Historian defies plagiarism claims to win top prize

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The Independent Online
The young Cambridge historian Orlando Figes triumphed over allegations of plagiarism last night to win a second major book award in two months for his epic account of the Russian Revolution. Figes was awarded the pounds 25,000 NCR award (the wealthiest British prize for a non-fiction book) for A People's Tragedy, published by Jonathan Cape. It traces the origins of the revolution and its disastrous impact on Russian life up to the death of Lenin in 1924.

Figes has already won the WH Smith award for a gripping narrative that Clive Anderson, chairman of the NCR judging panel, described as a "brilliantly written work". The other shortlisted titles Antonia Fraser's History of the Gunpowder Plot, Frank McLynn's Biography of Carl Gustav Jung and the bookies' favourite, Europe: A History by Norman Davies.

Earlier this year, Figes sued a rival historian, Richard Pipes of Harvard University, after Pipes claimed to have found material taken from his own books in A People's Tragedy. But the examples quoted by the Sunday Times in an article which published Pipes' accusation amounted to little more than some standard interpretations of Russian history and some trivial similarities in phrasing. Yesterday, Figes' publishers Jonathan Cape announced that the legal action has been settled.

The controversy shows that the Russian Revolution and its aftermath can still arouse passionate debate among scholars. Pipes belongs to the cold war of historians whose view of the Soviet past was shaped by the unmasking of Stalin's tyranny in the years after 1956. Figes, although hostile to the Bolshevik one-party state, comes from a younger and less partisan generation. His book pays more attention to the hopes and sufferings of ordinary Russians than to ritual attacks on the crimes of Lenin and Stalin.

Meanwhile, the winner of the book world's richest ever prize was also announced yesterday. In Dublin, the judges of the pounds 100,000 INPAC prize chose A Heart So White by Spanish novelist Javier Marias from a shortlist of eight. The prize is open to works of fiction from any country and was first awarded last year.

Born in 1952, Javier Marias is an author and academic whose experiences teaching Spanish at Oxford University inspired his previous novel All Souls.

Boyd Tonkin