NYPL's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism
The New York Public Library has announced the winner for its 36th annual Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
The award recognizes nonfiction books written by working journalists that bring attention and transparency to current events or societal issues of global or national significance. The nominees this year all published works highlighting important topics such as the impact social media has had on the opinions and actions of everyday users, the effects of racial discrimination of Black Americans in healthcare, and an extensive account of the migrant crisis across North Africa.
This Year's Winner
The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth by Ben Rawlence (St. Martin's Press)
In the tradition of Elizabeth Kolbert and Barry Lopez, a powerful, poetic and deeply absorbing account of the “lung” at the top of the world.
For the last fifty years, the trees of the boreal forest have been moving north. Ben Rawlence's The Treeline takes us along this critical frontier of our warming planet from Norway to Siberia, Alaska to Greenland, Canada to Sweden to meet the scientists, residents and trees confronting huge geological changes. Only the hardest species survive at these latitudes including the ice-loving Dahurian larch of Siberia, the antiseptic Spruce that purifies our atmosphere, the Downy birch conquering Scandinavia, the healing Balsam poplar that Native Americans use as a cure-all and the noble Scots Pine that lives longer when surrounded by its family.
It is a journey of wonder and awe at the incredible creativity and resilience of these species and the mysterious workings of the forest upon which we rely for the air we breathe. Blending reportage with the latest science, The Treeline is a story of what might soon be the last forest left and what that means for the future of all life on earth.
Ben Rawlence is a former researcher for Human Rights Watch in the horn of Africa. He is the author of City of Thorns and Radio Congo and has written for a wide range of publications, including The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and Prospect. He is the founder and director of Black Mountains College and lives with his family in Wales.
This Year's Finalists
The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher (Little, Brown and Company)
Building on years of international reporting, Max Fisher tells the gripping and galling inside story of how Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social network preyed on psychological frailties to create the algorithms that drive everyday users to extreme opinions and, increasingly, extreme actions. As Fisher demonstrates, the companies’ founding tenets, combined with a blinkered focus on maximizing engagement, have led to a destabilized world for everyone.
Max Fisher is an international reporter for the New York Times, where he authors a column called “The Interpreter,” which explains global trends and major world events, and where he contributed to a series about social media that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. Fisher previously covered international affairs at The Atlantic and the Washington Post. He lives in Washington, DC.
My Fourth Time We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World's Deadliest Migration Route by Sally Hayden (Melville House)
In 2018, Sally Hayden received a message on Facebook from someone she had never met before. It was from an Eritrean refugee who had been held in a Libyan detention center for months, locked in one big hall with scant meals and then left, defenseless and forgotten, while Tripoli crumbled in a scrimmage between warring factions. With only one phone shared between hundreds of other refugees in the center, the man had tracked Hayden’s information from her previous reporting on Sudan, desperate for a journalist to call attention to his plight. Hayden had inadvertently stumbled onto a human rights disaster of epic proportions.
From this single message begins Hayden’s staggering account of the migrant crisis across North Africa, in a truly groundbreaking work of investigative journalism: My Fourth Time, We Drowned: Seeking Refuge on the World’s Deadliest Migration Route (on sale March 29th; Melville House Books). With unprecedented access to people currently inside Libyan detention centers, Hayden’s book is based on interviews with hundreds of refugees and migrants who tried to reach Europe and found themselves stuck in Libya once the EU started funding interceptions in 2017. It is an intimate portrait of life for these detainees, as well as a condemnation of NGO’s and corruption within the United Nations, which represent a collective abdication of international standards that will echo throughout history. But most importantly, My Fourth Time, We Drowned shines a light on the resilience of humans: how refugees and migrants locked up for years fall in love, support each other through the hardest times and carry out small acts of resistance in order to survive in a system that wants them to be silent and disappear.
Sally Hayden is an Irish journalist based between the UK and Uganda, focused on migration, conﬂict, and humanitarian crises. She is currently the Africa correspondent for the Irish Times. Sally’s work on Libya has been featured by the New York Times, the Guardian, Channel 4 News, CNN International, Al Jazeera, TIME, BBC, Die ZEIT, Der Spiegel, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, ITV News, and other outlets across the world. She has reported on other international stories for the Washington Post, the Financial Times Magazine, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. In 2019, Sally was named as one of Forbes ’30 Under 30’ in Media in Europe, in part because of her work on refugee issues.
