Much-discussed contenders including Baghdad Burning, a blog by an anonymous 26-year-old in Iraq, have fallen by the wayside as judges chaired by Professor Robert Winston hacked a long-list of 19 down to six. Alan Bennett's collected writings, Untold Stories, in which he reflects on family, childhood and his serious illness, is the best-known name on the list.
His inclusion comes in a triumphant year for the 72-year-old as his play, The History Boys, has taken Broadway by storm.
But whether he can beat rivals including Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago Press - shortlisted for Bad Faith, the story of a French Nazi collaborator - remains to be seen.
In previous years, serious historical analysis has fared well, which might give hope to Postwar by Tony Judt, a London-born academic who now teaches at New York University. Postwar integrates international relations, social change, economic development and culture since the end of the Second World War into a single narrative.
Other scholarly competition includes The Sale of the Late King's Goods by Jerry Brotton, a Renaissance expert at Queen Mary, University of London. He investigated the great art collection of King Charles I and what happened to it after his execution when it was sold off to raise money for Cromwell's new regime.
James Shapiro, also a university professor, reaches the final six for 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, which links the works the Bard produced in that year - including Henry V and Hamlet - to the social and political issues of the day. The Orientalist by Tom Reiss, is "part history, part cultural biography and part literary mystery". It traces the life of Lev Nussimbaum, who transformed himself into a Muslim prince and became a best-selling author in Nazi Germany.
Professor Winston said their decision was "pretty well unanimous". "Although we spent a respectable amount of time coming to the final six books, it wasn't at all contentious," he said.
The judges will announce the winner at an awards ceremony broadcast live on BBC4 on 14 June.Reuse content