Nieman News

New York — The recipients of the 2009 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards for exceptional nonfiction 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 their land for uranium and contaminated their environment with radiation, by Judy Pasternak.

Established in 1998, the prizes recognize excellence in nonfiction writing that exemplifies the literary grace and commitment to serious research and social concern that characterized the distinguished work of the awards’ Pulitzer Prize-winning namesake J. Anthony Lukas, who died in 1997.

One of the three Lukas Prize Project Awards, The Mark Lynton History Prize, is named for the late Mark Lynton, 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.

The awards will be presented to the winners during a ceremony to be held on Tuesday, May 12, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Following are the winners, finalists, names of the judges and the judges’ citations.


Jane Mayer for The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday)

“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.”

The judges named two finalists: Edward Alden for The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security Since 9/11 (Harper), “a chronicle of callous and capricious border enforcement in the self-defeating quest for homeland security”; and Masha Gessen for Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene (Harcourt), “an adventurous blend of reporting, memoir, and opinion spurred by Gessen’s discovery of a potentially lethal mutation in her genes.”

Judges for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize were David Michaelis, Patricia O’Toole, and Walter Shapiro.


Timothy Brook for Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (Bloomsbury)

“In Vermeer’s Hat, 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. From the spread of firearms and tobacco to the global cooling that drove herring to migrate south and in so doing enabled the rise of the Dutch East India Company, Brook employs the delicately rendered details in each painting as prisms through which to show us the wider world. In masterfully erudite, lucid prose, he follows each commodity to its point of origin and argues, persuasively, that in the global world of the seventeenth century there was “no place that was not implied by every other place.” Vermeer’s Hat is a bold, original, and compulsively readable work of history, a true virtuoso performance.”

The judges named three finalists: Annette Gordon-Reed for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Norton), “a work about American slavery and the history of one slave family which is both a monumental feat of archival scholarship and an often heartbreakingly intimate domestic drama”; Joe Jackson for The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire (Viking), “the gripping story of Henry Wickham, an entrepreneurial British adventurer who smuggled 70,000 rubber seeds out of Brazil that would end up spawning vast plantations in British colonial Asia”; and William I. Hitchcock for The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe (Free Press), “who brings a rich new level of understanding to the very concept of military victory, showing the reasons the liberated themselves, from France to Poland, often celebrated their liberation with a deep alloy of bitterness and ambiguity.”

Judges for the Mark Lynton History Prize were Richard Bernstein, Maya Jasanoff, and Patrick Keefe.


Judy Pasternak for Yellow Dirt: The Betrayal of the Navajos (to be published by Free Press)

The Lukas Work-in-Progress Award is given each year to assist in the completion of a significant work of narrative nonfiction on an American topic of political or social concern.

“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.”

“Judy Pasternak’s reporting is impeccable, her writing is vivid, and her subject is a most worthy one. As J. Anthony Lukas proved in Common Ground, this is a recipe for creating a memorable and important work of nonfiction.”

Judges for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award were Michelle Goldberg, Janet Silver and Robert Whitaker.

The J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Committee

Arthur Gelb, author, and Linda Healey, editor and Mr. Lukas’ widow, are co-chairs of the J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Committee. Additional members are Jonathan Alter, author and senior editor, Newsweek; Alan Brinkley, Allan Nevins Professor of History and provost, Columbia University; Ellen Chesler, distinguished lecturer and director, Eleanor Roosevelt Initiative on Women and Public Life at Roosevelt House, Hunter College; Colin Diver, president, Reed College; Robert Giles, curator, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard; Phyllis Grann, editor; Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York; Nicholas Lemann, Henry R. Luce Professor and dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Marion Lynton, widow of Mark Lynton; Lili Lynton, owner, Dinex Corp; Kati Marton, author and human rights activist; Arlene Morgan, associate dean for professional prizes and programs, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Rosalind Rosenberg, professor of history, Barnard College.

About the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

For almost a century, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has been preparing journalists in a program that stresses academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912, the school offers Master of Science, Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

About Columbia University

Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and today is one of the world’s leading academic and research institutions. For more information about Columbia University, visit

About the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. The fellowships are awarded to working journalists of accomplishment and promise who come to Harvard University for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 88 countries have received Nieman Fellowships. The Nieman Foundation also publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports, the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism, and is home to the Nieman Journalism Lab, which identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age. Additionally, the foundation also runs the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism and the Nieman Watchdog Project, which encourages reporters and editors to monitor and hold accountable those who exert power in all aspects of public life.

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