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A Brit Takes the Prize!
MOUNT VERNON, VA—One of the nation’s largest literary awards, the annual George Washington Book Prize, has been awarded to Stephen Brumwell for George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus, 2012). An independent historian and award-winning author who lives in Amsterdam, Brumwell received the $50,000 prize on Tuesday evening, May 21, at a black-tie dinner at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Most of us think of George Washington as the victorious commander-in-chief and wise statesman, but Brumwell breathes new life into a younger and edgier incarnation of our first president—the feisty frontier warrior who engaged the French and their Indian allies in brutal border skirmishes, the tough mid-career officer who turned the Continental Army into the weapon that defeated the British Empire. Even while Washington fought the redcoats, Brumwell argues, he relied on British models of military organization and gentlemanly behavior in shaping his distinctive style of leadership.
The Washington Prize, honoring the year’s best book about America’s founding era, is sponsored by a partnership of three institutions devoted to furthering historical scholarship: Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. It particularly recognizes well-written books that speak to general audiences and contribute to a broad public understanding of the American past.
“Stephen Brumwell’s book is a pleasure to read from the very first pages, when he puts you right there, literally looking down the sights of a rifle held by a British officer who’s about to decide whether to kill George Washington,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. “He brings the frontier military experience to life—the vermin, the floggings, the constant fear of ambush and massacre. And readers get a vivid sense of Washington himself as a creation of eighteenth-century military culture.”
“George Washington: Gentleman Warrior is a wonderful read and the scholarship is deeply impressive—Stephen Brumwell was way down in the scholarly weeds sorting out things most eighteenth-century specialists don’t know much about,” added James G. Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which funds the award. “I don’t know if we’ll get a Washington book this good ever again.”
Born in Portsmouth on England’s South Coast, Brumwell worked for many years as a newspaper reporter before he went back to school to earn a Ph.D. in history. He is the author of Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe (Hambledon Continuum, 2006), which won the 2008 Society of Colonial Wars Distinguished Book Award and the 2008 Charles P. Stacey Prize; White Devil: An Epic Story of Revenge from the Savage War that Inspired The Last of the Mohicans (Weidenfield & Nicholson, 2004); and Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763 (Cambridge, 2002). He also co-authored (with W.A. Speck) Cassell’s Companion to Eighteenth Century Britain (Cassell, 2001) and has participated as an historian in numerous television and radio programs.
The Washington Prize jury praised George Washington: Gentleman Warrior as “well-written and engaging,” and wrote: “In the hands of this fine biographer, Washington emerges as a flesh and blood man, more impressive than the mythical hero could ever be.”
The Mount Vernon event also celebrated three other finalists for this year’s prize: Eliga H. Gould’s Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Harvard, 2012), Cynthia A. Kierner’s Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times (UNC, 2012) and Brian Steele’s Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (Cambridge, 2012).
“As Mount Vernon prepares to open a new national library for George Washington this fall, never has it been more important for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to honor and highlight the contributions of these important authors covering early American history,” said Curtis Viebranz, president of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Finalists were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished American historians: Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History Emerita at Baruch College and a member of the history faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, who served as Chair; Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography and professor of English at Dartmouth College; and Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor Emeritus in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and Senior Research Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. Brumwell’s book was named the ultimate winner by a panel of representatives from each of the three institutions that sponsor the prize, plus historian Barbara Oberg of Princeton University.
Learn more about the George Washington Book Prize.
About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize:
Founded in 1782, Washington College 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. 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. 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