2023 George Washington Prize Awarded to Maurizio Valsania

New York, NY, September 29, 2023Maurizio Valsania has been awarded the 2023 George Washington Prize for his book First Among Men: George Washington and the Myth of American Masculinity (Johns Hopkins University Press). One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious book awards, now in its nineteenth 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 have the potential to advance a broad public understanding of early American history. The prize includes a $50,000 award for the winner.

Conferred by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Washington College, the award was presented during a special event at the Union Club in New York City on September 21. More information about the George Washington Prize and a video of highlights from the evening are available on the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s website.

In First Among Men: George Washington and the Myth of American Masculinity, Valsania considers Washington’s complexity and apparent contradictions in three main areas: his physical life (often bloody, cold, injured, muddy, or otherwise unpleasant), his emotional world (sentimental, loving, and affectionate), and his social persona (carefully constructed and maintained). In each, he notes, the reality diverges from the legend quite drastically. Ultimately, Valsania challenges readers to reconsider what they think they know about Washington.

According to Patrick Spero, executive director of the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon, “Historians consider George Washington one of the hardest figures of the founding era to understand. He appears like an impenetrable marble statue. Maurizio Valsania has changed that. He has humanized Washington in a way few before have done and, in the process, made him more accessible while also making his accomplishments all the more remarkable.”

Adam Goodheart, director of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College, said, “Maurizio Valsania has written a fresh, lively take on George Washington that places him squarely in the context of his time, stripping away centuries of accreted myth and mystique. Of all the books that I’ve read about our nation’s founding leader, this is the one that most made me feel that I was in the presence of the man himself.”

James Basker, president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, observed, “First Among Men is a book that reaches all levels of readership and will enhance our understanding of our nation’s first president. We look forward to introducing it to students and scholars alike through the Institute’s educational programs.”

On receiving the award, Valsania said, “Winning the George Washington Prize is for me an outstanding achievement. I dreamt about it and, over the years, I worked hard to hone my skills and polish my methodology. I was inspired by the books that the former recipients of the prize have produced. They stand as examples of exquisite scholarship and superb style. I tried my best to get closer to these models. And I owe my colleagues a clear debt of gratitude.”

As has happened every year since the George Washington Prize was founded in 2005, an independent jury evaluated between 50 and 100 books published in the past year that explore the history of the American founding era. The jury chose three other finalists, who were also honored at the award ceremony on September 21: Mary Sarah Bilder for Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution (University of Virginia Press); Fred Kaplan for His Masterly Pen: A Biography of Jefferson the Writer (Harper); and Stacy Schiff for The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (Little, Brown and Company).


George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the oldest national historic preservation organization in the United States. The estate is open to visitors and includes the Mansion, a museum and education center, gardens, tombs, a working farm, a functioning distillery, and a gristmill. It also includes the George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon. Opened in 2013, the Washington Library safeguards original books and manuscripts and serves as a center for research, scholarship, and leadership development. Learn more at mountvernon.org.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Now celebrating its twenty-ninth year, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, visionaries and lifelong supporters of American history education. The Institute is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to K–12 history education while also serving the general public. Its mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources. As a 501(c)(3) public charity the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is supported through the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Organization of American Historians, the Council of Independent Colleges, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Learn more at gilderlehrman.org.

Washington College

Washington College, Maryland’s premier small college, enrolls approximately 1,000 undergraduates from more than 39 states and territories and 23 nations. Washington is known for outstanding academics in more than 50 academic programs. With an emphasis on experiential learning opportunities across the disciplines, ranging from internships and research to international study and civic engagement, Washington prepares students for successful careers and lives after graduation. The College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing as well as the 5,000-acre river and field campus which provides unique research opportunities for students and faculty. Learn more at www.washcoll.edu.