John A. Farrell To Be Awarded New-York Historical Society’s 2018 Barbara And David Zalaznick Book Prize In American History For Richard Nixon: The Life

$50,000 Prize and Title of American Historian Laureate to Be Presented at Weekend with History Friday, April 13, 2018

Pam Schafler, chair of New-York Historical Society’s Board of Trustees, and Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical, announced that author John A. Farrell will be honored with New-York Historical’s annual Barbara and David Zalaznick Book Prize in American History for Richard Nixon: The Life (Penguin Random House, 2017).

The award recognizes the best book of the year in the field of American history or biography. Mr. Farrell will receive a $50,000 cash award, an engraved medal, and the title of American Historian Laureate, which will be presented on April 13, 2018. The ceremony is part of New-York Historical’s 13th annual Chairman’s Council Weekend with History, a two-day event featuring an array of speakers discussing important historical events that have made an impact on New York City and the nation.


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Selected by a prize committee comprising historians and New-York Historical leadership from a field of more than 136 submissions, Richard Nixon: The Life is a defining portrait of a man who led America in a time of turmoil and left the nation divided. We live today, Farrell shows, in a world Richard Nixon made. Within four years of his first political victory, Nixon was a U.S. senator; in six, the vice president of the United States of America. Nixon’s sins as a candidate were legion; and in one unlawful secret plot, as Farrell reveals, Nixon acted to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political purposes. Finally elected president in 1969, Nixon packed his staff with bright young men who devised forward-thinking reforms addressing health care, welfare, civil rights, and protection of the environment. It was a fine legacy, but Nixon cared little for it. He aspired to make his mark on the world stage instead, and his 1972 opening to China was the first great crack in the Cold War.

Nixon left another legacy, too: a polarized nation. He was elected to end the war in Vietnam, but his bombing of Cambodia and Laos enraged the antiwar movement. It was Nixon who launched the McCarthy era, who played white against black with a “southern strategy,” and spurred the Silent Majority to despise and distrust the country’s elites. Ever insecure and increasingly paranoid, he persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances—and to look at one another as enemies. Finally, in August 1974, after two years of the mesmerizing intrigue and scandal of Watergate, Nixon became the only president to resign in disgrace.

Richard Nixon is a president we thought we knew, but thanks to John A. Farrell’s groundbreaking research and reporting, Richard Nixon: The Life presents readers with riveting and illuminating details about his life and presidency that had been unknown or unverified until now,” said Pam Schafler, chair of New-York Historical’s Board of Trustees. “John’s book is a compelling and balanced portrait of a complex American president who left office under a cloud, and particularly timely, as New-York Historical hosts the final weeks of our seminal exhibition, The Vietnam War: 1945–1975. We are thrilled to award John with this prize and the title of American Historian Laureate for his remarkable work.

John A. Farrell is an American journalist and author. His previous books include Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, a biography of America’s greatest defense attorney, and Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century, the definitive account of House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. and his times, which won the D. B. Hardeman prize, awarded annually by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation for the best book on Congress, in 2001. He spent his prize-winning career as a newspaperman, most notably at the Denver Post and the Boston Globe, where he worked as White House correspondent and served on the vaunted Spotlight team. His biography of Clarence Darrow was awarded the Los Angeles Times book prize for the best biography of 2011 and won critical praise from reviewers and fellow writers.

I am honored and grateful to receive this award at a moment in American history when journalists and scholars across the land have been called upon to defend the study of history and science—and even the concept of truth—from corrosive attack,” said Farrell. “In grim times such as these, history warns us of the dangers, explains our past, arms us for the struggle, and offers us hope. I have never been prouder to practice my craft, to receive such recognition, or to play my own small role in this endeavor.

Previous winners of the book prize in American History include Jane Kamensky for Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley; Eric Foner for Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad; Jill Lepore for The Secret History of Wonder Woman; Doris Kearns Goodwin for Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; David Nasaw for Andrew Carnegie; Daniel Walker Howe for What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848; Drew Gilpin Faust for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War; Gordon S. Wood for Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815; Ron Chernow for George Washington: A Life; John Lewis Gaddis for George F. Kennan: An American Life; Robert Caro for Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power; and Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy for The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire.

Throughout the 2018 Weekend With History (Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, 2018), Chairman’s Council members will have the opportunity to hear from eminent historians, scholars, and experts (including Participating Speakers Amy Adler, Akhil Reed Amar, Alan Balicki, Douglas Brinkley, Robert A. Caro, Jim Chanos, Steven Eisman, Eric Foner, James D. Grant, Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, Gretchen Morgenson, Marci Reaven, Evan Thomas and Sean Wilentz.) providing insightful perspectives on a host of topics, including an in-depth look at how Lyndon Johnson’s decisions transformed America and a conversation offering illuminating historical context for the present-day debate around controversial Civil War monuments, among others.

The Chairman’s Council comprises of New-York Historical’s most committed supporters who are partners in its mission to engage a broad range of people in American history through groundbreaking exhibitions, thought-provoking programs, and educational activities that bring history to life. (Individuals may be invited to join the Chairman’s Council by New-York Historical Trustees and senior staff and by existing members of the Council.)