Vice President, Media & Communications
Mount Vernon, Va. – Rick Atkinson is the winner of the 2020 George Washington Prize for his 2019 book The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (Henry Holt). The George Washington Prize, begun in 2005, is the only literary prize focused on America’s founding era. It recognizes the year’s best books on early American history, and includes a $50,000 cash award for the winner. This year’s award was announced on Sept. 25 as part of the National Book Festival, mountvernon.org/nationalbookfestival
According to Mount Vernon President and CEO Douglas Bradburn, “Rick Atkinson is America’s greatest living writer about war, and now he has turned his considerable skills to the American Revolution. He makes the common soldiers come alive, but also deals with grand strategy like a master storyteller. His war is not simple, or easy, but complex and inspiring, like the nation it helped to create.”
An independent jury of historians chose six other finalists. In addition to Atkinson, the finalists honored are: Richard Bell, Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey (37Ink); Matthew R. Costello, The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President (University of Kansas Press); Douglas Egerton, Heirs of an Honored Name: The Decline of the Adams Family and the Rise of Modern America (Basic Books); Richard Godbeer, World of Trouble: A Philadelphia Quaker Family’s Journey through the American Revolution (Yale University Press); David Head, A crisis of Peace: George Washington, the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Pegasus Books); and Martha Saxton, The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux).
Atkinson authored the acclaimed Liberation Trilogy on World War II, along with The Long Gray Line and other books. A former staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post, he has received Pulitzer Prizes in both history and journalism. The British are Coming is Atkinson’s first book on the Revolutionary period, covering the first 21 months of the war to forge a new nation, and is the first in a three-volume trilogy. Through both overview and intimate detail, the book encompasses multiple perspectives, from free and enslaved African Americans, French Canadians, and Native Americans to loyalists, British combatants, and leaders of the struggle like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Eminent historian Joseph R. Ellis wrote in the New York Times, “It is as if Ken Burns somehow gained access to a time machine, traveled back to the Revolutionary era, then captured historical scenes on film as they were happening.”
Atkinson said of his work on The British are Coming, “Although I’ve spent most of my professional life writing about our more recent wars, I never lost a boyhood fascination with the American Revolution. To me, it remains a bright mirror in which we can see traits that fashion the American character, from ingenuity and resilience, to brutality and pugnacity. And for a storyteller, it’s a spectacular yarn, beyond the power of any novelist to invent.”
Sponsors of the George Washington Prize are the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Washington College. The Prize seeks to further historical scholarship that contributes to the understanding of the American past, with special attention to works that inspire the public to learn more about American history.
ABOUT THE SPONSORS OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PRIZE
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Now celebrating its 25th year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education. The Institute is the leading American history nonprofit organization dedicated to K–12 education while also serving the general public. Its mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is supported through the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations. 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, and the Council of Independence Colleges. For more information: gilderlehrman.org.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Since 1860, more than 85 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon the most popular historic home in America. A privately-owned national treasure, Mount Vernon is maintained and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Since purchasing the estate from the Washington family and assuming stewardship in 1858, the Association has embraced a heroic mission to preserve, protect, and maintain the estate for the American people, relying exclusively on private donations, admission fees, and restaurant and retail proceeds. Through robust education and outreach programs, the Association expands awareness about the exceptional life and character of George Washington, sustaining his legacy through research, interpretation, and public education. In experiences on the estate and through its digital outreach platforms, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” For more information: www.mountvernon.org.
Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established 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 George Washington Prize, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture, and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. For more information: www.washcoll.edu.
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