A rundown of the 1999 Pulitzer winners including Michael Cunningham, John McPhee, and more

By Troy Patterson
Updated April 30, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

What the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winners have in common is their writers’ singular — and singularly American — ambition. Two academics write a history of the capital of the world. A novelist courts comparison with the high priestess of high modernism. A journalist tracks his story back to the beginning of time. Here’s a look:

Fiction: The Hours
Alternately imitating and reimagining Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Michael Cunningham traces a day in the life of three women. His previous novels, A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood, are more heavily plotted but contain the same delicate characterization.

General Nonfiction: Annals of the Former World
Usually, a 660-page book about rocks doesn’t constitute pleasure reading, but John McPhee is an unusually brilliant journalist. He’s craftsman enough to construct gripping stories around topics ranging from Bill Bradley’s jump shot (A Sense of Where You Are) to bomb design (The Curve of Binding Energy) to roadkill (”Travels in Georgia”). And in his 28th book, a compendium of 20 years of geology writing, he elucidates plate-tectonic theory as deftly as he profiles its creators.

Biography: Lindbergh
Reconstructing the frenzy created by Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and the kidnapping of his son, A. Scott Berg presents Lindbergh as ”the first modern media superstar.” Berg is almost as sharply focused here as in his first two bios, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius and Goldwyn: A Biography.

History: Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
In 1,200 densely researched pages, professors Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace offer a novelistic narrative. Wallace is working on a second volume due in 2002.

Poetry: Blizzard of One
In his ninth collection, former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand hews to his tone of understated surrealism, writing lines both dreamily elegant and touchingly weird.