Nieman News

New York, March 30, 2010 – The recipients of the 2010 J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards for exceptional nonfiction include David Finkel’s up-close examination of the human costs of making war; James Davidson’s study of the homoerotic culture of ancient Greece; and an account of life in inner city Newark, N.J., focusing on the efforts of an ex-con and former drug dealer to help impoverished children in the city’s most depressed neighborhood, by Jonathan Schuppe.

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 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, and an avid proponent of the writing of history. The Lynton family has sponsored the Lukas Prize Project since its inception.

The awards will be presented to the winners and distinguished finalists at a ceremony on Tuesday, May 4, at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman will serve as moderator of the event.

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


David Finkel for The Good Soldiers (Sarah Crichton Books/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

The judges’ citation: “Of all the excellent books to emerge from the war in Iraq, none has done so with the gut-level immediacy and intimacy of The Good Soldiers. There is not an inch of space between David Finkel’s stunning account of the 2-16 Battalion’s experience and the events themselves; his reporting was as close to these soldiers as their own skin. This is not a book about policy or geopolitics or even about military strategy; it is about something far more important, namely the human (and inhuman) aspects of making war. At times it is almost unbearable to read Finkel’s accounts of the violence wrought by an exploding IED on the streets of Baghdad, of the numbing regularity of military funerals conducted by the 2-16’s commanding officer, or of life in the Army hospital in San Antonio, home to the battalion’s living ghosts. But in The Good Soldiers, Finkel does what all great writers do: he makes it impossible to look away.”

The judges named two finalists:

Beryl Satter for Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America (Metropolitan Books). The judges noted that Satter’s book is “a remarkable story of race and real estate. Satter set out to find more about her father, described as the ‘Clarence Darrow of the Bankrupt,’ and about the forces that exhausted him, exploited black homeowners, and drove a wedge into the heart of Chicago. With the cool skill of an historian, the tenacity of a journalist, and the passion of a daughter, she has narrated a tale with echoes of today’s housing disasters.”

Patrick Radden Keefe for The Snakehead: An Epic tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream (Doubleday). The judges’ citation: “When hundreds of starving passengers in June 1993 leapt from the immigrant smuggling ship Golden Venture into the treacherous surf off Queens’ Rockaway Beach, the story flared across the news pages and left Americans briefly to marvel at the risks taken by those seeking a tiny piece of the life we enjoy. Patrick Radden Keefe did not leave it there. In The Snakehead, he takes the reader on an extraordinary reporter’s odyssey from China’s Fujian province to the equally mysterious streets of New York City’s Chinatown to tell the tale of the criminal networks that brought the two worlds together. With a prosecutor’s passion for detail and a thriller writer’s flare for storytelling, Patrick Radden Keefe has crafted a book that will last as a compelling chronicle of the dreams, the venalities, the tragedies and the triumphs of America’s second great wave of immigrants.”

Judges for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize were Edward Alden, Ellen Goodman and Daniel Okrent.


James Davidson for The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World (Random House)

The judges’ citation: “In The Greeks and Greek Love, James Davidson brings to life, as no author has done, the homoerotic life of the ancient Mediterranean world. The subject of homosexuality in ancient Greek culture, once considered scandalous, has been part of general knowledge for half a century. Now, in a tour de force that combines a careful reading of ancient texts with an extraordinary historical imagination, Davidson steps back from the scholarship, and asks what it meant to the Greeks themselves to live within a homoerotic culture. With breathtaking agility, he reconstructs in rich detail the circumstances in which homoerotic love found expression and shows that homosexuality did not have one meaning but many. A distinguished classical scholar, Davidson displays a profound engagement with the language and culture of the time; he’s also a fine storyteller, who choreographs his complex narrative to stunning effect. His sure yet bemused writerly voice overturns all our conventions of how to talk about the distant past. Intriguing, always lucid, and often very funny, his book is one of the most entertaining pieces of historical writing in years, and a delightful invitation to any reader wishing to enter the classical world.”

