2023 George Washington Prize Awarded


Maurizio Valsania won this year’s award for “First Among Men: George Washington and the Myth of American Masculinity”

President Mike Sosulski congratulates Maurizio Valsania on winning the Washington Prize.

President Mike Sosulski congratulates Maurizio Valsania on winning the Washington Prize.

One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, now in its 19th year, the George Washington Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance a broad public understanding of early American history. The prize includes a $50,000 award for the winner.

Conferred by Washington College, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the award was presented during a special event at the Union Club in New York City on September 21. 

In First Among Men, according to its publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press, “Valsania considers Washington's complexity and apparent contradictions in three main areas: his physical life (often bloody, cold, injured, muddy, or otherwise unpleasant), his emotional world (sentimental, loving, and affectionate), and his social persona (carefully constructed and maintained). In each, he notes, the reality diverges from the legend quite drastically.”

Adam Goodheart, director of the Washington College Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, said, “Maurizio Valsania has written a fresh, lively take on George Washington that places him squarely in the context of his time, stripping away centuries of accreted myth and mystique. Of all the books that I’ve read about our nation’s founding leader, this is the one that most made me feel that I was in the presence of the man himself.”

On receiving the award, Valsania said, “Winning the George Washington Prize is for me an outstanding achievement. I dreamt about it and, over the years, I worked hard to hone my skills and polish my methodology. I was inspired by the books that the former recipients of the prize have produced. They stand as examples of exquisite scholarship and superb style. I tried my best to get closer to these models. And I owe my colleagues a clear debt of gratitude.”

An independent jury evaluated between 50 and 100 books published in the past year that explore the history of the American founding era. The jury chose three other finalists, who were also honored at the award ceremony on September 21: Mary Sarah Bilder for Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution; Fred Kaplan for His Masterly Pen: A Biography of Jefferson the Writer; and Stacy Schiff for The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams.

In addition to Goodheart, leaders at the other two institutions that grant the Washington Prize also gave First Among Men high praise.

According to Patrick Spero, executive director of the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, “Historians consider George Washington one of the hardest figures of the founding era to understand. He appears like an impenetrable marble statue. Maurizio Valsania has changed that. He has humanized Washington in a way few before have done and, in the process, made him more accessible while also making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.”

And James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, observed that, “First Among Men is a book that reaches all levels of readership and will enhance our understanding of our nation’s first president. We look forward to introducing it to students and scholars alike through the various programs of the Institute.”