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2010 - 2020 Biographical and Autobiographical Pulitzer Winners

2010 - 2020 Biographical and Autobiographical Pulitzer Winners

The Pulitzer Prize for Biography is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. It has been presented since 1917 for a distinguished biography, autobiography or memoir by an American author or co-authors, published during the preceding calendar year. Thus it is one of the original Pulitzers, for the program was inaugurated in 1917 with seven prizes, four of which were awarded that year.

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The First Tycoon

2009 | T. J. Stiles

A gripping, groundbreaking biography of the combative man whose genius and force of will created modern capitalism. Founder of a dynasty, builder of the original Grand Central, creator of an impossibly vast fortune, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt is an American icon. Humbly born on Staten Island during George Washington's presidency, he rose from boatman to builder of the nation's largest fleet of steamships to lord of a railroad empire. Lincoln consulted him on steamship strategy during the Civil War; Jay Gould was first his uneasy ally and then sworn enemy; and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States, was his spiritual counselor. We see Vanderbilt help to launch the transportation revolution, propel the Gold Rush, reshape Manhattan, and invent the modern corporation—in fact, as T. J. Stiles elegantly argues, Vanderbilt did more than perhaps any other individual to create the economic world we live in today. In The First Tycoon, Stiles offers the first complete, authoritative biography of this titan, and the first comprehensive account of the Commodore's personal life. It is a sweeping, fast-moving epic, and a complex portrait of the great man. Vanderbilt, Stiles shows, embraced the philosophy of the Jacksonian Democrats and withstood attacks by his conservative enemies for being too competitive. He was a visionary who pioneered business models. He was an unschooled fistfighter who came to command the respect of New York's social elite. And he was a father who struggled with a gambling-addicted son, a husband who was loving yet abusive, and, finally, an old man who was obsessed with contacting the dead. The First Tycoon is the exhilarating story of a man and a nation maturing together: the powerful account of a man whose life was as epic and complex as American history itself.

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Woodrow Wilson

2009 | John Milton Cooper

The first major biography of America’s twenty-eighth president in nearly two decades, from one of America’s foremost Woodrow Wilson scholars. A Democrat who reclaimed the White House after sixteen years of Republican administrations, Wilson was a transformative president—he helped create the regulatory bodies and legislation that prefigured FDR’s New Deal and would prove central to governance through the early twenty-first century, including the Federal Reserve system and the Clayton Antitrust Act; he guided the nation through World War I; and, although his advocacy in favor of joining the League of Nations proved unsuccessful, he nonetheless established a new way of thinking about international relations that would carry America into the United Nations era. Yet Wilson also steadfastly resisted progress for civil rights, while his attorney general launched an aggressive attack on civil liberties. Even as he reminds us of the foundational scope of Wilson’s domestic policy achievements, John Milton Cooper, Jr., reshapes our understanding of the man himself: his Wilson is warm and gracious—not at all the dour puritan of popular imagination. As the president of Princeton, his encounters with the often rancorous battles of academe prepared him for state and national politics. Just two years after he was elected governor of New Jersey, Wilson, now a leader in the progressive movement, won the Democratic presidential nomination and went on to defeat Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in one of the twentieth century’s most memorable presidential elections. Ever the professor, Wilson relied on the strength of his intellectual convictions and the power of reason to win over the American people. John Milton Cooper, Jr., gives us a vigorous, lasting record of Wilson’s life and achievements. This is a long overdue, revelatory portrait of one of our most important presidents—particularly resonant now, as another president seeks to change the way government relates to the people and regulates the economy.

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Washington

2010 | Ron Chernow

Watch a Video - Watch a video Read "Surprising Facts About George Washington" from Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow From Pulitzer-prize winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington. In Washington: A Life celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president. Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull. A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man. A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life. Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master. At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency. In this unique biography, Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America's founding. With a dramatic sweep worthy of its giant subject, Washington is a magisterial work from one of our most elegant storytellers.

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The Publisher

2010 | Alan Brinkley

Acclaimed historian Alan Brinkley gives us a sharply realized portrait of Henry Luce, arguably the most important publisher of the twentieth century. As the founder ofTime,Fortune,andLifemagazines, Luce changed the way we consume news and the way we understand our world. Born the son of missionaries, Henry Luce spent his childhood in rural China, yet he glimpsed a milieu of power altogether different at Hotchkiss and later at Yale. While working at a Baltimore newspaper, he and Brit Hadden conceived the idea ofTime: a “news-magazine” that would condense the week’s events in a format accessible to increasingly busy members of the middle class. They launched it in 1923, and young Luce quickly became a publishing titan. In 1936, afterTime’s unexpected success—and Hadden’s early death—Luce published the first issue ofLife,to which millions soon subscribed. Brinkley shows how Luce reinvented the magazine industry in just a decade. The appeal ofLifeseemingly cut across the lines of race, class, and gender. Luce himself wielded influence hitherto unknown among journalists. By the early 1940s, he had come to see his magazines as vehicles to advocate for America’s involvement in the escalating international crisis, in the process popularizing the phrase “World War II.” In spite of Luce’s great success, happiness eluded him. His second marriage—to the glamorous playwright, politician, and diplomat Clare Boothe—was a shambles. Luce spent his later years in isolation, consumed at times with conspiracy theories and peculiar vendettas. The Publishertells a great American story of spectacular achievement—yet it never loses sight of the public and private costs at which that achievement came.

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Malcolm X

2011 | Manning Marable

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world. Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties. Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

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