The Other Side of Prospect: A Story of Violence, Injustice, and the American City by Nicholas Dawidoff (W. W. Norton & Company)
A landmark work of intimate reporting on inequality, race, class, and violence, told through a murder and intersecting lives in an iconic American neighborhood.
One New Haven summer evening in 2006, a retired grandfather was shot point-blank by a young stranger. A hasty police investigation culminated in innocent sixteen-year-old Bobby being sentenced to prison for thirty-eight years. New Haven native and acclaimed author Nicholas Dawidoff returned home and spent eight years reporting the deeper story of this injustice, and what it reveals about the enduring legacies of social and economic disparity.
In The Other Side of Prospect, he has produced an immersive portrait of a seminal community in an old American city now beset by division and gun violence. Tracing the histories of three people whose lives meet in tragedy—victim Pete Fields, likely murderer Major, and Bobby—Dawidoff indelibly describes optimistic families coming north from South Carolina as part of the Great Migration, for the promise of opportunity and upward mobility, and the harrowing costs of deindustrialization and neglect. Foremost are the unique challenges confronted by children like Major and Bobby coming of age in their “forgotten” neighborhood, steps from Yale University. After years in prison, with the help of a true-believing lawyer, Bobby is finally set free. His subsequent struggles with the memories of prison, and his heartbreaking efforts to reconnect with family and community, exemplify the challenges the formerly incarcerated face upon reentry into society and, writes Reginald Dwayne Betts, make this “the best book about the crisis of incarceration in America.”
The Other Side of Prospect is a reportorial tour de force, at once a sweeping account of how the injustices of racism and inequality reverberate through the generations, and a beautifully written portrait of American city life, told through a group of unforgettable people and their intertwined experiences.
Nicholas Dawidoff is the critically acclaimed author of five books, including The Catcher Was a Spy and In the Country of a Country. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has also been a Guggenheim, Berlin Prize, and Art for Justice Fellow.
Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of our Nation by Linda Villarosa (Doubleday)
From an award-winning writer at the New York Times Magazine and a contributor to the 1619 Project comes a landmark book that tells the full story of racial health disparities in America, revealing the toll racism takes on individuals and the health of our nation.
In 2018, Linda Villarosa's New York Times Magazine article on maternal and infant mortality among black mothers and babies in America caused an awakening. Hundreds of studies had previously established a link between racial discrimination and the health of Black Americans, with little progress toward solutions. But Villarosa's article exposing that a Black woman with a college education is as likely to die or nearly die in childbirth as a white woman with an eighth grade education made racial disparities in health care impossible to ignore.
Now, in Under the Skin, Linda Villarosa lays bare the forces in the American health-care system and in American society that cause Black people to “live sicker and die quicker” compared to their white counterparts. Today's medical texts and instruments still carry fallacious slavery-era assumptions that Black bodies are fundamentally different from white bodies. Study after study of medical settings show worse treatment and outcomes for Black patients. Black people live in dirtier, more polluted communities due to environmental racism and neglect from all levels of government. And, most powerfully, Villarosa describes the new understanding that coping with the daily scourge of racism ages Black people prematurely. Anchored by unforgettable human stories and offering incontrovertible proof, Under the Skin is dramatic, tragic, and necessary reading.
Linda Villarosa is a journalism professor at the City University of New York and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, where she covers the intersection of race and health. She has also served as executive editor at Essence and as a science editor at The New York Times. Her article on maternal and infant mortality was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. She is a contributor to The 1619 Project.
All books nominated were published in 2022 and were selected by an 11-person Library Review Committee, which read over 110 books submitted by publishers. The five-member Bernstein Selection Committee, which is composed of professional journalists, will announce the winner in May. The winner will receive a $15,000 cash prize. Previous winners of the award include Andrea Elliott who won last year for her book Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City (Penguin Random House), journalists Jill Leovy, Katherine Boo, Charlie Savage, and Judy Woodruff.
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 Fealy. The award honors journalists and their important role in raising public awareness to current issues, events, or policies.
All book descriptions were provided by the publishers.
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in accessible formats.
Library Stories from Past Winners
Past winners of the Bernstein Award discuss journalism and democracy.