Jane Kamensky named a finalist for the 2009 George Washington Book Prize

'The Exchange Artist' in the running for the $50,000 award, which recognizes a book on early American history

Jane Kamensky

WALTHAM, Mass. – Brandeis Professor of American History Jane Kamensky has been named one of three finalists for the 2009 George Washington Book Prize for her biography “The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse.” The annual $50,000 prize, co-sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is the largest award nationwide that recognizes a book on early American history.

In selecting “The Exchange Artist” from a group of more than 75 other works, jurors lauded it as a “fascinating window into the pitfalls of unfettered capitalism.” In the book, Kamensky chronicles the infamous career of Andrew Dexter, Junior, who built America’s first skyscraper, the Exchange Coffee House, from funds he raised through a pyramid scheme.

The two other finalists are Annette Gordon-Reed's “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” and Kevin J. Hayes' “The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson.”

Kamensky praised Gordon-Reed and Hayes for their work: “Being named a finalist is a tremendous honor,” she said, “all the more so because the other two finalists are scholars whose work I greatly admire.”

The George Washington Book Prize recognizes the year’s best books on the nation’s founding era, from about 1760 to 1820, with a particular focus on those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history. In deciding the finalists, jurors consider both literary and scholarly excellence.

The winner will be announced at a gala celebration May 28 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia.

Jane Kamensky will be talking about her most recent book, “Blindspot,” which she co-authored with fellow historian Jill Lepore, at a “Meet the Author” event April 22. The historical novel tells the story of an exiled Scottish portrait painter who becomes involved in an unexpected romance and a murder investigation when he flees to Boston in 1764. The program starts at 4 p.m. in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.

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