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Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
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Washington: A Life (2010)

by Ron Chernow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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! ( )
  NickMat | Feb 6, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote lanewillson | Nov 18, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vote drmaf | Nov 6, 2013 |
This cradle to grave bio paints Washington as a true idealist. He lived to set an example.
His contribution can actually be measured, but probably not equalled. A sturdy man who didn't liked to be touched would stand tall in the face of almost any challenge to contribute to his community. The depth can be a little tedious but when you are in the depths of Washington's life it all seems relevant.

I have not read other Bio's of Washington, so I can not weigh the book against other biographers.
The insight into Washington's own words from his letters illuminates the man in the portraits.

Chernow tells a complete story of an immense life. It was fun to observe the life of the American saint and the characters who contributed to the a time in history of such immense character. 800+ pages make it a true commitment and if I never read another book on (The General) I think this Bio will suffice as solid basis on the subject.

Great fun fact: Ron Chernow credits Washington with the development of the American Mule. Add husbandry to the long list of accomplishments... ( )
  jent33 | Oct 9, 2013 |
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 ( )
1 vote chrissie3 | May 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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.
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ron Chernowprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Simple truth is his best, his greatest eulogy.
- Abigail Adams, speaking of George Washington after his death
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To Valerie, in memoriam
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(Prelude) In March 1793 Gilbert Stuart crossed the North Atlantic for the express purpose of painting President George Washington, the supreme prize of the age for any ambitious portrait artist.
The crowded career of George Washington afforded him little leisure to indulge his vanity or gratify his curiosity by conducting genealogical research into his family.
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In "Washington : a Life" celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced 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.… (more)

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