The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award was founded in 1980 with the proceeds from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s best-selling biography, Robert Kennedy and His Times. Each year the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial presents an award to the book which "most faithfully and forcefully reflects Robert Kennedy's purposes his concern for the poor and the powerless, his struggle for honest and even-handed justice, his conviction that a decent society must assure all young people a fair chance, and his faith that a free democracy can act to remedy disparities of power and opportunity". The RFK Book Awards have received international recognition as one of the most prestigious honors an author can achieve.

Each year, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and John Seigenthaler, the chairs of the Award, choose an independent panel of four judges to select the winner. Past judges include Alex Haley, Mary McGrory, Marian Wright Edelman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Archibald Cox, George Plimpton, E.L. Doctorow, Caroline Kennedy, Morris Dees, Lauren Bacall, Anna Quindlen, Julian Bond and Richard Neustadt. In the following table we show the winners for each year. In the earlier years the term "Winner" was used, in the latter years the term "Grand Prize Winner" has been used.


2003 Philip Dray At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America
2003 Samantha Power A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
2002 Gail Buckley American Patriots
2001 James Allen Without Sanctuary: A History of Lynching Phorography in America
2001 George Packer Blood of the Liberals
2000 Anthony Sampson Mandela: The Authorized Biography
2000 Katherine S. Newman No Shame in My Game
1999 John Lewis Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
1998 Randall Kennedy Race, Crime and the Law
1997 David Oshinsky Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice
1996 Pete Earley Circumstantial Evidence
1996 Dan T. Carter The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, The Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics
1995 John Edgerton Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South
1994 Jack Bass Taming the Storm: The Life and Times of Judge Frank M./ Johnson, Jr. and the South's Fight Over Civil Rights
1993 Al Gore Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit
1992 Melissa Fay Greene Praying for Sheetrock
1991 Myles Horton & Herbert and Judith Kohl The Long Haul
1990 Tracy Kidder Among Schoolchildren
1990 Alec Wilkinson Big Sugar
1989 Neil Sheehan A Bright Shining Lie
1989 Jonathan Kozol Rachel and Her Children
1988 Toni Morrison Beloved
1988 Pauli Murray Song in a Weary Throat
1987 David J. Garrow Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
1986 Anthony Lucas Common Ground
1986 Robert Narrell Reaping the Whirlwind
1985 Raymond Bonner Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador
1984 Roger Rosenblatt Children of War
1983 Stephen B. Oates Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
1982 Janet Sharp Hermann The Pursuit of a Dream
1982 Peter S. Prescott The Child Savers
1981 William H. Chafe Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom