Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University are pleased to announce the 2020 shortlists for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize.

 The Lukas Prizes, established in 1998, honor the best in American nonfiction writing.

The winners and finalists of the 2020 Lukas Prizes will be announced on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at Columbia Journalism School in New York City.

J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize shortlist

  • Emily Bazelon, CHARGED (Random House)
  • Jennifer Berry Hawes, GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Jodie Adams Kirshner, BROKE (St. Martin’s Press)
  • Alex Kotlowitz, AN AMERICAN SUMMER (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)
  • Margaret O’Mara, THE CODE (Penguin Press)

The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize recognizes superb examples of nonfiction writing that exemplify the literary grace, the commitment to serious research, and the original reporting that characterized the distinguished work of the award’s namesake, J. Anthony Lukas. Books must be on a topic of American political or social concern published between January 1, 2019, and December 31, 2019. Judges this year: Barbara Clark (chair), Wesley Lowery, and Miriam Pawel.

J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize shortlist covers

Emily Bazelon’s CHARGED: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration (Random House)

Bio: Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, and a lecturer at Yale Law School. Her previous book is the national bestseller Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Synopsis: The American criminal justice system is supposed to be a contest between two equal adversaries, the prosecution and the defense, with judges ensuring a fair fight. That image does not match the reality in the courtroom, however. Much of the time, prosecutors control the outcome of a case, making most of the key decisions, from choosing the charge to setting the bail to determining the plea bargain. In Charged, renowned journalist Emily Bazelon reveals how this is a cause of enormous injustice—and the missing piece in the mass incarceration puzzle.

Charged closely tracks two cases of people caught up in the criminal justice system and illustrates how criminal prosecutions can go wrong—and, more important, why they don’t have to. By highlighting a wave of new, reform-minded DAs who have been elected to do nothing less than reinvent how their job is done, Bazelon ultimately shows how the criminal justice system can begin working toward a different and profoundly better future.

Jennifer Berry Hawes’s GRACE WILL LEAD US HOME: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness (St. Martin’s Press)

Bio: Jennifer Berry Hawes writes for the Charleston-based Post and Courier, where she spent a decade covering religion and now works on a team that handles in-depth investigative reporting projects for the newspaper. Her work has won many honors including a Pulitzer Prize, a George Polk Award, a National Headliner Award, and a Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma. Grace Will Lead Us Home is Hawes’ first book. She lives in Charleston.

Synopsis: On June 17, 2015, 12 members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine innocents during their closing prayer horrified the nation. Two days later, some relatives of the dead stood at Roof’s hearing and said, “I forgive you.” That grace offered the country a hopeful ending to an awful story. But for the survivors and victims’ families, the journey had just begun.

In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes provides a definitive account of the tragedy’s aftermath and offers a nuanced and moving portrait of the events and emotions that emerged in the massacre’s wake. This is the story of how, beyond the headlines, a community of people begins to heal.

Jodie Adams Kirshner, BROKE: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises (St. Martin’s Press)

Bio: Jodie Adams Kirshner is a research professor at New York University. Previously on the law faculty at Cambridge University, she also teaches bankruptcy law at Columbia Law School. She is a member of the American Law Institute, past term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and technical advisor to the Bank for International Settlements. She received a multiyear grant from the Kresge Foundation to research this book.

Synopsis: In BrokeJodie Adams Kirshner follows seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city’s bankruptcy. Like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, Broke looks at what municipal distress means, not just on paper but in practical—and personal—terms. More than 40 percent of Detroit’s 700,000 residents fall below the poverty line. Post-bankruptcy, they struggle with a broken real estate market, school system, and job market—and their lives have not improved.

Detroit is emblematic. Kirshner makes a powerful argument that cities—the economic engine of America—are never quite given the aid that they need by either the state or federal government for their residents to survive, not to mention flourish. Success for all America’s citizens depends on equity of opportunity.

Alex Kotlowitz, AN AMERICAN SUMMER: Love and Death in Chicago (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

Bio: Alex Kotlowitz is the author of the national bestseller There Are No Children Here, selected by the New York Public Library as one of the most important books of the 20th century. The Other Side of the River was awarded the Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction. His documentary, The Interrupters, received an Emmy and a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Kotlowitz’s work has appeared in The New York Times MagazineThe New Yorker, and on This American Lifeand he has won two Peabody Awards, two duPont-Columbia University Awards, and a George Polk Award. He is a writer in residence at Northwestern University. Kotlowitz lives with his wife, Maria Woltjen, and their two children outside of Chicago.

Synopsis: The numbers are staggering: over the past 20 years in Chicago, 14,033 people were killed and another 60,000 wounded by gunfire. What does that do to the spirit of individuals and community? In An American Summer, Alex Kotlowitz applies the close-up reporting that made his previous book, There Are No Children Here, a classic, chronicling one summer in Chicago and the individuals who have emerged from the violence. Their stories capture the capacity—and the breaking point—of the human heart and soul. The result is a spellbinding collection of intimate profiles that upend what we think we know about gun violence.

Margaret O’Mara, THE CODE: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (Penguin Press)

Bio: Margaret O’Mara is a professor of history at the University of Washington. She writes and teaches about the history of U.S. politics, the growth of the high-tech economy, and the connections between the two, and is the author of Cities of Knowledge and Pivotal Tuesdays. She received her MA/PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and her BA from Northwestern University. Prior to her academic career, she worked in the Clinton White House and served as a contributing researcher at the Brookings Institution. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband Jeff and their two daughters.

Synopsis: In The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, Margaret O’Mara reveals the true, behind-the-scenes history of the people who built Silicon Valley and shaped Big Tech in America. She lays particular emphasis on the Valley’s crucial relationships with Washington, D.C., showing how those connections have repeatedly made Big Tech the nexus of so many American hopes and dreams—and, increasingly, nightmares.