The National Book Critics Circle Awards

Each year, the National Book Critics Circle presents awards for the finest books published in English in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Biography, Autobiography, Poetry, and Criticism.

In addition, we award two prizes voted on by membership: the John Leonard Prize for the best first book in any genre and the Gregg Barrios Book in Translation Prize, for the best book of any genre translated into English and published in the United States. We also award the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which recognizes outstanding work by a member of the NBCC, and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award and Toni Morrison Achievement Award, which are given respectively to individuals and literary institutions for transformative contributions to book culture.

2012 Winners & Finalists

Fiction Winner

  • Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco)

Fiction Finalists

  • Laurent Binet, HHhH. tr. by Sam Taylor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House)
  • Lydia Millet, Magnificence (W. W. Norton)
  • Zadie Smith, NW (The Penguin Press)

General Nonfiction Winner

  • Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner)

General Nonfiction Finalists

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House)
  • Steve Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (The Penguin Press)
  • Jim Holt, Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story (A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton)
  • David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W.W. Norton)

Biography Winner

  • Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf)

Biography Finalists

  • Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Michael Gorra, Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece (A Liveright Book: W. W. Norton)
  • Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (University of California Press)
  • Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown Publishers)


  • Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press)

Autobiography/Memoir Finalists

  • Reyna Grande, The Distance Between Us (Atria Books)
  • Maureen N. McLane, My Poets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, In the House of the Interpreter (Pantheon)

Poetry Winner

  • D. A. Powell, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press)

Poetry Finalists

  • David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press)
  • Lucia Perillo, On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Allan Peterson, Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Books)
  • A. E. Stallings, Olives (Triquarterly: Northwestern University Press)

Criticism Winner

  • Marina Warner, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press: Harvard University Press)

Criticism Finalists

  • Paul Elie, Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Daniel Mendelsohn, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (New York Review Books)
  • Mary Ruefle Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave Books)
  • Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Graywolf Press)

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing Winner

  • William Deresiewicz

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing Finalists

  • Abigail Deutsch
  • Lev Grossman
  • Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Kathryn Harrison

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

  • Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar