Washington : a life

by Ron Chernow

Hardcover, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Penguin Press, 2010.

Description

In this work, the author, a biographer provides a portrait of the father of our nation, dashing forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man, and revealing an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people.

Media reviews

At 900-odd densely packed pages, “Washington” can be arid at times. But it’s also deeply rewarding as a whole, and it does genuinely amplify and recast our perceptions of Washington’s importance.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ursula
I've studied my share of history, between taking AP history classes in high school, reading on various topics where my curiosity led me, and preparing for Jeopardy. But I don't really know all that much about the US Presidents aside from the bullet points - their number, where they were from, wives, children, notable feats, that sort of thing. So when I heard that some people were reading books about each of the presidents consecutively, I thought, "hey, that sounds fun and interesting. I think I'll do that too!" And then I decided I would do it via audio book as much as possible because audio seems to work better for me with nonfiction than fiction, and because I like listening to audio books while running.

Here we are, a paragraph in, and you've learned a lot about me, but nothing about Washington. Get ready for the Washington-ness now. There's a whole lot of info out there on George Washington, and a surprising amount of it comes directly from him. Did you know that he carefully kept and organized all his papers over pretty much his entire life so that it would be there for posterity? That he was, in fact, very aware of how every move he made would be evaluated by history? That he had a hot temper that he worked to control, and that this is the reason he was known for being so stoic (it was either that or blow his top)? That he was effusively affectionate in writing with a few different women, but Martha wasn't one of them? If so, you might not need to read this book, but I didn't know any of that. I also didn't know that his mother was such a difficult woman (and wow, was she difficult). Or that he was really sort of a non-starter in the Revolutionary War. I mean he had his Delaware crossing, and his victory at Saratoga, but he also had some serious disasters resulting from errors in judgment at New York and Brandywine, and then he didn't have much to do once the French were involved and the war moved south. His greatest achievement during the war was really to hold together an army made of men without coats or shoes, not to minimize that accomplishment.

Although "I cannot tell a lie" comes from an apocryphal story, it turns out that Washington actually didn't lie very often. He occasionally re-framed circumstances to suit his purposes, but even that was relatively uncommon. He earned the trust he was given as the first president, and he took that trust seriously. But it wasn't a lovefest in the government - while his faith never wavered in Alexander Hamilton, he also had Secretary of War Henry Knox, who let him down during the Whiskey Rebellion. And the rest of his cabinet just got worse from there - John Adams was suspicious of Washington's motives and jealous of his adoration by the public. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison didn't think much of him and actually wrote (anonymous) diatribes against him in the press.

Washington also struggled throughout his life with his feelings on slavery and what to do about it. Sometimes it's hard not to think, "you know, if you want to free your slaves so much, go ahead and free them already!" but it would have been a revolutionary act and possibly insurmountably divisive in the climate of the time. He did leave provisions to free the ones he could (long story) in his will, which was probably the most expeditious solution and shows that he did give it quite a lot of thought.

Overall, this was an interesting and surprisingly involving listen, although I felt for a while that I was living the Revolutionary War in real time. On to John Adams!
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LibraryThing member queencersei
Washington: A Life is a sweeping biography of the nation’s first president. President Washington’s birth, childhood, rise to prominence in the French/Indian War, role in the Revolutionary War, Presidency and eventual death is explored in exhaustive detail. For historical buffs much of the material should be familiar. Washington’s fondness for flirting, notorious dental troubles and his overall historical significance is covered in depth.

What really makes this biography shine are perhaps lesser known aspects of Washington’s character. Such as his hero worship of his eldest brother, who tragically died at an early age. The struggles he endured as a step-father to the way-ward Jacky Custis and painstaking management of the Custis fortune. His distant relationship with his domineering and difficult mother and his internal struggle with the practice of slavery.

