The Pulitzer prizes, like most professional awards, are a real grab-bag by any real-world standard of merit. Half the awards make you think, "Of course!" The other half, "Huh???"
The choice today of Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance as the prize winner in history was resoundingly in the "of course!" and "well deserved!" categories. I mentioned my enthusiasm for the book a year ago here. Probably more important is the sample mentioned here of the luminous and vivid explanation that makes the book such a success. As a reminder (quoting myself):
As the world financial crisis spread after the 1929 stock market crash, the flow of gold became highly unbalanced. The United States, with its undamaged industrial-export base (and its determination to collect on wartime loans to the Allies) was piling up gold. So were the French, for various reasons of their own. This meant big trouble most of all for England, which was losing gold and therefore had to imposes a domestic credit squeeze. You could put it that way -- or you could write this:"Unknown to most people, much of the gold that had supposedly flown into France was actually sitting in London. Bullion was so heavy -- a seventeen-inch cube weighs about a ton -- that instead of shipping crates of it across hundreds of miles from one country to another and paying high insurance costs, central banks had taken to 'earmarking' the metal, that is, keeping it in the same vault but simply re-registering its ownership. Thus the decline in Britain's gold reserves and their accumulation in France and the United States was accomplished by a group of men descending into the vaults of the Bank of England, loading some bars of bullion onto a low wooden truck with small rubber tires, trundling them thirty feet across the room to the other wall, and offloading them, though not before attaching some white name tags indicating that the gold now belonged to the Banque de France or the Federal Reserve Bank. That the world was being subjected to a progressively tightening squeeze on credit just because there happened to be too much gold on one side of the vault and not enough on the other provoked Lord d'Abernon, Britain's ambassador to Germany after the war [WW I] and now [1930s] an elder statesman-economist, to exclaim, 'This depression is the stupidest and most gratuitous in history.' "This paragraph is from Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance, recommended here previously. There are many touches I love in this passage, from the "small rubber tires" detail and mot juste "trundling" term, to the vivid real-world description of how grand policies worked in practice, to the perfectly used quote at the end. No larger point here; just worth noticing admirable examples of explaining the world.
Well deserved, author. Good choice, prize committee!
UPDATE: I have just seen that the prize for feature writing went to Gene Weingarten, for an article in the Washington Post magazine. As I have mentioned before in footnotes here and here, this is the most haunting and, in its way, horrifying magazine article I have ever read. You can find it here. Congratulations is not the right word for a project of this sort. It commands respect.
And congrats to ProPublica for its prize too.
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