The Bernstein Awards 2018: Meet the Finalists

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
March 6, 2018

Update: May 21, 2018—Congratulations to Masha Gessen, this year's winner of the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. Gessen is the author of The Future is History.

Every year, The New York Public Library honors a journalist with the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. The award, established in 1988, is given to a journalist whose work brings clarity and public attention to important issues, events, or policies. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 21, 2018. 

This year’s books address insider trading, the threatened Great Lakes, and the Trump presidency, as well as the current state of affairs in Russia.

Meet this year’s shortlist.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
From the beet fields of North Dakota to the National Forest campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older Americans. Invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in late-model RVs, trailers, and vans, forming a growing community of nomads: migrant laborers who call themselves “workampers.” Bruder tells a compelling, eye-opening tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy while celebrating the exceptional resilience and creativity of people who gave up ordinary rootedness to survive.


The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan
The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water and provide sustenance, work, and recreation for tens of millions of Americans. But they are under threat as never before, and their problems are spreading across the continent. Egan’s portrait of an ecological catastrophe happening right before our eyes blends the epic story of the lakes with an examination of the perils they face, and the ways we can restore and preserve them for generations to come.

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Gessen captures a pivotal era through the stories of several Russians whose lives spanned three decades in which Russia, having seemingly shed its Soviet incarnation for good and embarked on a journey toward democracy, devolved into a frightening retro-totalitarian state run by Putin with an iron fist. By giving us the arc of these individual lives, The Future is History pushes past the abstractions and headlines, providing an illuminating, in-depth perspective on daily life under a regime that has turned on its own people.

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
Drawing on dozens of interviews conducted with Bannon over the course of six years, Green spins the master narrative of the 2016 campaign from its origins in the far fringes of right-wing politics and reality television to its culmination inside Trump’s penthouse on election night. Bannon’s hard-edged ethno-nationalism and his elaborate plot to destroy Hillary Clinton paved the way for Trump’s unlikely victory. Trump’s campaign was the final phase of a populist insurgency that had been building up in America for years, and Bannon, its inscrutable mastermind, believed it was the culmination of a hard-right global uprising that would change the world.

Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street by Sheelah Kolhatkar 
The rise of a powerful new class of billionaire financiers marks a singular shift in the American economic and political landscape. Their vast reserves of concentrated wealth have allowed a small group of big winners to write their own rules of capitalism and public policy. Through meticulous reporting and powerful storytelling, New Yorker staff writer Kolhatkar shows how Steve Cohen became one of the richest and most influential figures in finance—and what happened when the Justice Department put him in its crosshairs.

A committee of seven librarians reads dozens of books, all published in 2017, and meets throughout the year to select five finalists. Those choices move on to the eight-member committee of journalists, chaired by veteran editor Jim Hoge, who choose a winner. Their decision will be announced at a reception on May 21 at the Library's iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Previous winners of the award, which includes a $15,000 cash prize, include such acclaimed journalists as George Packer, Ellen Schultz, David Finkel, Katherine Boo, Dan Fagin, and Anand Giridharadas. In 2017, Jane Mayer won for her revelatory work, Dark Money, which illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.

The Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism was established through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein, in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein (now Helen Bernstein Fealy).


Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you'd recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!