Watch Our New Jury Honor Our Class of 2024 In This Announcement Video


2005 winner Geoffrey C. Ward‘s latest book covers familiar ground—history—but also gives readers insight into his family history. The book is titled, A Disposition to be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States (quite a mouthful!). The focus of the story is on the life of Ferdinand Ward, Geoffrey’s great-grandfather—the Bernie Madoff of the late 19th century. 

The New York Times writes

Geoffrey Ward cuts his great-grandfather no slack. He describes a whiny, bullying, self-pitying narcissist who, once caught, didn’t even try to justify his behavior. The best things to be said about Ferd Ward are that he was reckless and ruthless enough to be worth reading about. And that when he tried to kidnap Clarence Ward, Geoffrey’s grandfather, he at least had some kind of reason. Clarence’s mother, Ella, had died; Ferd wanted access to her estate even if he had to steal his terrified boy in the process. Yet, somehow, “A Disposition to Be Rich” is written without malice.


Tell us – will you check out Ward’s latest work? Do you think you could have written a book that airs out the family’s dirty laundry? 

Our “New On The Bookshelf” series highlights new works from past Anisfield-Wolf authors. 

It’s a question many of us don’t like to think about that often: What happens when we die? But 2006 nonfiction winner Jill Lepore’s new book takes it a step further, analyzing our role in creating life—and death. In her new book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, Lepore takes what could be an austere topic and infuses it with lots of surprises along the way. Lepore’s book couldn’t be more timely, particularly in today’s political climate, where debates over health care, birth control and abortion often take center stage.

In an interview with Newsday, Lepore discusses why this type of book is important:

There’s been a massive change in our orientation from looking for answers in the past to looking for answers in the future. We subscribe to this scientific, linear narrative of progress: Whatever is difficult about growing older, or dying, or raising children, will be solved at some future point. We subscribe to this notion so wholly that we forget this way of thinking is new. I try to pull back and show what’s lost when we don’t look backward; I think there is wisdom to be found in the study of how people long before us wrestled with these questions.

Read the rest of the interview here.

In the video above, Jill Lepore tackles the meaning of life (a modest topic, she says dryly) in a recent talk at Harvard. “Most questions about life and death have no answers, including notably these three: How does life begin? What does it mean? What happens when we die? No one has ever answered these questions and no one ever will. But everyone tries. Trying is the human condition. And history is the chronicle of the asking.”