Thursday, October 7, 2010

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Part Of The Synopsis From The Back Cover:

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.

Part of the reason why I wanted to review this book was that despite a decent education, I'm not all that familiar with who George Washington was as a person or a General.  I think I was one of many Americans, that according to this book, viewed George Washington as a lifeless waxwork, worthy but dull.  Those are the author's words, not mine, but honestly, I would have to agree with him.  All I can remember from school is that he was Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, stayed at Valley Forge, crossed the Deleware, and became our first president.  Yeah, that's about it.  I respected him as one of the founding fathers, but really didn't know who he was as a person.  So as you can tell I'm not a scholar of American history so my review may be a little more pedistrain than some others you may read.  What I am though is someone who wanted to get to know the man, not the legend.

After reading 815 pages, I can honestly say that not only do I know him better, but I have a lot more respect and admiration for him. The author has done a masterful job of bringing our first president to life in a way I wasn't expecting.  Washington is portrayed as an ambitious man who is in a constant state of war with himself.  He is a very passionate person but he has such a tight control on his outward manifestations of that passion, that many people never saw that side of him.  He was a very guarded person whom inspired respect and admiration but very little affection.

He was a man sensitive to station and rank and never really got over the snubs he suffered during the French and Indian War.  Because he was a colonist, he was never granted to the same respect or commission that a British born officer would have.  That disparity rankled him and fueled some of his anti British feelings later on in life. 

His personality in general was just fascinating to read about.  He grew up never receiving a proper education and that bugged him for the rest of his life.  The early death of his father and oldest brother stayed with him as did his cool relationship with his mother.  Washington was an imposing 6 foot tall and by all accounts a dashing individual.  He was a ladies man who loved to flirt but had a deep and meaningful relationship with his wife Martha.  Though he was a slave owner he was conflicted on the subject and tried his best to not split families apart, but wouldn't tolerate runaways.  This was an attitude he carried into the military as well.  The man this book paints for us is intelligent, committed, loyal, but most of all human.  He has come down from that marble pedestal and become mortal once again.  I think his legacy is served mightily by that.

As you can tell I'm trying to give you a small taste of the man I met within this book but I don't want to go into a lot of it.  For one I'm not sure I would ever be able to get across all of it, nor do I think you want to read that long of a post about it.  What I do want to do is encourage you to read this book and discover for yourself that George Washington truly does deserve not only our respect and admiration, but our affection as well.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can visit the tour page to discover other reviews and to learn more about the author.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Just yesterday I heard an NPR interview with the author of this book; it was really interesting. I especially liked his story about Washington's dentures and how he freed his slaves in his will.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

Although I am a huge history buff, colonial and revolutionary America are not time periods that I've ever really read much about. Like you, I know very little about Washington as a person. It sound like this book would be an excellent remedy to that ... and I could probably pull out some fascinating facts to share with Kiddo!

Thanks for being a part of the tour - I'm so glad you enjoyed the book as much as you did.

bermudaonion said...

815 pages on George Washington sounds like it would have the potential to be dry, but you've made it sound fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, thanks for sharing.

Staci said...

Great review Ryan and you've made me rethink those 800+ pages and feel like I should read this one for sure.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I have this one too and for quite similar reasons. I seem to have come to a point in my life where I want to know more about history, and real happenings and classics...gah! Whats wrong with me? :)

Anonymous said...

815 pages - I've never been much of a history and while this is not a book I'll pick up, you have made it sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review Ryan. I have to say that I learned a lot from this book as well, and I've read several books about the founding fathers and Washington.

This book has a great narrative and characterization as well, it doesn't "feel" like a history book (most of it anyway).

Lisa said...

I really enjoyed seeing the contradictions in Washington. The slavery issue to example or his sneakiness about politics when it came time to cast votes.