Ever since 1917 the Pulitzer Prize is given out for excellence in various forms of journalism, literary achievements and musical compositions. This now occurs every April at New York City’s Columbia University. There are a total of 21 categories. Contrary to popular belief the Pulitzer Prize is not awarded on automatic evaluation of eligible work.
Instead, one must enter their work and pay the $50 entry fee based on eligibility guidelines. The major categories are Journalism, Letters and drama and Other prizes. We’ll be taking a detailed look at the best of the best in the sub-category of General Non-Fiction books for Letters and drama. This particular category awarded its first Pulitzer Prize in 1962, so it is one of the newer categories in comparison to when the prize first started.
General Non-Fiction refers to a distinguished and authoritative non-fiction book written by an American author that does not qualify or is eligible for other categories. These are 10 of the best Pulitzer Prize-winning General Non-Fiction books based on best-sellers, relevant topics and timeless subjects with their titles, subtitles, authors and the years the Pulitzer Prize was given.
10.) The Making of the President, 1960 -Theodore H. White (1962)
Here is the definitive book that started it all about presidential elections. This is the first book to be awarded the first Pulitzer Prize in the General Non-Fiction category. It was a huge success when it was published in 1961 by staying on the best-seller list for almost forty weeks. “The Making of the President” was about the 1960 election when John F, Kennedy became President. Eventually this book changed the way journalists and political pundits would report everyday politics in the media. Theodore White was a political journalist who covered wartime reporting from China.
9.) The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History – Norman Mailer (1969)
Mailer is one of the few authors to have won the Pulitzer Prize more than once. The other time was in the category of Fiction. This book is a non-fiction novel similar to Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and Hunter S, Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels” in the way it is written. Based on the events of the March on the Pentagon in October 1967 with protesting the war in Vietnam Norman Mailer writes about his arrest there. He describes vividly the anger of the hippies, draft dodgers and military police at the march.
8.) Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris – Richard Kluger (1997)
For the first time an exhaustive book has been written about cigarettes, tobacco and the big tobacco companies all in one. You get an insight into the contradictions and complexities of this controversial subject. One interesting fact not known is back in the ’30s and ’40s there were “safe cigarettes” to be marketed by the tobacco industry and the National Cancer Institute. Those cigarettes were never sold to consumers. The author has written for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes magazine.
7.) The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 – Saul Friedlander (2008)
Saul Friedlander spent his childhood in Nazi-occupied France. He is now one of the world’s leading experts on the Holocaust. Here is his last word on this subject that is a historical study in literature form of those events with a sense of disbelief. Friedlander uses diaries, letters and postwar trial transcripts instead of oral testimonies for starker accuracy. He is currently a professor of history at UCLA.
6.) Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families – J. Anthony Lukas (1986)
It’s about three families from Boston during the racial tensions in the 1960s and 1970s. One is African-American, the other Irish and the third one a Yankee. These families are brought together with the desegregation busing. It also examines the vast neighborhoods they come from. The Twymoms live in the poor section, the McGoffs reside in the Charlestown area and the Divers are wealthy. J. Anthony Lukas was a roving reporter for the New York Times for nine years.
5.) The Guns of August – Barbara W. Tuchman (1963)
You won’t find a book on the subject of World War I as thorough, meticulous to detail and superbly crafted as the one by Barbara Tuchman. She reveals for the first time why that war was started, how it got started and what could have been stopped it, but wasn’t. Tuchman had been a historian for the Chicago Tribune.
4.) Gulag: A History – Anne Applebaum (2004)
These are the concentration camps during the time of the Soviet Union that rival the Holocaust. They were like a country within a country with its own laws, customs, folklore and morality. After the collapse of the USSR there had been memoirs and new studies evolving in Russia about the gulag of yesteryear. The author, Anne Applebaum, pieces together how the prisoners lived, how they were treated, what they ate and their overall living conditions. For the most part this chapter in Russia’s history has remained relatively obscure until now. Anne Applebaum is a columnist for The Washington Post.
3.) Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond (1998)
In 2005 there was a National Geographic documentary of the same name based on this book. Written by a professor of geography at UCLA the book is about Europe’s dominance over the last centuries utilizing weapons (guns), controlling the population with disease (germs) and centralized government and military (steel). It also explains why western European societies have been dominant in colonizing.
2.) Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II – Douglas A. Blackmon (2009)
Blackmon’s expose uncovers the history of neoslavery after the Civil War up until World War II. These are detailed accounts of slaves and their descendants who ended up in servitude once again by way of human labor trafficking and those that fought back against it. Douglas Blackmon is the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal.
1.) The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 – Lawrence Wright (2007)
2011 will mark the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. In narrative form here is a detailed account of the events that led to 9/11. Wright’s book is based on five years of research and interviews from all over the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter and staff writer for The New Yorker.
All ten of these non-fiction books are scholarly in nature, but fascinating to read. I wouldn’t exactly say this is the type of book to read at the beach, pool or waiting at your doctor or dentist office. You have to focus a lot of attention when reading. However, they are all deserving of their Pulitzer Prize in the General Non-Fiction category.
The Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia
The Pulitzer Prizes – honoring excellence in journalism and the arts since 1917, Pulitzer.org
Barnes & Noble Books- General Nonfiction Pulitzer Prize, Barnes and Noble