Alison Flood 

Christopher Hitchens misses out on Orwell prize shortlist

Shortlist for £3,000 prize focuses on books with 'a dark content', from Misha Glenny's Dark Market to Richard Lloyd Parry's People Who Eat Darkness
  
  

The late Christopher Hitchens has missed out on a place on the Orwell prize shortlist for his career-spanning collection of essays, Arguably.

Hitchens, who died last December, was one of 18 authors longlisted for the £3,000 Orwell book prize, chosen for a title described by its publisher as "the most comprehensive collection of the work of the finest English essayist since Orwell". But judges plumped instead for books covering topics including murder, urban gangs and opium, from Richard Lloyd Parry's investigation into the disappearance of Lucie Blackman in Japan, People Who Eat Darkness, to Misha Glenny's exploration of cyber crime, Dark Market.

"What do [the shortlisted books] share – except for a dark content?" asked the prize's director Jean Seaton. "Precision, wit, elegance: important books about important things. Orwell would have devoured all of them."

The Orwell book award is given to the title which comes closest to George Orwell's own ambition "to make political writing into an art", and has been won in the past by former lord chief justice Tom Bingham's The Rule of Law, Andrea Gillies's account of living with Alzheimer's, Keeper, and Guardian journalist Andrew Brown's Fishing in Utopia.

This year, Siddhartha Deb was shortlisted for his look at life in the "new" India, The Beautiful and the Damned, Toby Harnden for Dead Men Risen, the story of the Welsh Guards in Helmand in 2009, Gavin Knight for his investigation of Britain's ganglands, Hood Rat, and Julia Lovell for her account of China's opium war.

"Two of the books on our shortlist share a precarious journey to the public," said Seaton. "Siddhartha Deb's book was censored in India, Toby Harnden's book on male camaraderie in the Welsh Guards pulped by the MoD. Julia Lovell's witty, erudite, history of the founding myth of modern China – that of the opium war, would most certainly be censored if the Chinese authorities recognised how mercilessly it slays illusions. Misha Glenny's book makes any use of a credit card seem infinitely risky while Richard Lloyd Parry's book on the murder of an English girl is really a gripping essay on justice and the law in Japan. Hood Rat is Gavin Knight's extraordinary portrait of the under-belly of urban, unseen Britain."

The Orwell prize's winners will be announced on 23 May. This year's books award is judged by author and former winner Miranda Carter, Telegraph assistant books editor Sameer Rahim and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.

The shortlist:

Siddhartha Deb's The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India

Misha Glenny's Dark Market: CyberThieves, CyberCops and You

Toby Harnden's Dead Men Risen

Gavin Knight's Hood Rat

Richard Lloyd Parry's People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman

Julia Lovell's The Opium War