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

Finalists to participate in conversations at the Library in the weeks leading up to the May 18 award ceremony 

MARCH 8, 2016 -- Five revelatory works of long-form journalism – spanning topics such as the US educational system, the conflict in Israel, the culture of violence in African American communities, extreme altruism, and the 2011 Norway massacre – have been named finalists in The New York Public Library’s prestigious Helen Bernstein Book Award For Excellence in Journalism.

Since 1988, the Library has honored working journalists whose books have brought clarity and public attention to important issues, events or policies.

This year’s finalists – nearly all of whom will appear at the Library for public programs discussing their works in the coming months – are:

  • Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau) – Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy examines the country’s murder epidemic and the long-standing plague of black homicide in this NY Times best seller, which follows the murder of a young black man in South Los Angeles and the determined team of detectives investigating the crime. Utilizing a literary writing style, Leovy brings new insights to the subject of homicides in America, evaluating history, race, violence and justice.
  • Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron (W. W. Norton & Company) – The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin remains the single most consequential event in Israel’s recent history, one that fundamentally altered the trajectory for both Israel and the Palestinians and continues to have a significant impact on the current situation in the Middle East. Killing a King by longtime Middle East reporter Dan Ephron provides this important perspective to today’s world by relating the parallel stories of Rabin and his stalker Yigal Amir over the two years leading up to the assassination, as one of them planned political deals he hoped would lead to peace, and the other plotted murder.
  • One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Asne Seierstad (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb outside the Norwegian prime minister’s office in central Oslo, killing eight people. He then moved to a youth camp on the wooded island of Utøya, where he killed 69 more, most of them teenage members of the country’s governing Labour Party. Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us examines violent extremism and how a society copes with homegrown evil in this definitive story of this terrible day and its reverberations, still felt today.
  • The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools  by Dale Russakoff (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) – Reporter Dale Russakoff uses her extensive access to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, then Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to tell the definitive story of Zuckerberg’s $100 million quest to transform and greatly improve the debilitated Newark, NJ public schools. Evaluating the specific situation provides a compelling and honest examination of the school reform movement in the United States.  
  • Strangers Drowning  by Larissa MacFarquhar (Penguin Press) – New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar examines the psychological roots and existential dilemmas motivating those rare individuals who are practicing lives of extreme ethical commitment. The book shares the deeply intimate and in-depth stories of people who devote themselves fully to bettering the lives of strangers—even when it comes at great personal cost.

 The books – all published in 2015 and written by working journalists – were selected by an eight-member Library Review Committee, which received and read over 85 nominations from publishers. The finalists have written for prestigious news outlets such as The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, and others.

A seven-member Bernstein Selection Committee, chaired by accomplished journalist Jim Hoge, will choose a winner. The decision will be announced at a reception and award ceremony at the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on May 18.

In the weeks before that ceremony, four of the finalists will participate in conversations with Books at Noon curator and host Jessica Strand, the Library’s associate director of public programs and events. The schedule of free public programs at the 42nd Street Library is as follows (registration for the free events is encouraged at the supplied links):

“The Library is proud to honor passionate journalists whose dedication to informing the public and unearthing the truth sparks important conversation and real change,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “Like NYPL, these reporters are devoted to educating the public, and we are thankful to the Bernstein family for the opportunity to commend their work.”

Previous winners of the award, which includes a $15,000 cash prize,  include such acclaimed journalists as Dan Fagin, Katherine Boo, Ellen Schultz, Shane Harris, David Finkel and Jane Mayer. New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas won last year for his acclaimed book, The True American; Murder and Mercy in Texas.

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 Karen Gisonny.


Media Contact:

Angela Montefinise |


About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at