The World Is What It Is is one of the six books shortlisted
An unflattering biography of Nobel- prize winning writer VS Naipaul is among six books shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
The true story of a Victorian murder, a book on the lives of rooks and jackdaws and a chronicle of Stalin's Russia are also nominated.
The winner, to be announced on 15 July, will receive £30,000 - the UK's biggest prize for non-fiction.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City won last year.
This year's nominated writers are Mark Cocker, Orlando Figes, Kate Summerscale, Alex Ross, Tim Butcher, and Patrick French for The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul.
The book, which depicts Naipaul as arrogant, egotistical and cruel despite him authorising the work, is tipped as the favourite to win the prize.
SAMUEL JOHNSON NOMINEES
Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart - Tim Butcher
Crow Country - Mark Cocker
The Whisperers - Orlando Figes
The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul - Patrick French
The Rest is Noise - Alex Ross
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Or The Murder at Road Hill House - Kate Summerscale
The book has already provoked much controversy, with writer Paul Theroux stating: "It is not a pretty story. It will probably destroy Naipaul's reputation forever".
Rosie Boycott, chair of the judges, said of the shortlist: "All six books are ones which changed the way we looked at the world, they are all ones we are eager to pass on to others."
"This superb list of books captures both the surface and the underbelly of human existence in all its myriad variations.
"There is murder, betrayal, brutality, beauty and tales of the unexpected. In every instance, it is the power and the quality of the writing that has drawn us to this eclectic selection."
Founded in 1999, the Samuel Johnson Prize is open to English-language books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.