Shortlist year: 2008

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Pan MacMillan

An almanac combining a comprehensive survey of modern culture with an annotated index of who-was-who and what-was-what, Cultural Amnesia is Clive's unique take on the places and the faces that shaped the 20th-century. From Charles de Gaulle to Thomas Mann, from Hitler to Wittgenstein, from Argentina to Australia, this varied and unfailingly absorbing book is both story and history, both public memoir and personal record – and provides an essential field-guide to the vast movements of taste, intellect, politics and delusion that helped to prepare the times we live in now.

About the author

Clive James

Clive James is the author of more than 20 books. As well as essays, he has published collections of literary and television criticism, travel writing, verse and novels, plus three volumes of autobiography.

In 1992 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins memorial medal for literature.

Judges’ comments

This book presents Clive James’ accounts of the lives, thoughts and legacies of an astonishing, and idiosyncratic, cast of characters, including Sir Thomas Browne, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Margaret Thatcher and Beatrix Potter. It is a glorious collision of style and substance. There is no attempt at objectivity; this is a chronicle of the author’s almost visceral connection with his own adventures in learning. This leads to great clarity of insight in many cases. Many chapters are crafted with extraordinary precision and invention, which are two of the hallmarks of literature.