Fredrik Logevall wins Pulitzer for history; Tom Reiss and Gilbert King win for biography and non-fiction

Historians in the News
tags: Vietnam, David Austin Walsh, prize winners, awards, Pulitzer Prize, Fredrik Logevall

Fredrik Logevall, John S. Knight Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, has won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for History for his book Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam, published by Random House last year.

Embers of War, which the Washington Post called a "product of formidable international research ... lucidly and comprehensively composed," is a study of France's war in Vietnam, from the end of World War II to the eventual French withdrawal in 1954.

Though the war was foughtly primarily between the French and their colonial auxiliaries on one side and the Viet Minh on the other, Logevall argues that the conflict was truly international in scope and American policymakers had great influence over French decisions from the very beginning. In particular, he maintains that Franklin D. Roosevelt, long an advocate of decolonization, would have pressured the French to exit Indochina in 1945, had he lived. But with Roosevelt's death and Harry Truman's de-emphasis on decolonialization and his policy of vehement anticommunism in Europe and Asia, the seeds were sown for a long, bloody conflict in Southeast Asia.

Both the scholarly and popular reception of the book have been tremendously positive. Alan Brinkley, professor of history at Columbia University, wrote in the New York Times that Embers of War is "the most comprehensive history of [the French war in Vietnam.]"

The other finalists for the prize were Bernard Bailyn, for The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675, and John Fabian Witt for Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.

Professor Logevall will receive a $10,000 award and will be attending the winners' luncheon at Columbia University in May. " I'm deeply honored to have been selected for this prize against a great field of historians," he wrote in an email.

Other winners include Tom Reiss, a New York-based writer and journalist, who won the prize for biography for his The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, about the father of the writer Alexandre Dumas, a general who served with Napoleon's armies in Egypt and whose imprisonment by the Kingdom of Naples served as the inspiration for the plight of Edmond Dantès in the Count of Monte Cristo. Gilbert King, another New York City-based writer and contributor to the Smithsonian's Past Imperfect history blog, won the general non-fiction prize for his Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, the story of how four black men falsely accused of rape in Florida in 1948 were defended by eminent civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall.

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