The judges named one finalist: Jenny Uglow for A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game (Farrar Straus & Giroux). The judges commented, “Prior to A Gambling Man, Charles II was not a monarch whose life and times could be said to excite much general interest. Sandwiched between the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, he left a biography unrelieved by the high drama of beheading, his father’s fate, or the ignominy of banishment, his successor’s fate. Jenny Uglow’s biography changes all that. Painstakingly researched and beautifully conceived, A Gambling Man shows Charles to be a monarch with a human touch, a clever if at times lazy man who picked his way deftly through political controversy without undermining the stability of the realm. Uglow comprehends not just the politics of this age but the social pressures and public attitudes within which Charles had to reign. Working from the observations and insights of those around Charles, as well as from an intricate knowledge of the age, Uglow tracks her subject through a life of unexpected difficulties without reducing him to caricature. She lends Charles a humanity that other historians have generally denied him, showing him to be smarter, more aware and more fallibly human than any previous biographer has done. This is no small achievement for a royal biographer, who must make new sense of a life already excessively examined. In sure command of the writer’s craft, Uglow succeeds brilliantly, unveiling a historical life quite different from the one we thought he lived.”

Judges for the Mark Lynton History Prize were Timothy Brook, Andrew Meier and Laura Shapiro.


Jonathan Schuppe for Ghetto Ball: A Coach, His Team, and the Struggle of an American City (to be published by Henry Holt)

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.

The judges noted: “Jonathan Schuppe, a former crime reporter for Newark’s Star-Ledger, is a shoe-leather investigative journalist in the best tradition, whose beat has been the underclass of one of our country’s most shamefully derelict cities. His haunting book, Ghetto Ball, will dissolve the boundary between journalism and literature. In a city of drugs, violence, substandard education and blasted families, he focuses on a once-promising athlete, rendered paraplegic by a bullet: Rodney Mason, ex-con, former drug dealer, becomes a mentor to impoverished children by creating a ragtag Little League team on a rescued ball field in Newark’s most depressed neighborhood, the South Ward.

Mr. Schuppe examines the lives of these children, spending time with them on the streets, in school, at home, on prison visits, eloquently creating the texture and harsh reality of an entire society. With no sentimentality, his narrative suggests in these flawed characters the heroism and waste that illuminate great novels. As in the work of J. Anthony Lukas, at the core of Mr. Schuppe’s writing is a sense of responsibility, as if this book needs to be written. We believe it does.”

The judges named one finalist: David Philipps, for Lethal Warriors: War, Murder, and the Fight to Save a Generation on the Home Front (to be published by Palgrave Macmillan). As the judges noted: “In Lethal Warriors, Dave Philipps unravels one of the most horrifying stories of the Iraq War, the dark saga of the 4th Brigade of the 4th Infantry. The 4th is best known for its World War II heroics depicted in HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers.’ But by tracing the story of eight young infantry men who returned from the chaos of Iraq to sunny Colorado Springs, Philipps shows us how, more than two generations later, the 4th’s legacy has become one of rape, murder and suicide.

On a policy level, we see how the Army’s failure to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder has led to an epidemic in suicides and violence from soldiers returning from the battlefield. But on another level, the story is a grotesque metaphor that shows how the noble ideals of saving a nation from a brutal dictator led to the indiscriminate slaughter of Iraqi citizens and, later, to young soldiers killing their own countrymen and women at home. Ultimately, Philipps’ book has the promise that it may bring to life the devastating impact of the damage wrought by the Iraq War—violence that is even more disturbing because it takes place on the home front.”

Judges for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award were Leslie Garis, Robin Marantz Henig and Craig Unger.

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, Columbia University; Ellen Chesler, distinguished lecturer and director of the 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 University; Phyllis Grann, editor; Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York; Nicholas Lemann, dean and Henry R. Luce Professor, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Marion Lynton, widow of Mark Lynton; Lili Lynton, daughter of the late Mark Lynton and owner of Dinex Corp; Kati Marton, author and human rights activist; Arlene Morgan, associate dean of professional prizes and programs, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Rosalind Rosenberg, professor of history, Barnard College.

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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.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard

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 travel to Harvard University for a year of study, seminars and special events. Since 1938, more than 1,300 journalists from 89 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 produces the Nieman Narrative Digest and Nieman Storyboard, two Web sites that showcase exceptional narrative journalism, and the Nieman Watchdog Project, a Web site that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable all those who exert power in public life.

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