The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University have announced this year’s winners of the Lukas Prize Project Awards. The awards, established in 1998, recognize excellence in nonfiction books that exemplify the literary grace and commitment to serious research and social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the award’s Pulitzer Prize-winning namesake J. Anthony Lukas, who died in 1997.
The 2009 awardees include an examination of the Bush administration’s decision to use torture in the war on terror, and the price paid by the United States for this abandonment of its first principles, by Jane Mayer; a study of works by Vermeer that reveals the beginning of international trade, by Timothy Brook; and an account of the Navajo nation, and how the government mined the Navajos’ land for uranium and contaminated their environment with radiation, by Judy Pasternak.
The prize given to Brook is the Mark Lynton History Prize, named for the late business executive and author of “Accidental Journey: A Cambridge Internee’s Memoir of World War II.” Lynton was an avid proponent of the writing of history, and the Lynton family has sponsored the Lukas Prize Project since its inception. Following are the winners and the judges’ citations for the three Lukas Awards:
J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize ($10,000)
Jane Mayer for “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” (Doubleday). The judges remarked: “‘The Dark Side’ is the one indispensable narrative, as yet, of what really happened when the George W. Bush administration decided to use torture as a weapon in the war on terror. Coaxing top-secret information in defiance of a clamped-down White House, The New Yorker writer Jane Mayer infiltrated the furthest shadowy reaches of the intelligence community to reveal in shocking, meticulous detail how the government’s highest officials insisted that torture was necessary to strengthen national security. Mayer’s intrepid reporting on the story forcefully revealed the price paid by the United States for abandoning its first principles in the fight against terrorism, making this gracefully told chronicle of governmental misconduct a fitting heir to the classic investigative reporting of J. Anthony Lukas.”
Mark Lynton History Prize ($10,000)
Timothy Brook for “Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World” (Bloomsbury). The judges noted that “Timothy Brook plays a dazzling game of extrapolation, looking closely at the domestic accoutrements in half a dozen paintings and demonstrating that Vermeer’s ostensible subject — the provincial Dutch city of Delft — was actually a window through which we can today perceive the rise of international trade during the 17th century and the dawn of global commerce. Whether the broad brimmed hat of the title, which was made of pelts from Canadian beaver, or a porcelain bowl from China, or a coin of silver mined in Peru, Brook latches on to particular physical details in the domestic life of Vermeer’s subjects and traces the threads of maritime commerce that brought them to Delft, illuminating in the process a vast and intricate economic web and demonstrating that centuries before the concept of ‘globalization,’ merchants and traders had knit the distant corners of the planet together.”
J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award ($30,000)
The winner of the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, given each year to assist in the completion of a significant work of narrative nonfiction on an American topic of political or social concern is Judy Pasternak for “Yellow Dirt: The Betrayal of the Navajos” (to be published by Free Press). “Judy Pasternak promises to tell a narrative history of the most dramatic and profound sort. Nearly 60 years ago, mining companies descended on the Navajo nation to dig up uranium for the United States government, which was busily building up a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and in the process they turned the beautiful Navajo lands into a toxic environment, where even today there are areas with astonishingly high levels of radiation. Through original research and numerous interviews, she will document one of the darker chapters in 20th century American history. At the same time, her book will tell a moving story of the Navajo people — their love of the land, their spiritual perceptions of the world, and their own complicated involvement in the mining of the “yellow dirt.” Readers will come to intimately know four generations of a proud Navajo family, whose patriarch, Adika’i, foresaw the harm that would come to the Navajo people from this enterprise.”