The world of book prizes is an interesting one. Once being nominated for a prize, winning one, or being listed as a finalist was something valued primarily for the honor involved. Some publishers are very attentive about such things; others are not (I found out about two distinctions awarded my Grant biography by accident). Most historians, regardless of what they may say, crave this sort of recognition, and most accept it with some degree of modesty and humility (some do not).
For historians, the world of book prizes has been transformed by the influx of money into several prizes, notably the Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. I’ve served on the jury for that prize and I am listed as being on the Advisory Council, although I’m not sure what that means. My jury service led to an interesting situation: I was on the jury the year The Reconstruction Presidents came out. Everyone knew that at the time I was asked to serve on the committee: I’m certain of that. The then director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College addressed the situation in an awkward way, soliciting and distributing ten copies of the title before declaring it ineligible (and promising that it would be considered the following year, a promise I doubt was kept). So I have in my possession a prize-stamped copy of my own book. The prize comes with a handsome financial award of $50,000, which has more often than not been divided among a few winners, as well as a nice bust of Mr. Lincoln (which is not divisible). Sometimes the prize is awarded to books, sometimes to projects, sometimes as a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. Whatever most people think of the prize, they try to keep their thoughts to themselves, in part because they don’t want to be seen as envious or jealous (although many times they are) and because they don’t want to harm their chances of winning it in the future. Some of the winners have been easy to figure out, while in other cases there have been questions raised … in whispers, of course.