Yale historian Beverly Gage wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘G-Man’
Yale historian Beverly Gage has been awarded the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in biography for “G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century” (Viking), her revelatory book about the controversial FBI director.
In announcing the prize, the Pulitzer committee described “G-Man” as “a deeply researched and nuanced look at one of the most polarizing figures in U.S. history that depicts the longtime FBI director in all his complexity, with monumental achievements and crippling flaws.”
Gage, a professor of history and American studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), spent more than a decade researching and writing the book about Hoover, a controversial figure in the FBI and its precursor for nearly a half-century. It is the first new major biography of Hoover in three decades.
The book, which revealed important new information about Hoover, was recognized on many lists of the year’s best books, including those of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Publisher’s Weekly. The book also earned a 2023 Bancroft Prize, one of the nation’s top honors in the field of American history, as well as the 2022 National Book Critics Award in Biography and the 43rd Los Angeles Times Book Prize in biography..
“Winning the Pulitzer is a historian’s dream,” said Gage, who is also a 1994 graduate of Yale College. “It has been wonderful to see that our quick-take world still has a valued place for 800-page books that take more than a decade to write. I wasn’t always sure that would be the case as I slogged my way through the documents over so many years.”
The Pulitzer Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for achievements in journalism, letters, drama, and music. The prizewinners and finalists were announced May 8.
Jing Tsu, the John M. Schiff Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literatures at Yale, was a finalist in the general nonfiction category for her book “Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern” (Riverhead Books).
In researching “G-Man,” Gage used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain numerous government documents related to Hoover’s life and career.
Today Hoover is perhaps best known for his unlawful secret surveillance of American citizens. In her book, Gage portrays him as a complicated person, full of contradictions.
“It seemed there was an opportunity to rethink Hoover and his influence over the course of the 20th century,” she told Yale News last year. “Now we have 30 years more critical distance, so I thought it was a great opportunity to take him a little more seriously — to think of him not as this one-dimensional villain but consider his impact and influence on American government and politics.”
Said Kathryn Lofton, dean of the humanities in the FAS and interim FAS dean: “’G-Man’ chases its fierce subject with precision and fairness, touring readers through every major event of the American Century. Bev Gage practices history at the highest level. I am thrilled that the Pulitzer committee has recognized this definitive act of scholarship.”
Gage is the third member of the Yale history department to win a Pulitzer Prize in the past five years, joining Greg Grandin, the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, who won the prize in 2020 for his book “The End of Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America;” and David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, who was honored in 2019 for “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.” A fourth member of the history faculty, John Gaddis, was honored with the prize in 2012 for “George F. Kennan: An American Life.”
“Some books are stars that guide. Gage’s ‘G-Man’ is a supernova that lights the entire sky,” said Alan Mikhail, the Chace Family Professor of History in FAS and chair of Yale’s history department. “The Pulitzer is the latest recognition of the generational contributions of this book.”
“G-Man” also earned Gage the 2023 Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians, which described the book as “an intimate, troubling, and deeply human portrait of J. Edgar Hoover that connects one person’s life story to the mechanics of 20th-century state building.”
The other finalists for the 2023 Pulitzer in biography were Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa for “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice” and Jennifer Homans for “Mr. B: George Balanchine’s 20th Century.”
In all, there were 15 prizes given in journalism (including photography), and 9 prizes given for books, drama, and music.
The Pulitzer Prize was established in 1917 from funds endowed by journalist and newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. Prizes are awarded annually in 21 categories.