$50,000 Prize Announced May 7 at Mount Vernon
Chestertown, MD, May 8, 2005 — Historian and author Ron Chernow has been honored as the first recipient of the newly inaugurated George Washington Book Prize, awarded Saturday, May 7, at Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Mr. Chernow was recognized for his groundbreaking biography Alexander Hamilton (The Penguin Press, 2004), an examination of the contentious political and financial genius who co-authored The Federalist Papers and served as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.
Conceived by Washington College’s C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the $50,000 prize recognizes outstanding published works that contribute to a greater understanding of the life and career of George Washington and/or the founding era.
“Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is a magnificent achievement, bringing new life to an often-overlooked founder and restating how essential the Washington-Hamilton partnership was to the creation of the republic,” said Ted Widmer, Director of the C. V. Starr Center at Washington College. “This is a most worthy first recipient of the George Washington Book Prize.”
“Hamilton is a spectacular inaugural winner of the Washington Book Prize,” commented Professor James Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a co-sponsor of the prize. “This annual prize will reward outstanding historians and serve everyone who cares about American history—scholars, teachers, and the general public alike."
An honors graduate of Yale and Cambridge, Mr. Chernow is recognized as one of the most distinguished commentators on politics and business in America today and has been hailed by Newsday as “one of today’s best writers of history and biography.” In addition to Alexander Hamilton—named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times—Mr. Chernow has authored several critically-acclaimed works, including The House of Morgan, which won the National Book Award as the best non-fiction book of 1990, The Warburgs (1993), The Death of the Banker (1997), and Titan (1998), a biography of John D. Rockefeller. A frequent contributor to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, Mr. Chernow is a familiar figure on national radio and on television news and documentaries. He and his wife Valerie live in Brooklyn, New York..
In his remarks during the award ceremony at Washington’s historic estate, Mr. Chernow delighted the audience by announcing that his next project would focus on the prize’s namesake.
“I am thrilled that Ron Chernow’s next book will feature George Washington,” said James C. Rees, Executive Director of Mount Vernon. “With Mr. Chernow’s proven track record of producing such compelling work, I have no doubt that the important subject of Washington and his fascinating life will be in very capable hands.”
Also recognized during the event were finalists Rhys Isaac for Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation (Oxford) and Gordon Wood forThe Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (The Penguin Press). The finalists for 2004 were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished scholars of early American history: Don Higginbotham, Professor of History at the University of North Carolina; Philip D. Morgan, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University; and Barbara Oberg, Senior Research Historian at Princeton University and General Editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.
The George Washington Book Prize is a cooperative project of Washington College’s C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.
At $50,000, the George Washington Book Prize is the nation’s largest literary prize for early American history—far greater than those accompanying prestigious literary awards such as the Pulitzer Prize for History at $7,500, the National Book Award at $10,000, and the Bancroft Prize at $10,000. Drawing on the special strengths of Washington College and the historic colonial port of Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the C. V. Starr Center is an innovative forum for new scholarship dedicated to exploring the early republic, the rise of democracy, and the manifold ways in which the founding era continues to shape American culture.
Founded in 1782, Washington College holds the special distinction of being the only institution of higher learning that the first president patronized during his lifetime. Washington donated fifty guineas to the newly founded school, gave his consent for it to be named in his honor, and served on its board of Visitors and Governors. The college is also known for awarding the nation’s largest undergraduate literary prize, the Sophie Kerr Prize, currently valued at $53,000.
Baltimore Sun, 5/8/05: Don't book first prize for Washington: Hamilton tome gets award named after president