Yale historian Grandin wins 2020 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction

History Professor Greg Grandin ’99 Ph.D. receives the award for his book “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.”
Greg Grandin
Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin ’99 Ph.D., professor of history in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize in the general nonfiction category for his book “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America” (Metropolitan Books).

With the prize, announced May 4, Grandin became the third Pulitzer-winner among current Yale history department faculty. David Blight won in 2019 for his book “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.” John Gaddis was honored in 2012 for his biography “George F. Kennan: An American Life.”

Grandin’s book was one of two to win in the general nonfiction category, which recognizes “an appropriately documented book of nonfiction by an American author that is not eligible for consideration in any other category.” Anne Boyer also won in the category for “The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The prize comes with a $15,000 award.

In all, there were 15 winners in the category of journalism and seven winners in the categories of letters, drama, and music. A special citation was given to American journalist Ida B. Wells, an early crusader for civil rights.

In announcing the winners, the Pulitzer Prize board described “The End of the Myth” as “a sweeping and beautifully written book that probes the American myth of boundless expansion and provides a compelling context for thinking about the current political moment.”

The End of the Myth” — a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award — explores the meaning of the frontier from the American Revolution to the presidential election of 2016. According to the book’s publisher, Grandin shows how “America’s constant expansion — fighting wars and opening markets — served as a ‘gate of escape,’ helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country’s problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly.”

Grandin investigates how the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism in America since the 2008 financial crisis and successive Middle East wars helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016.

It is a great honor,” said Grandin of his Pulitzer Prize. “I hope ‘The End of the Myth’ helps people make sense of the current moment, not just the ongoing crisis at the border but the backlash against public policy to respond to a social crisis.”

An earlier Grandin book, “Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City,” was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Grandin is also the author of “The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World,” which won the Bancroft and Beveridge prizes in American history and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in the United Kingdom. His first book, “The Blood of Guatemala,” won the Latin American Studies Association’s Bryce Wood Award for best book published on Latin American in any discipline.

Greg Grandin is one of the world’s most trenchant and significant historians,” said Alan Mikhail, chair of Yale’s history department, who called Grandin’s Pulitzer-winning book “a timely dismantling of one of America’s most timeless tales of itself.”

In addition to Grandin, Blight and Gaddis, at least three former members of Yale’s history department have also won Pulitzers: David Brion Davis for “The Problem of Slavery” (1967); C. Vann Woodward for “Mary Chestnut’s Civil War” (1982); and Edmund S. Morgan, who received a Special Citation (2006) for his body of work in American history over five decades. 

Another Pulitzer for the Yale history department cements our place at the cutting edge of the discipline and its public face,” said Mikhail.

Grandin joined the Yale faculty in the fall of 2019, having previously taught at New York University.

Also awarded a 2020 Pulitzer was Anthony Davis ’75, who won in the category of music for his opera “The Central Park Five” (libretto by Richard Wesley), which premiered last year at the Long Beach Opera. The Pulitzer board described it as “a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.”

In addition to operatic works, Davis composes chamber, choral, orchestral, and jazz music. He is a professor of music of the University of California-San Diego.

See the complete list of winners.

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Bess Connolly : elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu,