Eric Foner’s 2011 Pulitzer came… as a surprise to few people. Foner is one of America’s leading historians, specializing in Reconstruction era America, writing a new study of Lincoln and slavery- the accolades were well deserved. Disciplined and scholarly work by writers at the top of their craft is rare and should be honored accordingly. A closer look at the recent Pulitzer winners for history reads more like a random drawing of unlikely contestants, rather than worthy recipients.
Good timing? – Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed capitalizes (har har) on the financial crisis of 2008 to win the top history writing prize. Economists, financiers, and bankers loved the book- Ben Bernanke recommended it to a Congressional Committee, but was it the best history writing of 2010 ?
Posthumous debate? – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable was at the center of significant controversy while being considered for the various book awards. Published Malcolm X scholars criticized its methodology and findings , some going as far as to call the book’s mistakes “egregious.” Marable’s untimely death in April 2011 seemed to calm the waters and the book received the Pulitzer the following year.