By Adam Goodheart
Director, C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience
Washington College has named four finalists for the 2015 George Washington Book Prize. One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, the George Washington Book Prize recognizes the best new books on early American history.
The $50,000 award is sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington College. Now in its 11th year, the award recognizes works that not only shed new light on the nation’s founding era, but also have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history. This year’s four honorees spark new thinking on the American Revolution: its causes and principles, the meaning of liberty and freedom in the young democracy, and the impact of the Revolution that reverberated throughout the 18th-century Atlantic world.
The four finalists are:
- “An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America,” by Nick Bunker (Knopf): This book probes Great Britain’s internal tensions on the eve of revolution. An independent scholar in Lincolnshire, England, Bunker was formerly a journalist for the Financial Times and an investment banker, and is the author of “Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History,” (2010).
- “The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding,” by Eric Nelson (Harvard): He turns upside down the conventional image of the war as a rebellion against a tyrannical king. Nelson is Robert M. Beren Professor of Government at Harvard and the author of “The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought” (2010), and “The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought” (2004).
- “A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia,” by Richard Dunn (Harvard): This book tackles one of the American Revolution’s most challenging issues: human bondage in an age of liberty. Dunn is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Among his many publications is “Sugar and Slaves” (1972), an acclaimed analysis of the Caribbean plantation slave society.
- “When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation,” by François Furstenberg (Penguin Press): A collective biography, this book explores how former French revolutionaries, émigrés to Philadelphia, influenced the growth of the new American republic. He is an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins. His first book, “In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation,” was a finalist for the 2007 George Washington Book Prize.
Meet the Jury
Distinguished historians Rosemarie Zagarri, Philip Morgan, and Ted Widmer served as the jury that selected the four finalists from a field of nearly 70 books published in the past year.
The winner of the $50,000 prize will be announced at a black-tie gala on May 20 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
For more information, visit washcoll.edu/gwbookprize.
About the Sponsors
- Washington College was founded in 1782, the 10th oldest college in America and the first institution of higher learning chartered in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The college’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the Washington Prize, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture, and politics, and it fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. For more information: www.washcoll.edu.
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit devoted to the teaching and learning of American history. Gilder Lehrman draws on top scholars, an unparalleled collection of original historical documents, and a national network of more than 6,000 Affiliate Schools to create and provide a broad range of innovative resources to help teachers, students, scholars, and the general public learn about American history in an engaging and memorable way. Each year the Institute offers support and resources to tens of thousands of teachers, and through them enhances the education of more than a million students. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians. For more information: www.gilderlehrman.org.
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington is a preeminent center of learning about Washington, his life, character of leadership, and legacy. In addition to safeguarding original books and manuscripts, the Library serves as a center for leadership inspired by Washington’s extraordinary example. Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. For more information: www.mountvernon.org.
About Adam Goodheart
Adam Goodheart is the author of the New York Times best-seller, “1861,” and the forthcoming “1865,* two books that capture the stories that give us tremendous insight into the real people who fought and lived during the Civil War.
A historian, essayist, and journalist, Goodheart’s articles have appeared in National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. He is a regular columnist for the Times’ acclaimed Civil War series, “Disunion.” He lives in Washington, DC, and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where he is director of Washington College’s C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.