In fact it is the aspect of slavery which becomes really engrossing. Publically Washington was intimate friends with many well known abolitionists of his day and eventually began to publically denounce the practice of slavery, up to a point. But in private life Washington went to great lengths to keep his slaves, even going so far as to track down slaves who had fled to the British during the Revolutionary War. It is these personal aspects of Washington’s life that still have the power to make him such a complex figure in American history.
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LibraryThing member drmaf
Great book. Glad to find a warts and all biography of Washington, too often he is portrayed as a colonial version of Superman. Chernow's Washington is a great man, yes, but he is also tendentious, argumentative, occasionally indecisive and could also be a bully. Chernow doesnt shy away either from the great contradiction in Washington's life, that he was an advocate of freedom who kept slaves and supported the system of slavery (although to his credit it did trouble his conscience). Also revealed warts and all are the other Founding Fathers and the often troubled relations between them. In fact Washington wasnt popular with most of the other great names of the Revolution, Adams, Jefferson and Madison among others all disliked him, however his enormous popular support ensured that he could dictate the time and means of his exit from public life. A challenging book in many ways, but enthralling, particularly for a non-American to whom much of this was new.… (more)
LibraryThing member NickMat
Excellent new biography of George Washington. If you have already read biographies of Washington, you still may not know the man! Newly published letters in the last 20 years have been used by Chernow in this biography! And Chernow is a beautiful writer! Easy to read, but not dummied down. Rich, literary language used throughout! One big minus!! With such a large hard cover of a major American figure, as with Chernow's Hamilton bio, I don't understand why the illustration/photos are not in Color, and there is only one middle section of plates. And there aren't many repros of the man at different stages of his life nor are any maps included!! The same illustrations that are used in other dime a dozen bios are used here! I give Penguin a big boo for this poor publishing faux-pas!… (more)
LibraryThing member read.to.live
Easy to read, well-organized, and superbly edited, there's not a paragraph or even sentence I would delete or move, and only a few words I would change. Moreover, although there are a few topics I would have liked fleshed out, everything of interest to me was addressed.
-- Where I wanted more: the experence at Fort Necessity seemed overly summarized, as did the description of Washington's relationship with his mother.
-- Where I would have changed a word or two: Chernow called John Adams "envious", which seems overly judgmental, IMO; even if Adams was opinionated and critical, I don't think we can presume he was motivated by envy. Also, Chernow said over and over that Washington was lucky when relatives kept dying and leaving him land, but there is no evidence that Washington saw all these deaths as good luck.
-- Where I learned things I knew nothing about before: I had no idea of Washington's direct involvement with L'Enfant and the design of the Capitol City. I knew nothing about his runaway slaves or his opinions about his slaves as individuals. And although I did know that he was a better businessman and less profligate spender than Jefferson; yet I learned he was not as good a businessman as I had supposed, and that he spent his life living beyond his means.

Although I knew most of the highlights of Washington's career before reading this book, it was stunning to see them all in the context of his one life, to see all the crisis points where Washington was the best person for the job, and performed superbly, always putting his country first, always acting with the utmost integrity, when so many of his time did not. It was also enlightening how Chernow contrasted Washington's superb management of politics with his ham-handed administration of his own properties. When the future of the nation was at stake, he put his own priorities aside and did what was best; when it came to his own personal property, he was much less willing to find a way to motivate and work with people. Perhaps his superior political skills came into practice only with people of his own class, and not those he saw as his inferiors.

I regret that Washington did not live 20 more years, as did Adams and Jefferson, to see the success of his service to his country; when he died, everything still seemed so uncertain and fragile. And his particular death seems so untimely: What could he have accomplished with 20 more years?
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LibraryThing member lanewillson
At long last women's polyester pant suits of the early 1970's will no longer be among the images that cause me to think about one of our former Commander-In-Chief. As a first grader, I was amazed at how George Washington looked like my Granny. Indeed he looked like both of my Grannies. (Sadly, my family is infamous in its lack of creativity in naming grandmothers.) The mythology of George Washington, such as never telling a lie, also made the Granny connection an easy one to make. Thanks to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life, that connection is forever severed.

