Photo: Jonathan Blanc

The New York Public Library has announced the five finalists for its 35th annual Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. The Bernstein Award recognizes works written by working journalists that raise awareness about current events or issues of global or national significance. This year the award honored books that covered an array of subject matters examining profound issues including overcoming bias, the right to die movement, the impact of poverty on children, the cost of cheap manufacturing, and the proliferation of palm oil.

This year’s finalists are:

  • The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias by Jessica Nordell (Metropolitan Books);
  • The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die by Katie Engelhart (St. Martin’s Press);
  • Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott (Penguin Random House);
  • Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amelia Pang (Algonquin Books);
  • Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything and Endangered the World by Jocelyn C. Zuckerman (The New Press).

All books nominated were published in 2021 and the finalists were selected by a ten-person Library Review Committee, which read over 100 books submitted by publishers.

The Bernstein Selection Committee, which selects the winner, is composed of professional journalists. The Library will announce the winner online in April. The winner will receive a $15,000 cash prize. Previous winners of the award include Masha Gessen, Anand Giridharadas, George Packer, and Nina Bernstein.

The Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism was established in 1987 through a gift from Joseph Frank Bernstein in honor of journalist Helen Bernstein Fealy. The award honors journalists and their important role in drawing public attention to current issues, events, or policies.

Additional information about the finalists:

*The End of Bias: A Beginning; The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias by Jessica Nordell (Metropolitan Books). The End of Bias is a transformative, groundbreaking exploration into how we can eradicate unintentional bias and discrimination, the great challenge of our age.

Unconscious bias: persistent, unintentional prejudiced behavior that clashes with our consciously held beliefs. We know that it exists, to corrosive and even lethal effect. We see it in medicine, the workplace, education, policing, and beyond. But when it comes to uprooting our prejudices, we still have far to go.

With nuance, compassion, and ten years’ immersion in the topic, Jessica Nordell weaves gripping stories with scientific research to reveal how minds, hearts, and behaviors change. She scrutinizes diversity training, deployed across the land as a corrective but with inconsistent results. She explores what works and why: the diagnostic checklist used by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital that eliminated disparate treatment of men and women; the preschool in Sweden where teachers found ingenious ways to uproot gender stereotyping; the police unit in Oregon where the practice of mindfulness and specialized training has coincided with a startling drop in the use of force.

Captivating, direct, and transformative, The End of Bias: A Beginning brings good news. Biased behavior can change; the approaches outlined here show how we can begin to remake ourselves and our world.

Jessica Nordell is a science and culture journalist whose writing has appeared in the AtlanticThe New York TimesThe New Republic, and many other publications. A former writer for public radio and producer for American Public Media, she graduated from Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The End of Bias: A Beginning is her first book.

*The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die by Katie Engelhart (St. Martin’s Press). More states and countries are passing right-to-die laws that allow the sick and suffering to end their lives at pre-planned moments, with the help of physicians. But even where these laws exist, they leave many people behind. The Inevitable moves beyond the margins of the law to the people who are meticulously planning their final hours—far from medical offices, legislative chambers, hospital ethics committees, and polite conversation. It also shines a light on the people who help them: loved ones and, sometimes, clandestine groups on the Internet that together form the “euthanasia underground.”

Katie Engelhart, a veteran journalist, focuses on six people representing different aspects of the right to die debate. Two are doctors: a California physician who runs a boutique assisted death clinic and has written more lethal prescriptions than anyone else in the U.S.; an Australian named Philip Nitschke who lost his medical license for teaching people how to end their lives painlessly and peacefully at “DIY Death” workshops. The other four chapters belong to people who said they wanted to die because they were suffering unbearably—of old age, chronic illness, dementia, and mental anguish—and saw suicide as their only option.

Spanning North America, Europe, and Australia, The Inevitable offers a deeply reported and fearless look at a morally tangled subject. It introduces readers to ordinary people who are fighting to find dignity and authenticity in the final hours of their lives.

Katie Engelhart is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, based in Toronto and New York City. She is also a National Fellow at New America. She was the recipient of the 2021 George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting and the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Journalism. Her writing has appeared in The New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Atlantic and many other publications. Previously, she was a graduate student of History and Philosophy at Oxford University.

*Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott (Penguin Random House). In Invisible Child, Pulitzer Prize winner Andrea Elliott follows eight dramatic years in the life of Dasani, a girl whose imagination is as soaring as the skyscrapers near her Brooklyn shelter. In this sweeping narrative, Elliott weaves the story of Dasani’s childhood with the history of her ancestors, tracing their passage from slavery to the Great Migration north. As Dasani comes of age, New York City’s homeless crisis has exploded, deepening the chasm between rich and poor. She must guide her siblings through a world riddled by hunger, violence, racism, drug addiction, and the threat of foster care. Out on the street, Dasani becomes a fierce fighter “to protect those who I love.” When she finally escapes city life to enroll in a boarding school, she faces an impossible question: What if leaving poverty means abandoning your family, and yourself?

A work of luminous and riveting prose, Elliott’s Invisible Child reads like a page-turning novel. It is an astonishing story about the power of resilience, the importance of family and the cost of inequality—told through the crucible of one remarkable girl.

Andrea Elliot is an investigative reporter for The New York Times and a former staff writer at The Miami Herald. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a George Polk Award, a Scripps Howard Award, and prizes from the Overseas Press Club and the American Society of News Editors. She has served as an Emerson Collective fellow at New America, a visiting journalist at the Russell Sage Foundation, and a visiting scholar at the Columbia Population Research Center, and is the recipient of a Whiting Foundation grant. In 2015, she received Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence, given to one alumnus or alumna under the age of forty-five. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

*Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amelia Pang (Algonquin Books). In 2012, when Julie Keith opened a package of Halloween decorations she had purchased at a big box store near her home in Oregon, something shocking fell out: an SOS letter, handwritten in broken English by the prisoner who had made and packaged the items. The letter’s author, Sun Yi, was a Chinese engineer turned political prisoner, an ordinary citizen forced into grueling labor for campaigning for the freedom to join a forbidden meditation movement. He was imprisoned alongside petty criminals, civil rights activists, and tens of thousands of others the Chinese government had decided to “reeducate,” carving foam gravestones and stitching clothing for more than fifteen hours a day.

In this page-turning and urgent book, investigative journalist Amelia Pang pulls back the curtain on the human cost of the cheap consumer products Americans take for granted. She goes deep inside a closely guarded network of laogai—forced labor camps—to tell the stories of men and women like Sun, as well as members of the persecuted Uyghur minority group, whose abuse and mass internment have provoked international outcry. Impeccably researched and bravely reported, Made in China is ultimately a call to action, urging us to think more critically about and demand more answers from the companies we patronize.

Amelia Pang is an award-winning investigative journalist of Uyghur and Chinese descent. Her work has been published in The New RepublicMother Jones, and The New York Times, among other publications.

*Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything and Endangered the World by Jocelyn C. Zuckerman (The New Press). Over the past few decades, palm oil has seeped into every corner of our lives. Worldwide, palm oil production has nearly doubled in just the last decade: oil-palm plantations now cover an area nearly the size of New Zealand, and some form of the commodity lurks in half the products on U.S. grocery shelves. But the palm oil revolution has been built on stolen land and slave labor; it’s swept away cultures and so devastated the landscapes of Southeast Asia that iconic animals now teeter on the brink of extinction. Fires lit to clear the way for plantations spew carbon emissions to rival those of industrialized nations.

James Beard Award–winning journalist Jocelyn C. Zuckerman spent years traveling the globe, from Liberia to Indonesia, India to Brazil, reporting on the human and environmental impacts of this poorly understood plant. The result is Planet Palm, a riveting account blending history, science, politics, and food as seen through the people whose lives have been upended by this hidden ingredient.

This groundbreaking work of first-rate journalism compels us to examine the connections between the choices we make at the grocery store and a planet under siege.

Jocelyn C. Zuckerman is the former deputy editor of Gourmet, articles editor of OnEarth, and executive editor of Modern Farmer. An alumna of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a former fellow with the Washington, DC–based Alicia Patterson Foundation, she has written for Fast Company, the American ProspectVogue, and many other publications. The author of Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World (The New Press), she lives in Brooklyn, with her husband and two children.

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