was announced in July 2014:
Jonathan Beckman. How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne (John Murray UK / Da Capo Press US)
Frederick Brown. The Embrace of Unreason: France 1914-1940 (Knopf)
Sean B. Carroll. Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize (Crown)
Philip Dwyer. Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury UK / Yale University Press US)
Robert Harris. An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson US / Arrow UK)
Francine Prose. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (HarperCollins US)
The 2013 Book Award: Fredrik Logevall and Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam
The first annual American Library in Paris Book Award was given to Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, by Fredrik Logevall. At a lovely ceremony held in the august, history-filled halls of the George C. Marshall Center overlooking the Place de la Concorde, guests talked over champagne, wine and hors d’oeuvres. Trustees, Library donors, friends of the Library, journalists, the original screening committee as well as several of the authors of the 45 books originally submitted for the award, listened as director Charles Trueheart introduced jury member Diane Johnson to announce the winning book. Johnson, Adam Gopnik and Julian Barnes had selected the winner from the five-book shortlist.
Receiving the prize and the accompanying $5,000 check, the erudite, plain-spoken Logevall discussed of the tragedy that was France’s war in Indochina, which led not to peace but to continuing tragedy as the United States directly engaged in its own war as the French departed. Logevall ended with a quote from Bernard Fall, a significant figure in his book: “Americans were dreaming different dreams than the French, but walking in the same footsteps.”
The jury for the 2013 award was composed of authors Julian Barnes, Adam Gopnik, and Diane Johnson.
The shortlist was announced on 17 July 2013:
Simon van Booy. The Illusion of Separateness: A Novel (Harper US / Oneworld Publications UK)
Alex Danchev. Cezanne: A Life (Pantheon US / Profile Books Ltd UK)
Fredrik Logevall. Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam (Random House US / Presidio Press UK)
Tom Reiss. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown US / Harvill Secker UK)
Marilyn Yalom. How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance (Harper)
Past Winners at a Glance
2021: Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh
2020: The Plateau by Maggie Paxson
2019: Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France (and What It Means for Us) by Marc Weitzmann
2018: A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle by Julian Jackson
2017: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos
2016: The Burdens of Brotherhood: Jews and Muslims from North Africa to France by Ethan B. Katz
2015: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio
2014: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
2013: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall