The editors at the Journal of the History of Ideas are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2015 Morris D. Forkosch Prize for the best first book in intellectual history is Mark Greif, for his The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 (Princeton University Press).
Statement from the judging committee: In The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973, Mark Greif is in pursuit of the mid-century Americans who pursued the idea of human nature, despite their dark fear that such a thing might not exist. If some philosophies of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment had insisted that there was something intrinsically dignified in mankind, confidence in that belief took a beating during the racism, genocide, and global war that defined all public life from the 1930s onward. Greif demonstrates that the perceived “crisis of man” represented both concern that universal human nature (and human rights) might not exist and anxiety that such rights might not be extended beyond the white men who had traditionally represented mankind, to the exclusion of others. As a problem in moral philosophy, the crisis of man was profound—so much so that it flowed abundantly into American literature. Rather than accept the problem, Greif endorses a re-enlightenment to revive conviction that humans have basic, intrinsic value. This book will be at the heart of many arguments over twentieth-century thought.