Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: Biography
Competition: US & Canada
Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor for National Review, a position he has held since 1979, and was its managing editor from 1985 to 1987. National Review published his first effort at political reporting—an article on protests of the Vietnam War at his high school—in 1970, when he was only fifteen, and immediately on his graduation from Yale College (B.A., 1977) hired him as an associate editor. For twenty years (1987-2007) he also wrote a column for the New York Observer. Currently, in addition to the columns he writes for every other issue of National Review (alternating between “City Desk” and “Country Life”), he is a columnist for American History.
For more than two decades he covered every presidential cycle, from the campaigns of Ronald Reagan to that of Barack Obama, reporting on candidates of all political stripes, and for six months in 1982 he worked as a speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush. The insights he gained from those experiences informed his first book: The Outside Story: How Democrats and Republicans Re-Elected Ronald Reagan (Doubleday, 1986).
During the 1990s, Mr. Brookhiser turned his attention from contemporary politics and politicians to the iconic figures of America’s infancy, but he saw that shift as hardly a radical change. “My experience covering living politicians prepared me to understand that heroes of the past were politicians themselves,” he explained; “immersing myself in the details of long-gone careers helped me see how our contemporaries achieve, or miss greatness in their own lives.”
In Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (Free Press, 1996) he offered his readers a “moral biography” of our first president, more a deeply researched meditation on Washington’s character and his impact on the development of our country than a conventional life history. His unabated interest in Washington, whom he considers his “greatest subject,” led to two more books, Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace (Free Press, 1997; University of Virginia Press, 2003) and George Washington on Leadership (Basic Books, 2008); his contribution of the introductory essay in George Washington: A National Treasure (2002), the companion publication to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibition that toured the nation; the article “George Washington” in the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford UP, 2003); and other articles in American History, American Heritage, and Time magazines. In addition, he wrote and hosted the Michael Pack film Rediscovering George Washington, which aired on PBS on July 4, 2002. Mr. Brookhiser also has a long association with and is a frequent speaker at Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia estate.
Three more biographies followed, all published by the Free Press: Alexander Hamilton, American (1999), America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses 1735-1918 (2002), and Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution (2003). He also wrote and hosted the Michael Pack film Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, which PBS aired in April 2011, and was the historian-curator for Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America, the largest exhibition ever mounted on Hamilton and one that broke all attendance records during its run at the New-York Historical Society in 2004-05. His detailed knowledge of these statesmen and the founding documents often led attendees at his speaking engagements to ask him to surmise what the Founders’ positions would be on whatever political issue was currently in the headlines. What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers (Basic Books, 2006) presented his responses.
With the support of his Guggenheim Fellowship, Mr. Brookhiser completed James Madison (Basic Books) in 2011. Deemed the “Father of the Constitution” for his successful advocacy of its ratification through his essays in The Federalist Papers and his rallying of the Virginia delegation, Madison is portrayed in Mr. Brookhiser’s biography as the first American politician in the modern sense. One of the great minds of his time, Madison was also of a practical bent, applying himself to finding workable solutions to current problems and enacting measures to forestall future threats to the nascent republic. But as Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2011) points out, “Brookhiser’s portrayal of Madison grounds him in the backbiting, often inglorious machinations of his contemporary political system; this approach is both significant and refreshing in presenting Madison as a flawed man, rather than a godlike ‘founding father.’”
Among Mr. Brookhiser’s other publications are The Way of the WASP: How It Made America, and How It Can Save It . . . So to Speak (Free Press, 1991), Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Conservative Movement (Basic Books, 2009), and numerous book reviews and articles on politics, history, and biography. He was the editor of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Right Reason (Doubleday, 1985) and contributed the essay “The Great Baby Boom Bust” to Beyond the Boom (Poseidon Press, 1990), edited by Terry Teachout.
Richard Brookhiser was named to the Templeton Honor Rolls for Education in a Free Society in 1998; he received a medal for Literary Excellence from the St. Nicholas Society in 1999 and the National Humanities Medal in 2008; he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by George Washington College in 2005; he was the Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Journalism at Hillsdale College in November 2009; and in 2010 he received the Hamilton Grange Award from the National Parks of New York Conservancy.