Author and historian Kevin J. Hayes has won the coveted George Washington Prize, including an award of $50,000, for his new book, George Washington: A Life in Books (Oxford University Press). One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards, now in its 13th 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 engage a broad public audience. Conferred by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Washington College, the award will be presented to Hayes on May 23 at a black-tie gala at Mount Vernon.
In George Washington: A Life in Books, Hayes presents an intellectual biography of Washington that should permanently dispel popular misconceptions of America’s leading Founding Father as a man of all action and no ideas. Washington scholars have long known that he owned an impressive library of more than thirteen hundred volumes. Hayes has gone further by meticulously paging through Washington’s surviving books held at the Boston Athenæum, the Washington Library at Mount Vernon, and other collections, as well as nearly nine hundred pages of Washington’s notes on his reading, to create a portrait of him as a reader. By closely examining Washington’s notes, Hayes has uncovered an intellectual curiosity that dozens of previous biographers have missed. As a young man, Washington read popular serials such as The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Spectator, which helps to bridge the long-imagined gap between him and his learned contemporaries like Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams.
“Kevin Hayes shattered myths and calumnies against George Washington and has done much more,” said Douglas Bradburn, President and CEO of Mount Vernon. “He’s added to the depth of the man helping to reveal why Washington is such an effective leader.”
Established in 2005, the George Washington Prize has honored a dozen leading writers on the Revolutionary era including Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical Hamilton. For this year’s prize, a distinguished jury comprised of notable historians Denver Brunsman, Flora Fraser, and Peter Onuf selected the seven finalists from a field of more than 50 books.
Mount Vernon’s event on May 23 will also honor the six finalists for the 2017 prize:
Max Edelson, The New Map of Empire: How Britain Imagined America before Independence (Harvard University Press)
Eric Hinderaker, Boston’s Massacre (Harvard University Press)
Jon Kukla, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty (Simon & Schuster)
James E. Lewis, Jr., The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis (Princeton University Press)
Jennifer Van Horn, The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America (University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture)
Douglas L. Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture)