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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Finalists named for early American book prize

By Stephen Lowman

Three books that explore chapters in early American history — the ratification of the constitution, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812 — have been named finalists for the 2011 George Washington Book Prize. Administered by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, the award honors works that shed light on the nation’s founding era with a $50,000 prize. The winner will be announced on May 25 at Mount Vernon. The finalists are:

ratification.JPGRatification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, by Pauline Maier (Simon & Schuster)

“In contrast to historians who see the ratification of the Constitution as the result of elites' manipulation of the masses,” writes our reviewer Rosemarie Zagarri, “Maier tells a far more suspenseful and complex story. Her superb work provides an object lesson in the value of the deliberative process and the extent to which moderation and compromise are at the very foundation of our government. As Maier convincingly shows, the Constitution's preamble did not simply represent a rhetorical flourish or an abstract philosophical theory. It was the very means by which "We the People" chose to embrace a peaceful revolution in government.”

revolutionaries.JPGRevolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, by Jack Rakove (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Our reviewer Jan Ellen Lewis writes: “Rakove's attentiveness to the Founders' foibles humanizes them at the same time that it underscores their collective achievement. No one revolutionary got everything right, but together ‘they carried the American colonies from resistance to revolution, held their own against the premier imperial power of the day, and then capped their visionary experiment by framing a Constitution whose origins and interpretation still preoccupy us over two centuries later.’”

1812.jpgThe Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, by Alan Taylor (Knopf)

The book prize jurors called Taylor’s work “the most illuminating and
original history of the conflict ever written.” His “masterly effort to rethink the War of 1812 is strikingly successful in its own terms, as a balanced, superbly grounded, analytically rich, and literarily compelling account of a conflict.”

By Stephen Lowman  | February 28, 2011; 5:00 PM ET
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