Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
2 July 2010

Barbara Demick wins the 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize

The judges commend her account of ordinary lives in North Korea.

By Mike Sweeney

Barbara Demick has won this year’s 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Her book, Nothing to Envy, is an account of ordinary life under North Korea’s authoritarian regime.

Evan Davis, chair of the judging panel and a BBC radio presenter, said: “It is the personal detail in Nothing to Envy that makes it both gripping and moving. Nowhere will you find a better account of real life in North Korea, a society that is all too easily comically typecast by massive parades of co-ordinated flag-wavers.”

The book was reviewed by Charlotte Middlehurst for the New Statesman in February:

The award-winning journalist Barbara Demick tells the stories of six North Koreans and their journeys away from Kim Jong-il’s totalitarian communist regime. These are tales of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, accounts of their struggle to reconcile the mantra of their beloved leader – “Father is here, there is nothing to envy” – with the fear, famine and repression engulfing them. The description by Mi-ran, a young teacher of a kindergarten class in 1994, is typical: “They looked like they were growing younger . . . their big heads lolled on top of their scrawny necks; their delicate ribcages protruded over waists so small you could encircle them with your hand.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Demick, who became the first Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Korea in 2001, weaves such stories, derived from interviews and conversations conducted over a number of years, into a compelling narrative. Her book is a reminder that oral history is one of our greatest resources. Its use in Nothing to Envy makes for a valuable contribution to the literature on North Korea.

Content from our partners
How automation can help insurers keep pace with customer demand
How telecoms companies can unlock their growth potential through automation
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better

Nothing to Envy
Barbara Demick
Granta Books, 272pp, £14.99