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01 October 2019

'A Fistful of Shells' by Dr Toby Green shortlisted for prestigious awards

‘A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution’ by Dr Toby Green has been shortlisted for the Nayef Al- Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding and the Cundill History Prize for 2019.

A Fistful of Shells by Toby Green
A Fistful of Shells by Toby Green

A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution, by Senior Lecturer in Lusophone African History and Culture Dr Toby Green, has been shortlisted for two distinguished global literary awards. 

In the book, Toby Green changes our view of West and West-Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms, which revolve around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. He brings into focus the region's central place in shaping the modern world before European sabotage, as well as the powerful and also complicated legacy of this now. The book was hailed by critics including David Olusoga in the New Statesman and Ben Okri in the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.

A Fistful of Shells is the fruit of research conducted in the archives of nine nations and required the author to undertake fieldwork across eight West African states. It shows. [...] This is a stunning work of research and argumentation. It has the potential to become a landmark in our understanding of the most misunderstood of continents.

David Olusoga, New Statesman (Source: Penguin Books)

A Fistful of Shells has been shortlisted for the Nayef Al- Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, an annual £25,000 prize awarded by the British Academy to a non-fiction book which contributes to public understanding of world cultures. The other shortlisted writers are Kwame Anthony Appiah, Julian Baggini, Julia Lovell, Seema Malhotra, and Ed Morales. The book has also been shortlisted for the  2019 Cundill History Prize, run by McGill University in Canada, which has the largest purse in the world for a book of non-fiction in English; it is on a shortlist of 8 books for a prize awarded annually to the book that represents historical scholarship, originality and literary quality.

Selecting a handful of books for the shortlist from the many excellent titles submitted was a challenge, as we balanced vibrancy of prose against depth of research, global perspectives against hidden lives. But two themes stood out for me in our selections. The first is the originality of the approaches each author took, and their collective eagerness to widen our lens on the past. The second is the contemporary resonance of the stories told and the analyses presented — proving, once again, that today has been irrevocably shaped by yesterday.”

Juror Charlotte Gray (Source: Cundill Prize)

About Dr Toby Green 

Dr Toby Green joined King's College London in 2010 after studying for his PhD at the Centre of West African Studies at Birmingham University. He was recipient of a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award in 2015, as well as a Philip Leverhulme Prize for History in 2017. His research interests include the history of West of Africa, Atlantic slavery and Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Diasporas. 

A Fistful of Shells is available to purchase online at Penguin Books

In this story

Toby Green

Professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture