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The George Washington Book Prize

May 20, 2014

The George Washington Book Prize is one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards. Now in its tenth year, the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on early American history. The prize ranks among the largest and most prestigious honors in the publishing industry.

The 2014 George Washington Book Prize was awarded to the noted historian Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy for The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (Yale, 2013).

Video: The Three Washington Book Prize Finalists

The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire
by Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy

“The book is a brilliant performance,” said Douglas Bradburn, founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. “While other scholars have emphasized America’s first foes as bumbling fools, braggarts, and incompetents, O’Shaughnessy shows that America’s leaders--especially George Washington--faced an array of talented, dedicated, and resourceful leaders who would lose America, but set the stage for British imperial dominance in the nineteenth century. A refreshing, exhaustively researched study which should reinvigorate the historical literature on the collapse of the British Empire in North America.”

While many books on the American Revolution herald the heroism of colonists overthrowing a despotic overseas government, O’Shaughnessy takes a different tack in The Men Who Lost America, reframing the Revolution from the British point of view. Through ten deeply researched and clearly written mini-biographies of the major British political and military figures, he dispels popular caricatures of these men as tyrants and bumbling aristocrats and persuasively demonstrates that the British leadership was remarkably talented and able when faced with an unwinnable situation.

Video Interview with Andrew O’Shaughnessy

Listen to our interview with the author of The Men Who Lost America.

Watch the Video


The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
by Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy is “a tour de force that is also a complete delight to read,” the jurors wrote. “With great insight and sensitivity, Taylor focuses on the War of 1812 and unveils the heretofore-understudied story of black people’s involvement in that conflict, creating a seamless, and quite rare, melding of social, military, and political history.”

Taylor was recently appointed to the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia, after teaching at the University of California, Davis for 20 years. He is an award-winning author of seven books including William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic (1995), which won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Beveridge prizes.

Video Interview with Alan Taylor

Listen to our interview with the author of The Internal Enemy.

Watch the Video


The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy
by Jeffrey L. Pasley

Jeffrey Pasley provides new insight into how the first contested presidential election set the stage for the democratic electoral process. “Pasley captures with verve and wit the frothy politics that emerged unexpectedly at the end of the eighteenth century,” the jury noted. “The First Presidential Contest makes it very unlikely that the 1796 presidential campaign will ever be thrust into the shadows again.”

Pasley is a professor of history at the University of Missouri. He is the author of a prize-winning book on the early American press, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Before entering academia, he was a journalist and a speechwriter on Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. He blogs extensively about early American history for Common-Place.

Video Interview with Jeffrey Pasley

Listen to our interview with the author of The First Presidential Contest.

Watch the Video


About the George Washington Book Prize

The George Washington Book Prize is one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards. Now in its tenth year, the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on early American history. The prize ranks among the largest and most prestigious honors in the publishing industry.

The three institutions that sponsor the prize — Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington's Mount Vernon — are devoted to furthering historical scholarship that contributes to the public understanding of the American past.

Beyond merely promoting new scholarly works and research developments, the award pays special attention to works that have the potential to inspire the public at large to learn more about American history.

The Fred W. Smith National Library

A new center for cutting-edge and compelling scholarship about George Washington, Colonial America, and the Revolutionary Era.

Learn More


Video Series:
The Men Who Lost America

Author Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy discusses the many challenges facing Britain and its military during the Revolutionary War.

Watch the Videos


Past Winners

2013
Stephen Brumwell,
George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus)

2012
Maya Jasanoff,
Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf)

2011
Pauline Maier,
Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1789 ( Simon & Schuster)

2010
Richard Beeman,
Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (Random House)

2009
Annette Gordon-Reed,
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family ( Norton)

2008
Marcus Rediker,
The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking)

2007
Charles Rappleye,
Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution (Simon & Schuster)

2006
Stacy Schiff,
A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (Henry Holt)

2005
Ron Chernow,
Alexander Hamilton (Penguin Press)