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Transcription factors (TFs) control gene expression by binding to genomic DNA in a sequence-specific manner. Mutations in TF binding sites are increasingly found to be associated with human disease, yet we currently lack robust methods to predict these sites. Here, we developed a versatile maximum likelihood framework named No Read Left Behind (NRLB) that infers a biophysical model of protein-DNA recognition across the full affinity range from a library of in vitro selected DNA binding sites. NRLB predicts human Max homodimer binding in near-perfect agreement with existing low-throughput measurements. It can capture the specificity of the p53 tetramer and distinguish multiple binding modes within a single sample. Additionally, we confirm that newly identified low-affinity enhancer binding sites are functional in vivo, and that their contribution to gene expression matches their predicted affinity. Our results establish a powerful paradigm for identifying protein binding sites and interpreting gene regulatory sequences in eukaryotic genomes.