Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House)

The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award is a biennial award given to a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in the United States during the previous two calendar years. It is intended that the winning book possess the qualities of intellectual rigor, perspicuity of expression, and stylistic elegance conspicuous in the writings of author and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, whose four dozen books and countless other publications continue to provide an important and incisive commentary on the American social, intellectual and political scene.

2013 Judges

Eliza Griswold, Maya Jasanoff, and Edward Mendelson

From the Judges’ Citation

Behind the Beautiful Forevers fashions to perfection an extraordinarily difficult genre, the non-fiction novel. On a foundation of prodigious reporting, Boo builds a gripping narrative about the daily workings of the Mumbai slum of Annawadi, through the lives of memorable characters, from Abdul, the deft young garbage picker striving to scavenge his way up or out, to Asha, the savvy slum politician who twists the concept of aid to suit herself. But this book is far more than a mesmerizing story about these figures and their painstakingly researched, powerfully recounted lives. Through their profiles, Boo quietly advances a compelling, critical analysis of globalization, institutional corruption, and international aid, forcing the reader to reckon with the human costs of India’s much-touted economic boom. This book is both a tour de force of social justice reportage and a literary masterpiece.


Donovan Hohn, Moby-Duck (Penguin Books)

From the Judges’ Citation

Part high-seas adventure story, part hard-scientific investigative reporting, Moby-Duck tracks the paths of 28,800 bath toys accidentally tipped overboard in the North Pacific, and in doing so explores the relationship between humans and the environment. Donovan Hohn’s passion for discovery takes him from Alaska beachcombing to Chinese toy factories, from the physics of ocean currents to the chemistry of plastics. Animated by Hohn’s elegant and engaging narrative voice, buzzing with creative energy and original insights, Moby-Duck offers an unforgettable examination of sustainability and climate change, some of this century’s defining issues. A rare example of a book that is as enjoyable to read as it should be essential for anyone concerned about the environmental future.


Iron Curtain (Doubleday), Anne Applebaum

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House), Katherine Boo

Moby-Duck (Penguin Books), Donovan Hohn

God’s Hotel (Riverhead Books), Victoria Sweet

Previous Winners

2011: Robert Perkinson for Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (Metropolitan Books, 2010)

2009:  Steve Coll, The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (Penguin, 2008)
2007: James Carroll, House of War (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)