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Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Washington: A Life (original 2010; edition 2010)

by Ron Chernow

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1,064357,883 (4.34)48
Title:Washington: A Life
Authors:Ron Chernow
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2010), Hardcover, 904 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:History - American

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Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2010)



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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Having read Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, I looked forward to his biography of George Washington with anticipation, and he did not disappoint. His biography may be too detailed for the casual reader, but since I have read other shorter biographies of Washington, I enjoyed the depth of this one. ( )
  proflinton | Apr 6, 2015 |
A better appreciation for the whole man but often a tedious read. ( )
  ibkennedy | Feb 2, 2015 |
"Washington - A Life" by Ron Chernow is a Pulitzer prize winner. It's very interesting and informative, and long, very long. 817 pages. I felt it was certainly worth the investment in time, but I also felt it easily could have been pared by at least 100 pages. More on that later. Fortunately, Chernow's writing is very relaxed and extremely readable, laced with well placed anecdotes and excellent analysis. Coming into this book, I knew very little about our first President besides some 4th grade history instruction and a number of visits to nearby Mount Vernon.

Not much time was spent on GW's early years, and very soon we learn of George's adventures as a very young officer in the militia, teamed with England in the French and Indian War. As revolution began to simmer in the colonies, Washington's role was primarily military, and the events that unfolded during those years dealing with the Declaration and Constitution were mainly left to others. Though Washington attended the initial Congressional sessions and expressed his viewpoints, he was never a confident orator and his lack of education led many of his founding brothers to pay him less attention. So Chernow's focus during those years deals more with the eight years (yes, EIGHT years) that he led his rag tag army against the British; in the background we are given snippets of events in Philadelphia. And maybe rag-tag is too kind a descriptor. This was an army that was not only poorly clothed but ill-fed as well. Often local farmers sold their produce and livestock to the better financed British. Then there was the issue of many American troops returning to their families every December 31 as annual commitments expired. Washington's "army" would shrink to a few thousand. Washington lost a number of battles - he was not surrounded by an experienced military-educated team of officers and staff, but he kept the army together. Eventually the Brits made the Big Mistake at Yorktown, and with the very timely help of the French, the Revolutionary War was over. My major disappointment with this portion of the book was that Chernow elected not to use maps. There were several battles described in some detail which would have been much easier to visualize with a single map.

Five years later Washington was our first President. He was unopposed, and his intention was to serve one term, perhaps less if possible. He yearned to retire to Mt. Vernon but did not have that opportunity for another eight years. There were two interesting learnings for me in this section of the book. The first is that Washington as President was now in a position to set precedent since not every detail of governing was clearly defined in the founding documents. Many of those issues dealt with the specific duties o the Executive and Legislative branches. The second was the birth o political parties, each with different viewpoints on the kind of country America was to become. For example, while Washington (and Hamilton) believed in a strong executive role, others felt it would be too easy for the United States to morph into a monarchy-like government too reminiscent of the British royatly from whom we had just separated.. This section of the book made clear that while many of our forefathers may have been "founding brothers" they did not always get along all that well and at various points in our early history, relationships broke off and were never repaired. It is interesting to see so many parallels with governing the US in 2015.

In addition to the War years and the first Presidency years, the book covers a lot of other ground central to Washington's life. All of it is very important and I would not want any of the subjects deleted. But I think most could have been abbreviated. These include the ongoing changes at Mount Vernon over the years from crop selection to building additions to draperies, the relationship with George's mother, his dental problems, all of the portraits he sat for, slavery, George's eye for the ladies, and his delightful relationship with Lafayette. The material dealing with slavery alone could have yielded a separate book. As a matter of fact, I think a book dealing with the issue of slavery and American presidents from Washington to Lincoln could be a winner.

Nevertheless, five stars all the way. Highly recommended. ( )
  maneekuhi | Jan 26, 2015 |
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...

( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (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
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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