Announcing the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize finalists

The LA Times David L. Ulin at the 2010 book prizes
(Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times)

This post has been updated; see below for details.

The finalists for the 33rd L.A. Times Book Prizes were announced Thursday morning -- the complete list is below. In addition to the 50 books in 10 categories that are in the running for the awards, two authors -- Margaret Atwood and Kevin Starr -- will receive special recognition.

For her efforts to push narrative form, Atwood will receive the Times’ Innovator’s Award. The vanguard feminist, dystopian visionary and award-winning novelist has, in her 70s, embraced new electronic forms of storytelling. Her projects include writing a serialized e-book for Byliner and posting her work on the collaborative writing website for teens, Wattpad.


Starr, the former state librarian of California, will receive the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. Starr is the author of the California Dream series, eight lively volumes that cover the history of California from 1850 to 2002. “The study of California, in many ways, begins with what Kevin Starr has done,” said Times book critic David L. Ulin. “His comprehensive overview is a baseline for the political, geological, social and cultural history of the state.”

Finalists for the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prizes were named in 10 categories: biography, current interest, fiction, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology, the Art Seidenbaum Award for first fiction, and young adult literature.

Among the 50 finalists are election predictor Nate Silver, Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro, former U.S. poet laureate Louise Glück, bestselling crime writer Tana French, television commentator Jake Tapper and debut novelist Robin Sloan. Young adult finalist Paolo Bacigalupi is a winner of the Prinz Award, fiction finalist Michael Chabon a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, and nonfiction finalist Katherine Boo won this year’s National Book Award. The complete list of finalists is below.

The winners of the L.A. Times book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony April 19, the evening before the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 20-21. Held on USC’s campus in Bovard Auditorium, the awards are open to the public; tickets will be made available in late March. Details can be found online at


H.W. Brands / The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (Doubleday)

Robert Caro / The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf)

Alice Kessler-Harris / A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (Bloomsbury Press)

David Nasaw / The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (Penguin Press)

R.J. Smith / The One: The Life and Music of James Brown (Gotham Books)

Current Interest

Katherine Boo / Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House)

Steve Coll / Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Penguin Press)

Karen Elliot House / On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines -- and Future (Knopf)

Jim Sterba / Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards Into Battlegrounds (Crown)

Jake Tapper / The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little, Brown and Co.)


Jami Attenberg / The Middlesteins: A Novel (Grand Central Publishing)

Michael Chabon / Telegraph Avenue (HarperCollins Publishers / Harper)

Ben Fountain / Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (HarperCollins Publishers / Ecco)

Lauren Groff / Arcadia (Voice/Hyperion)

Lydia Millet / Magnificence (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Graphic Novel/Comics

Alison Bechdel / Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Leela Corman / Unterzakhn (Schocken/Pantheon)

Sammy Harkham / Everything Together: Collected Stories (PictureBox)

Spain Rodriguez / Cruisin’ With the Hound: The Life and Times of Fred Toote (Fantagraphics)

Chris Ware / Building Stories (Pantheon)


John Barry / Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (Viking)

George Black / Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone (St. Martin’s Press)

Fergus M. Bordewich / America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (Simon & Schuster)

Amy S. Greenberg / A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (Knopf)

Geoffrey Kabaservice / Rule & Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press)


Tana French / Broken Harbor (Viking)

Nick Harkaway / Angelmaker (Knopf)

Fuminori Nakamura / The Thief (Soho Crime)

Chris Pavone / The Expats (Crown)

Ariel S. Winter / The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime)


Louise Glück / Poems: 1962-2012 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Rowan Ricardo Phillips / The Ground: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

D. A. Powell / Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys: Poems (Graywolf Press)

Bin Ramke / Aerial (Omnidawn)

Cole Swensen / Gravesend (New California Poetry) (University of California Press)

Science & Technology

Susan Cain / Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown)

George Dyson / Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Pantheon)

Jonathan Gottschall / The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Nate Silver / The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don’t (Penguin Press)

Florence Williams / Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (W.W. Norton & Co.)

The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

David Abrams / Fobbit (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic,Inc.)

Kevin P. Keating / The Natural Order of Things (Aqueous Books)

Lydia Netzer / Shine Shine Shine (St. Martin’s Press)

Maggie Shipstead / Seating Arrangements (Knopf)

Robin Sloan / Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Young Adult Literature

Paolo Bacigalupi / The Drowned Cities (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

A.S. King / Ask the Passengers (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

Martine Leavitt / My Book of Life by Angel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers)

Matthew Quick / Boy 21 (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

Elizabeth Wein / Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion)

Innovator’s Award

Margaret Atwood

Kirsch Award

Kevin Starr

[UPDATE 2/21 8:41am: History finalist Geoffrey Kabaservice was incorrectly identified as Richard Kabaservice in an earlier version of this post.]