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Bunker’s “An Empire on the Edge” Wins 2015 Washington Book Prize
Nick Bunker’s financially astute countdown to the American Revolution portrays vividly the economic stresses and political mistakes that brought England to war with her colonies.
MOUNT VERNON, VA—The winner of one of the nation’s largest literary awards, the George Washington Book Prize, was announced Wednesday evening, May 20, at a black-tie gala at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The $50,000 prize went to Nick Bunker’s An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (Knopf).
The George Washington Book Prize honors 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 prestigious 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 Revolution and the founding era.
An Empire on the Edge is a probing account of Great Britain’s internal political and financial tensions on the eve of revolution. Drawing on a careful study of primary sources from Britain and the United States, Bunker crafts a compelling story of the deepening antagonism between England and her colonies, giving equal weight to the commercial as well as the political ambitions of the British Empire. Bunker’s series of fully visualized scenes of familiar events like the Boston Tea Party and lesser-known episodes such as the Gaspee Affair, provides a nuanced description of the Anglo-American conflict.
An independent scholar in Lincolnshire, England, Bunker was formerly a journalist for the Financial Times and an investment banker. Bunker’s background in finance is evident in his insightful portrait of London’s speculative cycles, the financial woes of the East India Company, and the networks of global trade that put the imperial system “slipping into ruin.”
In addition to claiming the Washington Book Prize, An Empire on the Edge was recently announced as a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in history, earning praise for its “bifocal perspective on the countdown to the American Revolution.” Empire on Edge is Bunker’s second book: he previously authored Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (2010).
“Bunker’s book takes readers from the wharves of Boston to the halls of Parliament and the tea plantations of China,” 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 shows us that the fate of the American colonies depended on events in all of those places. This is historical narrative at its most vivid and engrossing.”
The Mount Vernon event also honored the three other finalists for this year’s Washington Prize: Richard S. Dunn’s A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia (Harvard University Press), François Furstenberg’s When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation (Penguin) and Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding (Harvard University Press).
The finalists were selected by a jury of three distinguished American historians and writers: Rosemarie Zagarri (chair), Ted Widmer, and Philip Morgan. Bunker’s book was named the ultimate winner by a panel of representatives from each of the three institutions that sponsor the prize, plus historian Christopher Brown of Columbia University.
Learn more about the George Washington Book Prize at washcoll.edu/gwbookprize.
About the Prize Sponsors:
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.
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.