I was surprised by how little I really knew about our first President. The fairy tale legend offered to me as a child obscured the reality of the man. Like many of our presidents, Washington’s failures and struggles early in his career did not point to the greatness that was being forged. The respect and esteem held for Washington by the men under his command, even when defeated, served as the foundation on which he would lead a revolution. As Chernow expressed it, "He was that rare general who was great between battles, and not just during them."

One of the other fables swept away by Chernow is the fantasy that President Washington was greeted with the same admiration and respect George earned as General Washington. This was far from the truth, especially during President Washington’s second term. One of his most ardent and vocal critics was none other than Thomas Jefferson. Since Washington was the first president, no one knew what to expect or the political geography of the day.

Washington’s sense that virtually everything he did would be a guide for those who followed him was a gift almost beyond measure for our republic. The next thirty men that followed Washington as president limited their service to at most two terms, even though constitutionally they could continue to seek reelection. After FDR’s lengthy service and death, the nation codified Washington’s believe that no president should serve more than two terms.

Since the advent of photography, the physical price paid by our presidents has been visible to all. Only forty-four men have experienced the burden of the presidency, creating a fraternal bond understood by them alone. The experience seems to transcend party affiliation or political philosophy. Men who previously had little to no agreement with one another, gain an appreciation of the sacrifice one makes to hold this highest office. After his service as president, Thomas Jefferson said of President Washington, “Never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great.”

The reality of the man who led a revolution, and taught an infant nation to walk is far greater that any legend or lore. The debt the United States, indeed the world, owes George Washington can only be measured by an understanding of distance between tyranny and freedom. In Washington: A Life, Chernow offers the perspective that makes true appreciation of President Washington, and all who follow him.
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LibraryThing member chrissie3
From Pulitzer-prize winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington:

“In Washington: A Life” celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president.

Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull……


These are not my words, but rather the beginning of the book description at Goodreads. I agree that Chernow’s work has great depth, but Washington remains for me more a man worthy of admiration than a man for whom I can empathize. Intellectually I followed what he could have thought, but I never truly saw what he saw through his eyes. He is not dull, but still he is not someone I really know. I have learned very much about his actions and beliefs and both his successes and failures. A good biographer must present a balanced view, and Chernow clearly presents Washington’s mistakes. I appreciate this and feel I have learned so very much from the book due to the author’s prodigious study of all available source material. I do highly recommend this book.

BUT, I still have some complaints, and it is for the points stated below that I have removed one star:

The book is thorough – that can be seen as both a compliment and as a criticism, and often this depends upon the reader’s own previous knowledge. The more you know the more interesting other subjects become……I found the chapters related to the military details excessive. I felt that the text was at times repetitive, and that too many examples were cited to prove what perhaps Washington was thinking. I followed the numerous examples cited by the author and sometimes in fact came to a different conclusion! Although Chernow always states positive and negative aspects, he clearly tries to make you, the reader, accept the author’s personal view. Adjectives chosen to describe Washington’s conduct clearly express the author’s subjective point of view. Time after time, we are told that Washington “must have” thought this or that….Well, I would think, maybe! I looked at Washington’s choices throughout his life and frequently arrived at different motivations for his actions.

There are many quotes in the book. Chernow often mimics the expressions used by Washington and his contemporaries, and this makes his own text rather verbose and at times even stilted. I would have preferred a more fluid presentation. I quite simply was at times not pleased with how the author expressed himself. At times it was pompous, stiff and too adulatory.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Scott Brick. The narration is clear and has an appropriate tempo for a book where the listener wants to have time to absorb the historical facts. However there is a tone of awe which unnecessarily increases the adulatory words of the author.

After reading this book, when I look at Washington what I primarily admire him for is his ability to unite people - his soldiers fighting in the French and Indian War and then the Revolutionary War, the divergent groups in the thirteen colonies each with different focal interests, then when he became president the emerging political parties, the Federalists versus the Republicans, and most importantly the Abolitionists and slave owners. He is aptly seen as one of the Founding Fathers of a nation and a government based on democracy and freedom. While the French Revolution led to a regime of terror, the American Revolution didn’t. Washington, idolized as he was, could have so easily slid into becoming a monarch himself, but he didn’t. He truly believed in democracy and freedom!

In my view, this belief in freedom leads directly to the question: how do you create a nation based on freedom if it also allows slavery? Washington’s view on slavery is ambivalent. He says one thing and he does another, over and over again. In that Washington in his will finally emancipated his own slaves, although NOT his dower slaves, the author will have us believe that Washington finally followed his moral inclination, whereas I more crassly feel he emancipated them because they had had become uneconomical, burdensome and cumbersome to manage. He also feared the possibility of slave revolts which had erupted in Haiti.

When will we be able to look at Washington freed of our need to see him as a hero and paragon of virtue. I admire what he succeeded to accomplish. I never really got to know who he was inside though. This is not necessarily a criticism of the author. Washington did not reveal his inner thoughts readily to others.

Completed May 2, 2013… (more)
LibraryThing member mybucketlistofbooks
Definitely one of the better biographies of Washington. Given this is a Pulitzer Prize winning work this should not come as a surprise. Chernow does not disappoint.

It is cliche - as every Washington biographer of the last half century claims to be doing the same thing - but Chernow does an excellent job "humanizing" Washington. And while the biography is a largely positive one, he does not shy away from exploring some of Washington's negative traits: excessive ambition, churlishness, and a real disconnect between his opinion of slavery, and how he treated them in many instances.

For me, the mark of a good biography is how it affects one emotionally after it has been read. Does it make you feel like you have experienced the person's life through the text? Or, was it more of an intellectual exercise - interesting but not deeply felt. This book will definitely leave you with the former feeling!

Highly Recommended...

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LibraryThing member ajlewis2
It took me a long time to read this huge book, but it was well worth it. It is very well researched both in the story of Washington's life and in the way of life. I felt I got to know the real man who gave most of his life for the country where I live. Many times in the section on him as President, I thought of how there are always political enemies who will do and say anything to bring down the one who is leading. In the end I felt gratitude for the making of the United States and our system of government. I feel that Chernow did justice in telling a great story of a great man.… (more)
LibraryThing member scartertn
A fantastic story of a phenomenal life. From the undisputed leader of the revolutionary war to the birth of a nation, this biography is the definitive history book regarding early America. I highly suggest anyone interested in history will be thoroughly enthralled.
LibraryThing member EpicTale
Excellent and engaging book -- I learned a lot about Washington and 18C American history (though, I confess, I only finished half of the 800-page book when I had to return it to the library!). Like any great historical figure, Washington had his warts -- and Chernow seems objective in pointing them out when they occurred. Overall, the biography filled me with awe for George Washington and so many of his contemporaries, who fought for America's independence unreservedly, unselfishly, and with high regard for the well-being of generations of their as-yet-unborn descendants. Chernow's account of Washington's valorous life filled me with a critical appreciation for why our Founding Fathers chose to honor Washington through their naming of the nation's capitol city. It's our duty as American citizens, I would argue, to spend time to understand the exertions and countless sacrifices that Washington and his contemporaries expended on our behalf. Washington lived his life with an eye on history.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kigh
Felt like going through a lot of obsequious chatter.
LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
This book is a seamless, comprehensive whole of the life of Washington; not snippets of facts here and there. Chernow shows that Washington was a complex and multi-dimensional person, and although some issues (such as slavery) during Washington’s lifetime caused self-conflict, I continue to feel respect for Washington. He was a man of his times, but yet rose above many people (such as his domineering mother) or situations that could have caused him to be an ordinary, or lesser, person. While sympathetic towards Washington, this isn’t hero-worship of him, however — he is definitely human.

