A Canadian author has won one of England's best regarded literary awards. Wade Davis won the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction on Monday, with Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest, published by Bodley Head in the U.K., and Knopf in the U.S.

The book, which has so far sold about 20,000 copies in hardback and paperback, is, like Hilary Mantel's Man Booker winner, Bringing Up the Bodies, good for booksellers and the title seems certain to be among the Christmas bestsellers. "It has everything!" enthused Robert Topping of Topping & Co. It was an all but unanimous choice, with Robert Macfarlane the closest contender. The Prize's relocation to late autumn was agreed to be a good move, highlighting as it does a sextet of excellent non-fiction titles just as people are beginning to think of Christmas shopping.

Davis's book, said Bronwen Maddox, the juror who presented it to the audience, "really shook us." It was, she said, full of "exciting detail…a very different history…extremely relevant to Britain's sense of itself now…and all the better for not being written by a British writer."

The book took more than a decade to write, with George Mallory's body found in 1999, shortly after Davis embarked on the project, leading him to offer Knopf the return of his advance. It remains unclear today whether either Mallory or his climbing partner Andrew Irvine reached the summit, but that was not what preoccupied Davis, whose study is not about the conquest of Everest per se but, rather, an imperial project that took place in the wake of the First World War.

Davis is the author of 15 books includingThe Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, and The Wayfinders. His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series produced for the National Geographic Channel.