U.S. Intellectual History Blog

And the Winners Are….

Today is Pulitzer Prize announcement day. The big news will no doubt be the decision not to award a prize in fiction for the first time since 1977.

But of greater interest to this blog are three of the awards that were given.

The Pulitzer Prize in Biography went to John Lewis Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life.

The Pulitzer Prize in History went to the late Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which, in an unusual move, was originally nominated for the biography prize and moved over to History by the Pulitzer Board.

And the winner for General Nonfiction was Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Though Greenblatt is of course a literary scholar, this book, on the impact of the 15th-century re-discovery of Lucretius’s De rerum natura, is the most intellectual history-oriented of the bunch.

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read any of these three books yet. Each is of some interest to me, though all are rather far removed from anything I’m working on at the moment.

Consider this an open thread to discuss the Pulitzer winners…and any even worthier books from the last year that you feel might have been overlooked.

9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I read both Marable’s and Greenblatt’s books during spring break this year and thoroughly enjoyed them. Regardless of their other virtues (or vices), they are exquisitely well-written.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed Manning Marable’s Malcolm X biography. Quite a thorough look at the man’s life as well as his political and intellectual development. Ties a lot of of the Marcus Garvey influences Malcolm’s father had with Malcolm’s own development.

    I’ve been meaning to the George Kennan biography, although it’s been criticized by some writers of avoiding some of Kennan’s later foreign policy stances. Or, at the very least, leaving out some of the nuance in his foreign policy that would have distinguished him from the viewpoints held by John Lewis Gaddis.

    What about this year? Anyone have any ideas of what could possibly be in contention for next year (although, of course, the year is young)?

    • I’d seen other reviews of Gaddis’s book (Kissinger in NYT, Menand in New Yorker among them) but missed Costigliola’s, which is very interesting and written by someone who clearly had done his homework for it. I noted among other things the point about Kennan’s endorsement of Eugene McCarthy (unmentioned by Gaddis). So thanks for the link.

  3. I went to Ohio University to study specifically with John Gaddis in 1993. He brought many truly interesting graduate students, faculty, and speakers to campus over his years there. Around 1996 or so, he left for Yale to establish a center on strategic thinking and history with his friend Paul Kennedy. Through out all these years in academia, though, Gaddis’s great white whale was the Kennan biography. As graduate students (and beyond) we expected him to win this exact award. It is true achievement in ways that might be passed over in reviews. Gaddis had a long, personal relationship with Kennan that was not necessarily close but always seemed to me to be deeply intellectual and even moral. Constigliola is a great diplomatic historian in his own right, but I think his review reflects the typical relationship historians have had with Kennan. One was either a lumper or a splitter (as Gaddis put it in one of him many essays) regarding Kennan’s role in the cold war. I think with this biography Gaddis demonstrates that he like Kennan and with Kennan wrestled with being both a critic and champion of America in the cold war. I know that might sound incredible given Gaddis’s recent relationship with George W. Bush, but Gaddis is nothing if not intellectually complicated. Much like his subject, Kennan.

  4. It would be interesting to get John Lukacs take on this book given his long time correspondence with Kennan not to mention the books he penned on his character and writings.

    It’s my recollection that Kennan objected to being called the “father of the cold war” as he supported a non militarist U.S. position vis a vis the Soviet Union.

  5. I am most excited to read (sometime in the future) Marable’s biography of Malcolm X. I am confident that Marable captures, in one place, the complexity of a person only formerly accessible through reading a bunch of disparate criticism and essays by Malcolm X himself, Haley, Spike Lee, and others. – TL

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