“Washington: A Life” would be a perfect book for a history or biography buff.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Even though in 1968 I read Dousglas Southall Freeman's seven-volume biography of Washington, since this book won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for biography, I wanted to read it. It is the 67th Pulitzer biography prize-winner I have read. It is very detailed and I admit some of the trivial things in it did not excite me. But I think Chernow paints a true pciture of the man--not sparing us his defects, but showing well his good qualities. I think the time spent reading this was well spent.… (more)
LibraryThing member tangborn
This is the first biography of George Washington that I have read, so I really knew very little about him beyond the typical mythology and grade school history. This is a true psychological biography, getting at trying to understand much of the motivation behind Washington's actions in life. I hadn't realized there is so much information about him from letters (such as the clothing he ordered from England, and relations with women). You really get the sense that this is a real person, with real flaws, though he was able to overcome them to achieve some great things. I also didn't know that he had become so famous even before the revolution, and that people all over the country looked to him as their savior in the war with England. And the issue of his ambivalence about slavery was handled objectively and clearly.

Really a first class piece of writing and a pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member Chris469
Not much to say other than another great job by Ron Chernow. Every bit as good as his Hamilton bio in bringing to a life a great figure of the American past. After reading a Chernow biography, you feel like you could climb into a time machine and go back and meet these figures and recognize them from the portraits he paints of them. He brings Washington to life, and tells us much about the times as well.

After reading the Washington and Hamilton biographies, however, I find it's hard to maintain a real positive view of Messrs. Adams and Jefferson. Especially Adams.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
I would guess that most Americans do not even realize how little they know about George Washington. Oh, sure, we all know that silly cherry tree story (an event that never happened) proving that Washington "could not tell a lie." We know that he crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776 during the Revolutionary War because we are familiar with the (historically inaccurate) Emanuel Leutze painting from 1851 portraying that courageous decision. We know about Washington's wooden teeth, or we think we do since that is another slightly bent story about our first president (the real story of Washington's dental problems are even more fascinating than the myth about his wooden teeth).

We know, too, that General Washington led the American rebels against the British army and that he was America's first president, a man who very reluctantly agreed to a second term. Some of us even know that he was involved in the French and Indian War as a very young man. But that is about the limit, if not beyond the limit, for most casual observers of American history.

But how does a man become George Washington? What stroke of luck placed him in the right place at precisely the time his young country needed someone exactly like him? Would America be the country it is today if George Washington had not been there to lead the fight for its liberty and oversee its earliest days of independence? Those who wonder about such things need only pick up Ron Chernow's new Washington biography, "Washington: A Life," to find all the answers.

Put simply, Chernow's 900-page biography is as comprehensive as it is remarkably easy to read. Unlike so many history books and biographies that I have slogged through in the past, the pages and chapters fly by in this one. Mr. Chernow plucks George Washington from the mythical pages of history and turns him into a human being, a man with as many faults as qualities, a man who transformed himself into one of the most influential ever born.

Chernow's biography stresses just how private a man George Washington was despite the fact that he took great pains to document the details of his life. He was not a man given to public display of his emotions, preferring to lead with a quiet dignity and calm that never failed to impress those around him. He had a special charisma that allowed him to keep his army together under the harshest of conditions, even when it seemed the Revolutionary War might end with the American army simply walking away from the battlefield for good. He used that same charisma in his two presidential terms and had a strong hand in shaping how the United States government functions today.

But George Washington is more than a mythical hero. That he shared the faults of his time and his class cannot be argued; that he overcame them, makes him more the hero. Chernow puts the flaws into the context of Washington's times but that does little to lessen their impact on Washington's image. The reader will be particularly struck by Washington's mixed feelings about slavery. On the one hand, he had misgivings about one human being having the right to own another, and he always tried to treat his slaves with dignity and respect, perhaps even with affection in some few cases. On the other hand, he demanded that his slaves work hard on a daily basis, no matter their age or the weather conditions. Washington's income, something he was stressed about during the war and his presidency, depended on slave labor and he did not free his slaves until his wife's death. (He even purchased teeth from slaves to be used in replacement dentures for the teeth he had lost - no wood in George's mouth).

Washington was a land grabber as a young man, having recognized that the easiest source of wealth (other than marrying it, which he also managed) in this new country was land. He involved himself in a scheme to buy up the land rights, at greatly reduced prices, of his fellow French and Indian War veterans before those men could exercise them. Much of that same Western acreage would be disposed of by a desperate Washington in his later years when his service to his country deprived him of the time to properly manage his several Virginia farms.

Chernow tells the complete story. Washington's flaws are offset by the greatness of his vision, and the reader cannot help but come away from the book with the conviction that things would have been greatly different for America if there had never been a Virginian by the name of George Washington. Without Washington, the Revolutionary War might not have been won, and even if it had been, the government we know today would probably be a very different one without having had his guiding hand at critical early moments in its history.

"Washington: A Life" tells a fascinating story in easily read prose; readers should not be put off by its length. The best praise I can give a book of this type is that it makes me want to read more about the period and some of the other men involved. That is certainly the case with "Washington: A Life."

Rated at: 5.0
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LibraryThing member FSkornia
Absolutely marvelous biography about George Washington. This was definitely a thrilling read until the end. I found this particularly interesting because while I had studied more about the other founding fathers (Jefferson, Adams, Madison), Washington still remained a closed book to me. Therefore it was great to read more in depth about his early life, and some speculation (evidence supported of course) about his motivations in fighting for independence and working as the first President. It is fascinating to note that Washington was responsible for developing a good deal of the powers and limitations of the executive branch, and fought to maintain its power versus that of Congress. My only real concern about this book is that at times it seems to dip into hero worship of both Washington and Alexander Hamilton (of whom the author had written an earlier biography). I would be interested in seeing a biography of him about Jefferson or James Madison to see if the same bias would exist (both of which were slightly demonized in this book as they grew to politically oppose Washington). Despite the apparent bias, Chernow's claims are well supported by his extensive research.… (more)
LibraryThing member subbobmail
Ron Chernow clearly did a lot of research before writing this biography of GW -- and, alas for the reader, Chernow has decided to put almost all of it down on paper. Washington surely deserves to have his life told in full and at great length, but Chernow lacks the storytelling instinct of Bill Bryson or David McCullough, and so the reader must plow through a pile of uninteresting detail before getting to the salient events and personalities buried beneath. He also falls too often into the habit of telling the reader what to think. That said, it must be nearly impossible to write a boring book about The Father of Our Country, and there is a lot of fascinating stuff to be found among these 1000+ pages. For instance, Chernow makes it clear that Washington's top wartime feat wasn't defeating the British, but merely keeping the army together in spite of constant privation and lack of provision; and anyone who yearns for a halcyon period of non-partisan American politics will be appalled to learn that there was never any such period. Washington emerges from this book as a towering but flawed figure. Like Jefferson (whom he came to despise), Washington found it harder to emancipate his slaves than to let them go and adjust to a less aristocratic mode of life. But how can we not stand in awe of a man who was urged to become king of the nation he helped to forge, but declined out of love for democracy? We really wouldn't be here without him. No wonder Chernow couldn't stop writing about him.… (more)
LibraryThing member billiecat
Washington was, even in his lifetime, a "man of marble," remote and idolized. Chernow's biography really does little to get under the skin of the man, but by the end of the book I felt this was because Washington intentionally lived his life that way. Chernow pokes and pricks at him, and draws a little blood on the issue of slavery, but overall at the end I could not say I knew the man any better than I did when I began. I knew more *about* him certainly, and for that the book is well worth reading. But where Jefferson, for example, seems to evade us by his slippery and contradictory mind, Washington seems to have set himself on Olympus intentionally, and even this book does not seem capable of approaching him.… (more)
LibraryThing member jrpalin
This is an excellent biography, a gifted writer's popular history, not a historian's scholarly chronicle. Chernow illuminates Washington's judiciousness, self-sacrifice, shrewdness, and ambition. It's a revealing psychological profile as well as a well-organized, beautifully-written, and informative overall treatment of Washington, from his early life through retirement.… (more)
LibraryThing member csayban
4.0 stars – Recommended

The name George Washington conjures up many images for Americans – heroic general, father of the nation, impeccable honesty, stoic demeanor, first president. However, there was much more to this complicated man. He was also a land speculator, elegant dancer, slaveholder, fiery taskmaster and someone who would hold a grudge to his grave. Washington was a far more complex man than what you learned in school…and no, he never had wooden teeth!

