Fresh Take on the Revolution Takes the Prize!
MOUNT VERNON, VA—The winner of one of the nation’s largest literary awards, the George Washington Book Prize, was announced Tuesday evening, May 20, at a black-tie affair at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The $50,000 prize went to the noted historian Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy for The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (Yale University Press).
Now in its tenth year, the annual George Washington Book Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on early American history, especially books that are written for a broad audience. 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.
While many books on the American Revolution celebrate the heroism of colonists overthrowing a despotic overseas government, O’Shaughnessy takes a different tack in The Men Who Lost America, reframing the Revolution from the British point of view. In ten deeply researched and clearly written mini-biographies of the major British political and military figures, he dispels popular caricatures of these men as tyrants and bumbling aristocrats and persuasively demonstrates that the British leadership was remarkably talented and able when faced with an unwinnable situation.
The Washington Prize jury praised the book as “ground-breaking” and “a major contribution to the history of the American Revolution.”
“The Men Who Lost America is a refreshing, exhaustively researched study which should reinvigorate the historical literature on the collapse of the British Empire in North America,” said Douglass Bradburn, founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
“This year’s award-winning book, is not just good history,” remarked James G. Basker, the President of Gilder Lehrman Institute. “It is a set of good stories about a subject we thought we had exhausted. History buffs, students, and general readers alike will find something new and intensely interesting in this book. O’Shaughnessy is to be congratulated for this wonderful new take on the American War for Independence.”
“Countless popular books and Hollywood films have portrayed the Redcoats and their leaders as blundering nincompoops at best, sneering sadists at worst,” said Adam Goodheart, director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the Washington Prize. O’Shaughnessy’s work ought to kill these stereotypes once and for all — and, in the process, give Americans a richer and more nuanced understanding of our nation’s origins.”
A dual citizen of Britain and the United States, O’Shaughnessy is the Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and a professor of history at the University of Virginia. Garnering popular and critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, The Men Who Lost America was nominated for BBC’s History Magazine Book-of-the-Month and received the New-York Historical Society’s prize for American History, the Cincinnati History Prize, and the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award. A scholar who specializes in the 18th century Atlantic world and the British Empire, O’Shaughnessy previously authored An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean.
The Mount Vernon event also celebrated the two other finalists for this year’s Washington Prize: Jeffrey L. Pasley, professor of history at the University of Missouri, for The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy (University Press of Kansas) and the University of Virginia’s Alan Taylor for The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (W.W. Norton).
The finalists were selected by a jury of three historians who are themselves renowned experts in the history of the founding era: Gordon S. Wood (chair), Joyce Appleby, and Annette Gordon-Reed. O’Shaughnessy’s book was named the ultimate winner by a panel of representatives from each of the three institutions that sponsor the prize.
Learn more about the George Washington Book Prize at washcoll.edu/gwbookprize.
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Founded in 1782, Washington College in Chestertown, Md., was 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 C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded at the College in 2000, 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. http://www.washcoll.edu.
Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. The Institute has developed an array of programs for schools, teachers and students that now operate in all 50 states, including a website that features the more than 60,000 unique historical documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection (www.gilderlehrman.org/collections). Each year the Institute offers support and resources to tens of thousands of teachers, and through them enhances the education of more than a million students. 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.
Since 1860, more than 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, 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.” Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. Mount Vernon is located just 16 miles from the nation’s capital, at the southern end of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway. www.MountVernon.org