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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Biographer wins rich book prize
TJ Binyon
TJ Binyon beat five other authors to win the prize
An Oxford don has been awarded the lucrative Samuel Johnson prize for his biography of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

TJ Binyon was handed the 30,000 award for his "gripping and intimate account" of the 19th Century figure.

Mr Binyon, 63, beat five other shortlisted authors to win the non-fiction prize, including Whitbread Prize winner Claire Tomalin for her biography of Samuel Pepys.

A fellow of Wadham College, the author embarked on the first major biography of Pushkin for 60 years.

"He is Russia's greatest poet, he is their best-loved poet," Mr Binyon told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Colourful life

"I still haven't coped with the idea that I've won, let alone thought about what I'm going to do with the money."

A myth about his life has been built up in his home country, Mr Binyon said.

"He had a short life, a colourful, vivid life and he lived in stirring times - what more could one want?

But he added: "I'm not sure he was the kind of person one would have wanted to know."

The winner was announced at a ceremony at London's Savoy Hotel.

Massive task

Presenting the award, MP Michael Portillo, who sat on the judging panel, said: "TJ Binyon's biography of Pushkin is the product of the author's years of dedication to his subject.

"Whilst Pushkin does not translate well into English, Binyon has undertaken a massive task to reveal his genius to us and has written a gripping and intimate account of his life and death."

The judging panel was chaired by journalist and broadcaster Rosie Boycott.

The Samuel Johnson Prize, sponsored by BBC Four, carries one of the richest rewards in non-fiction literature, with each of the shortlisted authors picking up 1,000.

Other shortlisted authors included Aminatta Forna for The Devil That Danced on the Water, Orlando Figes for Natasha's Dance, Olivia Judson for Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation and Edgar Vincent's Love and Fame.

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