The Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York will select its 2017 literary prize winner from this shortlist. The winner will be announced in mid-May.

  • The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, by H.W. Brands (Doubleday)
  • The Fortunes, by Peter Ho Davies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Blood River Rising: The Thompson-Crimson Feud of the 1920s, by Victoria Pope Hubbell (Iris Press)
  • Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters (Mulholland Books)
  • American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good, by Colin Woodard (Viking)
  • The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father, by Kao Kalia Yang (Metropolitan Books)

In The General vs. The President, historian and Pulitzer Prize finalist H.W. Brands recounts the post-World War II struggle for power between President Harry Truman, then an unpopular neophyte, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a revered and successful military mind. The approaches of these two men — patience vs. audacity — collide in the pages of a book Chautauqua readers called “thoroughly researched, clearly organized and written in straight-forward prose” whose “fast-paced and colorful” details make for “an enjoyable read.”

Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes recasts American history through the lives of Chinese Americans and reimagines the multigenerational novel through the fractures of immigrant family experience. Readers applauded Davies’ “extraordinary writing about a timely issue of otherness,” calling the book “emotionally engaging and a clear, poignant account.” Particularly lauded were Davies’ characters, who, one reader said, “won my empathy, as I grieved and cheered them on in their unflagging search for identity and home.”

Part historiography, part memoir and part murder investigation, Victoria Pope Hubbell’s Blood River Rising unpacks a blood feud in rural Missouri — a clash fueled in part by a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The clash left two people dead in 1924, but Hubbell tells a story wider than the feud and the time period, foreshadowing fraught race relations and the lingering influence of the KKK. It is, readers said, “a wonderful, gripping and very American story,” and Hubbell’s methods and writing are “a credible way to tell a complicated story, where memories fail and time covers the truth.”

In Ben Winters’ “incredibly inspired and ambitious” Underground Airlines, it is the present day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred, and slavery still exists. The story centers on Victor, a former slave who works as a bounty hunter for the U.S. Marshals Service, tracking runaway slaves. Readers called it “urgent,” “ominous” and “believable and thought-provoking.” One praised the alternative history and thriller as “edgy, compelling and persuasive in confronting questions of ethics and moral courage.”

In American Character, Colin Woodard examines the history of, and solutions to, the key American political dilemma: How do we best reconcile individual liberty with the good of the community? Woodard traces these two key strands through the entire course of the nation’s existence and offers suggestions to achieve balance and break political deadlock. Written in “straightforward and accessible prose,” the book is a “finely entwined narrative,” readers said. Ultimately, “American Character does considerable justice to the vibrant patchwork that makes up the U.S. quilt.”

Kao Kalia Yang’s The Song Poet is “more than a memoir,” one reader said. “(It is) a most moving account of an era, a culture, and a particularly vibrant, powerful form of poetic expression.” In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses. Yang retells the life of her father, Bee Yang, the song poet ― a Hmong refugee in Minnesota, driven from the mountains of Laos by America’s Secret War. A “remarkable” and “necessary story,” The Song Poet was lauded for its “definite cadence, rhythm and poetic quality. …Its theme is timeless; … its mark is indelible.”

Awarded annually since 2012, The Chautauqua Prize draws upon Chautauqua Institution’s considerable literary legacy to celebrate a book that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and to honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts. The author of the winning book will receive $7,500 and all travel and expenses for a one-week summer residency at Chautauqua. For more information, visit

With a history steeped in the literary arts, Chautauqua Institution is the home of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in 1878, which honors at least nine outstanding books of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry every summer. Further literary arts programming at Chautauqua includes summer-long interaction of published and aspiring writers at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, the intensive workshops of the nationally recognized Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, and lectures by prominent authors on the art and craft of writing.