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The George Washington Book Prize was instituted in 2005 and is awarded annually to the best book on America's founding era. It is administered by Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and sponsored by Washington College in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. At USD$50,000, the George Washington Book Prize is one of the largest book awards in the United States.

'Plain, Honest Men' Wins George Washington Book Prize

Award Tragic has a soft spot for that most American literary awards, the George Washington Book Prize. Worth a cool US$50,000 to the winner it has more prestige in academic revolutionary historian circles than a bushel and a peck of the finest cherries.

Whilst the weighty name suggests that it has been around for ever, it is a comparative newcomer to book award world having been created in 2005.

It honors the most important new book about America’s founding era and is sponsored by Washington College, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

The winner of the 2010 award was announced on 20th May at a black-tie dinner held at Mount Vernon. Tragic has been assured that those present were wearing additional clothing to compliment the black ties.

Richard Beeman , a professor of history and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania (picture above right -  we can tell he is a Prof. by the bow tie), has an extra $50,000 to throw into his retirement plan winning the prize for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (Random House, 2009).

The 50K will probably come in handy as he isn't going to make much on royalties given Amazon are knocking the book out at US$12 or so.


Mind you, if the low cost encourages people to delve into this most important part of the nation's history it will prove to have been well-priced.

Beeman is author of five previous books on the history of revolutionary America. Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution is a dramatic and engrossing account of the men who met in Philadelphia over the summer of 1787 to design a radically new form of government.

Tragic is delighted to see that the winning book has maintained the proud tradition for books of a historical nature by including a colon in the title: protocol must be respected and any budding historian with literary intent would be foolhardy to ignore the practice.

The two other finalists for this year’s Washington Prize were  R.B. Bernstein for The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (Oxford 2009), and Edith B. Gelles for Abigail and John: Portrait of A Marriage (William Morrow 2009).

Whilst Tragic has cause to wonder about the fascination that Edith has with the life of Abigal Adams, given she has written several other books about her over the years, the fact that Abigail and John were married for 54 years makes it a enticing subject to explore. On the list of 'to read'.

Finalists were selected by a three-person jury of distinguished American historians (they always are of course!): Theodore J. Crackel, editor in chief of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia, who served as chair; Catherine Allgor of the University of California, Riverside; and Andrew C ayton of Miami University of Ohio.

 Past Winners

The first George Washington Book Prize was presented in 2005 to Ron Chernow for Alexander Hamilton. Other winners are Stacy Schiff (2006) for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, Charles Rappleye (2007) for Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution, and Marcus Rediker (2008) for The Slave Ship: A Human History.  Last spring, the 2009 prize was awarded to Annette Gordon-Reed for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which also won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the National Book Award and the Frederick Douglass Prize.

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