C.V. Starr Website:
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
“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.