Dr. Aidan Forth was looking forward to winning the consolation prize – a coffee mug.

The MacEwan University associate professor of history had been told he was one of five finalists for a prestigious book review award. In November of 2021, Forth was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) with his review, “Settler Colonialism Meets the War on Terror: The Enclosure of China’s Uyghurs.”

But instead of the consolation prize, Forth got an email from the Washington Monthly telling him he had won the 2022 Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing.

The award honours the late Kukula Kapoor Glastris, who was the magazine’s books editor. It is the only journalism award dedicated to book reviews.

“It is always nice to receive an award,” says Forth. “But in this case, I am especially pleased that the award will hopefully draw additional attention to what is a very important topic.” 

That topic is the mass detention of China’s minority Muslim population. Forth’s essay reviewed two books on the topic by Darren Byler, In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony and Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City.

A panel of seven judges consisting of journalists, authors and editors reviewed dozens of submissions published in a range of print and online media outlets in 2021. Judge Markos Kounalakis said Forth’s review is “broad in sweep and informed on—and informative about—a complex and distant subject. Forth also needs to marry two books into a single narrative review, which is more challenging.”

“I myself am not a specialist on China,” says Forth. “But I have spent my career thinking deeply about issues of violence, displacement, dehumanization and mass detention. I’m currently writing a book on the global history of the ‘concentration camp,’ which will feature Chinese camps alongside those of other regimes.”

In one way, Forth had received an award soon after his review was published. Before he even had a chance to see it in the LARB himself, an email arrived in his inbox from Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian and author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning book Imperial Reckoning: Britain’s Imperial Gulag in Kenya.

“Your just-published and excellent book review prompted me to write, in part to say how much I liked it and the seamless way in which you move from the books under review to broader questions about violence, empires, and the like. It is so well done, and my warmest congratulations!” 

Forth says this was a touching email given that Elkins’ book inspired him to write his PhD dissertation. “She went on to suggest some opportunities for future collaboration, which I hope will come to pass.”

The professor contends that writing a book review is similar to what he has to do on a regular basis when giving a lecture: distill copious amounts of information down into something that is more digestible and that will lead the audience to want to explore the subject even more.

“Book reviewing also relates to skills we hone in senior research seminars at MacEwan,” Forth adds, “where we teach students to devise an original research topic – in doing so, they need to figure out what has already been written on the topic, and how their work connects to it.”

For his win, Forth will receive a $1,000 prize. He will also be a guest on the C-SPAN program "About Books" on BookTV, airing on Sunday, June 26 at 5.30 p.m. MDT.

Related Reads

Let’s stay in touch!
Sign up to receive our weekly MacEwan University e-newsletter straight to your inbox.