“By the time of his death, Washington had poured his last ounce of passion into the creation of his country. Never a perfect man, he always had a normal quota of human frailty, including a craving for money, status, and fame. Ambitious and self-promoting in his formative years, he had remained a tightfisted, sharp-elbowed businessman and a hard-driving slave master. But over the years, this man of deep emotions and strong opinions had learned to subordinate his personal dreams and aspirations to the service of a larger cause, evolving into a statesman with a prodigious mastery of political skills and an unwavering sense of America’s future greatness. In the things that matter most for his country, he had shown himself capable of constant growth and self-improvement.”-page 812.

George Washington has had literally thousands of biographies written about him in the more than two hundred years since his death. What Ron Chernow delivers is a highly readable single-volume account of who Washington was, rather than just what he did. The emphasis of Washington: A Life is really more about the person who became the father of a nation instead of a dull rundown of his accomplishments. Chernow brings us into the troubled boyhood and arrogant early adulthood that defined Washington’s early life and could have left him out of the history books altogether. What makes Chernow’s biography something better is it doesn’t whitewash Washington’s foibles – it embraces them – showing how he was able to rise above his doubts and weaknesses and help bring the world into a new age.

And foibles Washington had. Washington: A Life doesn’t pull any punches when Chernow hammers him for his hypocritical – at times brutal – treatment of his own slaves while fighting for the inalienable rights of other Americans. Washington even admitted to the hope that it was an institution that would “quietly fade away” in the hands of future generations. Still, Chernow places Washington’s questionable personal positions in context – neither sugar-coating them nor over-emphasizing them – next to his astounding accomplishments. Between single-handedly holding the Continental Army together, being the rock the Constitutional Convention presided around and his unprecedented presidency, Washington’s contributions to human history are covered in depth.

Just like the man, Washington: A Life is not perfect. Chernow spends too much time grinding through Washington’s preoccupation on the finest clothes and furnishings – to the point that is became distracting later in the book. And while Chernow does a splendid job documenting the schoolyard policy squabbles in Washington’s presidential administration, the text is light on the events that were driving those decisions, especially in Washington’s second term. When documenting the final years of Washington’s presidency, Chernow seems more interested in Washington’s troubles with his household staff than with his efforts to avert another war with England.

In spite of those shortcomings, Washington: A Life certainly delivers on its promise to present a complete portrayal of the most beloved founding father – warts and all. Chernow’s approach succeeds on all fronts and makes Washington more accessible than any biography before it. If you are going to read about the American Revolution or the development of the presidency, Washington: A Life is an excellent place to begin.
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LibraryThing member nandrews
Half-way through....this book is very long and quite interesting. So far, I'm amazed by the amount of attention Washington spent on specific clothing details. He is also a master-of-his-emotions, not cold, just very, very careful....more later.
Finished - loved it and learned alot about him, our country and early growing pains of our presidency. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member jrgoetziii
Love the biography as I did his Hamilton, but the heavy-handed moralizing on the slavery issue is absurd and transmutes/imposes "liberal" sentiments of the late 20th and early 21st Century onto the 18th Century. This wouldn't be so bad other than the biassed language. At one point Chernow states that it is "unnerving to see the President of the United States" speak of whipping an idle slave; perhaps for him, not for me.

Also, I'm more than a tad amused at the following comment in a previous review: "Well written generally, but I back off from a full five star rating because he uses CONTRACTIONS. I can't stand a solid serious work that uses contractions." Hopefully this doesn't get flagged, but that's stupidity in action (in the event that it does happen, how about we just not say things that are clearly nothing other than stupid?). Last I checked, "can't" is a contraction, and therefore I cannot stand your solid serious review (also "a lot" is two words, not one). Though I myself have no qualms about the use of contractions as they're part of the language.
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LibraryThing member ehousewright
This was a long book, but it really kept my interest. It shows Washington as human and it also portrays the times he lived in politically -- which have many similarities to our own times. I hope to read biographies of each president-- but this one will be hard to top.

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