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Diarmaid MacCulloch, winner of the Cundill Prize in History at McGill University,Nov. 14, 2010. (John Morstad for The Globe and Mail/John Morstad for The Globe and Mail)
Diarmaid MacCulloch, winner of the Cundill Prize in History at McGill University,Nov. 14, 2010. (John Morstad for The Globe and Mail/John Morstad for The Globe and Mail)

Literature

British church historian wins McGill's Cundill Prize Add to ...

A 1,200-page volume on the history of Christianity has been awarded Canada's most prestigious prize for non-fiction literature.

British historian Diarmaid MacCulloch walked away with the $75,000 (U.S.) Cundill Prize in History awarded by McGill University last night at a ceremony at the Mount Royal Club in Montreal, for his book, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

The prize, established in 2008 by investment manager and McGill alumnus Peter Cundill, is open to authors from around the world and offers the largest monetary sum attached to a Canadian book award.

Mr. MacCulloch said Sunday night that the win was a "great vote of confidence" in his work and that of other historians.

"Peter Cundill comes from the world of business, a world that doesn't always take the long view," he said. "So it's superb that someone who's done so well in that world sees what we do as important and useful."

He took three years off from his job at the University of Oxford to write his comprehensive history of the church, which was pitted for the prize against two American academics.

Giancarlo Casale, an Islamic scholar and author of The Ottoman Age of Exploration, and Marla Miller, who wrote Betsy Ross and the Making of America, received prizes of $10,000 at the awards ceremony. The three finalists were selected from among 181 entries from 85 publishing houses around the world.

Mr. MacCulloch described the work of the other two finalists as "absolutely superb."

"They are young scholars and I'm delighted that their work had been so appreciated and I hope this really boosts their careers," he said.

Adam Gopnik, author and contributor to The New Yorker magazine, was among the jurors who selected Mr. MacCulloch's book for distinction, saying it achieved a "near perfect match of narrative flair and analytic detail.

"Taking as his subject nothing less than the whole history of the faith, MacCulloch has written a social history that illuminates changes in belief; and a history of belief that helps us see how our society got so much of its structure," said Mr. Gopnik.

The jury, which included McGill history professor Catherine Desbarats, 2009 Cundill Prize winner Lisa Jardine, editor Charles Kesler and Ken Whyte, of Maclean's, said Mr. MacCulloch's book fulfilled the charge of the Cundill Prize - to make history more potent to a wide reading public.

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