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.

In celebration of George Washington’s 285th birthday, seven books published in 2016 by the country’s most prominent historians have been named finalists for the George Washington Prize. The annual award recognizes the past year’s best-written works on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of early American history.

The 2017 George Washington Prize finalists are:

  • H. Breen, George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation (Simon and Schuster)

  • Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright Publishing)

  • Jane Kamensky, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W.W. Norton)

  • Michael J. Klarman, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (Oxford University Press)

  • Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (University of Oklahoma Press)

  • Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking)

  • Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (W.W. Norton)

A distinguished jury comprised of notable historians David Preston, Kathleen DuVal, and Nick Bunker, selected the finalists from a field of nearly 60 books. The winner of the 2017 prize will be announced, and all finalists recognized, at a black-tie gala on Thursday, May 25 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

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George Washington's Journey

by T. H. Breen

Early in his term as first president, worried about the stability of the new constitutional order, George Washington organized a series of arduous journeys that took him to all thirteen states.

By taking the government to the people, he believed he could help them better understand the pressing need to support a strong federal union. In his tours to distant and disparate states he built connections with ordinary citizens which helped the new nation survive its difficult early years.

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Most Blessed of the Patriarchs

by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf

This character study of Thomas Jefferson explores his origins in Virginia, his five-year sojourn to Paris, and his views on Christianity, slavery, and race. We see not just his ideas and vision of America but come to know him in an almost familial way, such as through the importance of music in his life.

Tracing Jefferson's philosophical development from youth to old age, the authors explore what they call the "empire" of Jefferson's imagination; an expansive state of mind born of his origins in a slave society, his intellectual influences, and the vaulting ambition that propelled him into public life as a modern avatar of the Enlightenment who, at the same time, likened himself to a figure of old; "the most blessed of the patriarchs." Indeed, Jefferson saw himself as a "patriarch," not just to his country and mountain-like home at Monticello but also to his family, the white half that he loved so publicly, as well as to the black side that he claimed to love, a contradiction of extraordinary historical magnitude.

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A Revolution in Color

by Jane Kamensky

By the 1760's, Boston-born painter John Singleton Copley had become colonial America's premier painter. His brush captured the faces of his neighbors; men like Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams, who would become the revolutionary heroes of a new United States.

The artist, however, did not share his subjects' politics. Copley's nation was Britain; his capital, London. When rebellion sundered Britain's empire, both kin and calling determined the painter's allegiances. He sought the largest canvas for his talents and the safest home for his family. So, by the time the United States declared its independence, Copley and his kin were in London. He painted America's revolution from a far shore, as Britain's American War. Today, in museums across America, Copley's brilliant portraits evoke patriotic fervor and rebellious optimism.

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The Framers' Coup

by Michael J. Klarman

Benjamin Franklin keenly observed, any assembly of men bring with them "all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views."

The stories of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention prove Franklin's point with the rebellion of debtor farmers in Massachusetts; George Washington's uncertainty about whether to attend; Gunning Bedford's threat to turn to a European prince if the small states were denied equal representation in the Senate; slave staters' threats to take their marbles and go home if denied representation for their slaves; Hamilton's quasi-monarchist speech to the convention; and Patrick Henry's herculean efforts to defeat the Constitution in Virginia through demagoguery and conspiracy theories. The Framers' clashing interests shaped the Constitution and American history itself.

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Fatal Sunday

by Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone

Historians have long considered the Battle of Monmouth one of the most complicated engagements of the American Revolution.

Fought on Sunday, June 28, 1778, Monmouth was critical to the success of the Revolution and it marked a decisive turning point in the military career of George Washington. Without the victory at Monmouth Courthouse, Washington's critics might well have marshaled the political strength to replace him as the American commander-in-chief.

This definitive view of the fateful battle is replete with poignant anecdotes, folkloric incidents, stories of heroism and combat brutality, behind-the-scenes action and intrigue, and characters from all walks of life.

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Valiant Ambition

by Nathaniel Philbrick

A complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation.

The focus of the story is the relationship of George Washington and Benedict Arnold through the four years that led to the notorious fall of one and the gradual emergence of the other as a true leader. Arnold is portrayed as an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians fatally destroyed his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion while Washington managed to rise above the petty politics of the time.

A Mount Vernon bookplate, signed by the author, is included with your purchase.

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American Revolutions

by Alan Taylor

This new comprehensive narrative of the American Revolution delivers the stories of major battles, generals, and common soldiers with insight and power.

With discord smoldering in the fragile new nation through the 1780s, nationalist leaders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton sought to restrain unruly state democracies and consolidate power in a Federal Constitution. Assuming the mantle of "We the People," the advocates of national power ratified the new frame of government but their opponents prevailed in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, whose vision of a western "empire of liberty" aligned with the long-standing, expansive ambitions of frontier settlers. White settlement and black slavery spread west, setting the stage for a civil war that nearly destroyed the union created by the founders.

American Revolutions

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.

Past Winners of the George Washington Book Prize

2016
Flora Fraser,
The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love.”
2015
Nick Bunker,
An Empire on Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (Knopf)
2014
Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy,
The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (Yale)
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)

 

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