Alan Bennett’s latest bestseller was shortlisted last night for the leading book award in its field, the BBC Four Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. He is tipped to beat the other five works nominated. But if he does, the last thing he will need is the £31,000 prize money. For Bennett’s Untold Stories has already sold more than 10 times as many copies as the rest of the shortlist put together. And he has sold more than 400 times the number of the title regarded as most likely to pip him, Jerry Brotton’s The Sale of the Late King’s Goods.
Untold Stories has shifted 333,268 copies in hardback in the eight months since it was published, considered an extraordinary performance for a work with literary qualities. It sold more than £150,000 worth of copies at Christmas alone. Sales figures for the shortlist’s other titles are: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, by James Shapiro, 18,201 copies; Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt, 5,303; The Orientalist, by Tom Reiss, 1,221; Bad Faith, by Carmen Callil, 1,108; The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, by Jerry Brotton, 796.