The George Washington Prize is one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards.

A distinguished jury comprised of notable scholars Eliga Gould, Cedrick May, and John Gray, selected the finalists from a field of over 60 books.


2019 Finalists

(in alphabetical order by author names)

The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation

Colin Calloway

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018

In The Indian World of George Washington, Colin Calloway tells the fascinating story of Washington’s lifelong engagement with Native America. The book paints a new and, at times, disturbing portrait of the nation’s first president — as an untested militia officer on the banks of the Ohio, as a diplomat who gradually learned to work with Indians on their own terms and, during his final years, as a disappointed Indian land speculator. Unusual for a Washington biography, Shingas, Tanaghrisson, Cornplanter, Red Jacket, and Little Turtle, among many other native leaders, play leading roles in Calloway’s account. America’s first inhabitants, the book shows, were as central to the founding of the American republic as the nation’s first president.

 

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father

Stephen Fried

New York: Crown, 2018

Benjamin Rush comes alive in Stephen’s Fried’s biography of this versatile, multi-talented founder. Fried captures Rush’s ambition to better the world by founding hospitals and asylums, by calling for the abolition of slavery, and by championing public education. As the Continental army’s surgeon general, Rush pushed to reform battlefield medicine during the Revolutionary War, and he played a key role in the creation of the United States’ political system. In Fried’s skillful hands, we learn about Rush’s life as a devoted husband and father, as well as his lasting legacy for so many areas of the early American Republic.

 

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Catherine Kerrison

New York: Ballantine Books, 2018

Catherine Kerrison’s book, Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America, tells the story of Thomas Jefferson's three daughters, freeborn and enslaved. The first half focuses on the lives of Jefferson’s daughters by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, while the second part chronicles the difficult and precarious life of his third daughter, Harriet, born to his slave, Sally Hemings. Well documented and powerfully told, Kerrison’s book is as much an account of America’s mixed and often-troubled heritage, as it is about three strong women fighting to define their own destinies in a new nation.

 

The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life

Joyce Lee Malcolm

New York: Pegasus Books, 2018

Joyce Lee Malcolm’s The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold is a bracing account of America’s most famous traitor. Along with Arnold’s well-known frustrations as a Continental army officer, Malcolm recounts the story of his difficult childhood and his father’s descent into alcoholism and bankruptcy, which fed Arnold’s ambition as an adult. The book also takes a fresh look at Arnold’s lifelong hatred of France, dismissed by many scholars as a pretext for switching sides in 1780, but that Malcolm depicts as a genuine expression of attitudes that Arnold first acquired as a teenager in the Connecticut militia during the French and Indian War. Malcolm displays particular sensitivity in her treatment of the women in Arnold’s life: his heroic mother Hannah Waterman, his sister Hannah, and his second wife Peggy Shippen, whose life was destroyed by her husband’s treason.

 

In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown

Nathaniel Philbrick

New York: Viking, 2018

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Into the Hurricane’s Eye is a page-turning narrative of the last and greatest American victory of the Revolutionary War. Philbrick gives the various global players at Yorktown their due, including the young nation’s French allies, who had their own complicated politics and motives, and the defeated British, but the book’s central character is George Washington. The American general’s insights, leadership, and attentiveness to his allies were instrumental in forcing the British to surrender. So too, the book suggests, was a dose of good fortune. Philbrick sheds new light on the often-misunderstood battle that finally secured American independence.

 

Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom

Russell Shorto

New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018

Russell Shorto’s Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom is a study of the American struggle to define the meaning of individual freedom. Shorto’s book takes us to America’s founding and weaves together the stories of six individuals whose very lives test a philosophical idea through the force of action and sometimes-violent change. From the story of an African who liberated himself and his family from American slavery, to the exploits of George Washington during and after the American revolt, Revolution Song is a wide-ranging, gripping history of a people trying to define what it means to be free.

 

Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America's Founding Father

Peter Stark

New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2018

In Young Washington, Peter Stark recounts the drama of George Washington’s formative years during the 1750s fighting the French and their Indian allies in the Ohio Valley. Mortified by his initial encounter with a mixed-race French-Seneca officer in western Pennsylvania, Washington worked to master the ways of his European and native foes, and eventually, Starks shows, of the British soldiers, allied Indians, Tidewater gentry, frontier squatters, and imperial politicians whose help he needed if he was to realize his own ambitions. By the time he married Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759 and moved to Mount Vernon, Washington had perfected the chameleon-like ability to adapt to his surroundings that would define the rest of his storied career. The wilderness, Stark shows, is where Washington became the leader we remember today.

About the George Washington Prize

The George Washington Prize is one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, 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 Prize

  2018
Kevin J. Hayes,
George Washington: A Life in Books
2017
Nathaniel Philbrick,
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Penguin Books)
2016
Flora Fraser,
The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love.” (Knopf)
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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