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HarperCollins imprint William Collins has two titles on the four-strong shortlist for the British Academy Prize for Global Understanding, worth £25,000 to the winner. As ever, the shortlist for one of the UK book industry’s most prestigious of non-fiction prizes covers a wide range of subjects.

In Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape (William Collins), the award-winning writer Cal Flyn, who lives in the Highlands of Scotland, explores the ecology and psychology of abandoned places. She asks what happens to those places where humans no longer live and how far our damage to nature and wildlife can be undone.

With Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Today (Chatto/Vintage) Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American studies at Princeton University, presents a searing indictment of racial injustice in America, inspired by the life and work of the American essayist, novelist and playwright James Baldwin. The title was a New York Times bestseller when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak.

In Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), the Ugandan academic and author Mahmood Mamdani sets out the powerful and original argument that from the New World to South Africa, Israel to Germany to Sudan, the nation-state and the colonial state created each other. Mamdani describes the study as “an in-depth inquiry into political modernity, colonial and postcolonial, and an exploration of the roots of violence that has plagued postcolonial society”.

Colonialism is further explored in Waves across the South: A New History of Revolution and Empire (William Collins) by the Sri Lankan-born Cambridge historian Sujit Sivasundaram, by approaching the era from the perspective of indigenous peoples in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In this maritime history of empire, Sivasundaram tells the story for the first time, from the viewpoint of Aboriginal Australians and Parsis, Mauritians and Malays, showing how people of colour asserted their place and their future as the British empire expanded.

Chair of this year’s jury Professor Patrick Wright, Fellow of the British Academy said:  “Through meticulous research and compelling argument each writer shortlisted for this important prize casts new light on a globally significant problem, raising important questions, and suggesting the lessons that might be learnt for the future. Each of the selected books reaches out to invite the reader to make their own interrogation and thereby to participate in an increase of ‘global understanding’. In different ways, the books all speak directly to the urgent challenges of the times in which we live.”

Formally called the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, after its founder the Saudi-born international relations scholar, neuroscientist and futurologist Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan, the prize is now simply the British Academy Prize for Global Understanding.  Al-Rodhan’s initial funding has now come to an end.  The Academy feels Al-Rodhan’s generosity has done its job with the prize now well-known internationally.  The Academy itself will now take the prize forward.

This year’s winner will be announced on 26 October.