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The New York Public Library Announces Five Finalists For Its Annual Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence In Journalism


March 6, 2018 - The New York Public Library has named five nonfiction books finalists in the  31st annual Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. The Bernstein Award honors working journalists whose books bring clarity and public attention to important issues, events or policies, and the 2018 finalists' works cover insider trading, threats to the Great Lakes, and the Trump presidency, as well as the current state of affairs in Russia.

"The Library is proud to celebrate five journalists who have dedicated themselves to shining light on vital issues impacting our society, tirelessly reporting facts at a time when truth and knowledge remain as essential as ever," said NYPL President Tony Marx.  "We thank the Bernstein family for its continued commitment to honoring the passion of these journalists, who, like the Library, work every day to strengthen their communities."

This year's finalists and their works are:

  • Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder (W.W. Norton & Company) - 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, travel 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 still celebrating the exceptional resilience and creativity of these quintessential Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive.

  • The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan (W.W. Norton & Company) - 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 (Riverhead Books) - 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 (Penguin) - 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 (Random House) - 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.

The books, all published last year, were selected by a seven-member Library Review Committee, which received and read just under 100 nominations from publishers. An eight-member Bernstein Selection Committee, chaired by veteran journalist and editor Jim Hoge, will choose a winner; their decision will be announced at an awards 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 in 1987 through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein, in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein (now Helen Bernstein Fealy). The gift was in two parts and also endows the position of the Helen Bernstein Librarian for Periodicals & Journals. This position curates The New York Public Library’s internationally-renowned Periodicals Division, housing one of the largest collections of past and present newspapers, magazines, and journals from around the world. The position is currently held by Librarian Shannon Keller.


Sara Beth Joren,

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