Washington: A Life

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Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional ...

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Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation and the first president of the United States. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one volume biography of George Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his adventurous early years, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow shatters forever the stereotype of George Washington as a stolid, unemotional figure and brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods.

“Truly magnificent… [a] well-researched, well-written and absolutely definitive biography” –Andrew Roberts, The Wall Street Journal

“Superb… the best, most comprehensive, and most balanced single-volume biography of Washington ever written.” –Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

“A truly gripping biography of George Washington... I can’t recommend it highly enough—as history, as epic, and, not least, as entertainment. It’s as luxuriantly pleasurable as one of those great big sprawling, sweeping Victorian novels.”  –Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

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Editorial Reviews

T. J. Stiles
Let's be clear: Washington is a true achievement…In organically unifying Washington's private and public lives, he accomplishes a feat that eludes many biographers. And he propels readers forward. There were moments on my march to the end of his story on Page 817 when I thought he could have shortened the trip, yet I still felt that the writing was purposeful, not merely encyclopedic.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
…deeply rewarding as a whole, and it does genuinely amplify and recast our perceptions of Washington's importance…This new portrait offers a fresh sense of what a groundbreaking role Washington played, not only in physically embodying his new nation's leadership but also in interpreting how its newly articulated constitutional principles would be applied. A more ostentatiously regal leader could never have accomplished as much as this seemingly reluctant hero achieved.
—The New York Times
Andrew Cayton
…books about Washington continue to appear at such an astonishing rate that the publication of Ron Chernow's prompts the inevitable question: Why another one? An obvious answer is that Chernow is no ordinary writer. Like his popular biographies of John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton, his Washington while long, is vivid and well paced. If Chernow's sense of historical context is sometimes superficial, his understanding of psychology is acute and his portraits of individuals memorable. Most readers will finish this book feeling as if they have actually spent time with human beings.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In his introduction, veteran biographer Chernow is clear about his goals. Using the recent "explosion of research," he wants to render George Washington "real" and "credible," to replace "frosty respect" with "visceral appreciation." In many respects, Chernow succeeds. He gives us a Washington who starts with limited education and means and, through a remarkable combination of timely deaths, an incredible capacity for hard work, a shrewd marriage, astonishing physical hardiness and courage, a propensity for land speculation, and a gift for finding influential patrons, transforms himself into a soldier, well-to-do planter, local official, and eventually the only real choice to command the Continental army, preside over the Constitutional Convention, and serve as the first president. Chernow makes familiar scenes fresh (like the crossing of the Delaware) and expertly brings the provisional revolutionary and early Republican eras to life. Along the way, however, he mistakes "visceral" for ardent; while he never hides Washington's less than saintly moments or shirks the vexed question of slavery, he often seems to ignore the data he's collected. Examples of shady dealing are quickly followed by tales of Washington's unimpeachable ethics or impeccable political savvy. At times it feels as if Chernow, for all his careful research and talent for synthesis, is in the grip of a full-scale crush. The result is a good book that would have been great if better edited, and if Chernow had trusted that Washington's many merits, even when accompanied by his faults, would speak for themselves. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Truly magnificent… [a] well-researched, well-written and absolutely definitive biography” –Andrew Roberts, The Wall Street Journal

Superb… the best, most comprehensive, and most balanced single-volume biography of Washington ever written. [Chernow’s] understanding of human nature is extraordinary and that is what makes his biography so powerful.” –Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

“Chernow displays a breadth of knowledge about Washington that is nothing short of phenomenal… never before has Washington been rendered so tangibly in such a smart, tenaciously researched volume as Chernow's opus… a riveting read...” –Douglas Brinkley, The Los Angeles Times

“Until recently, I’d never believed that there could be such a thing as a truly gripping biography of George Washington…Well, I was wrong. Ron Chernow’s huge (900 pages) Washington: A Life, which I’ve just finished, does all that and more. I can’t recommend it highly enough—as history, as epic, and, not least, as entertainment. It’s as luxuriantly pleasurable as one of those great big sprawling, sweeping Victorian novels.”  –Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

“[Ron Chernow] has done justice to the solid flesh, the human frailty and the dental miseries of his subject—and also to his immense historical importance… This is a magnificently fair, full-scale biography.” –The Economist

Library Journal
In this cradle-to-grave biography of the Founding Father, notable biographer Chernow (Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller) thoroughly recounts how Washington rose to prominence in the French and Indian War, parlayed that early heroism into international fame as general of the Continental army during the American Revolution, and, as America's first President, unified a young nation and shaped its government—and he offers deeper explorations of, for example, Washington's cold relationship with his mother, his heavy reliance on younger devotees such as Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, and his contradictory actions regarding slavery. Chernow's Washington is a reluctant celebrity who perpetually tries to retire from national service but refuses to turn his back on an embryonic republican country struggling with its newfound freedom. The narrative relies heavily on Washington's papers, but Chernow also liberally cites other primary sources and previous biographies. While objective for the most part, he occasionally offers well-grounded opinions on Washington's character and political and military actions. VERDICT This broadly and deeply researched work is a major addition to Washington scholarship—every era should have its new study of him—and it should appeal to informed lay readers and undergraduates interested in stepping beyond the typical textbook treatment.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
The Barnes & Noble Review

Two unforgettable images run through this great book, and they have nothing to do with cherry trees or wooden teeth or silver dollars thrown across the Potomac.

The first is the image of a gallows. It appears early in the narrative, when Colonel George Washington of the Virginia Militia, seeking to terrify his untutored, undisciplined, ragamuffin soldiers into obedience, builds a forty-foot-high gibbet. Soon after, he sentences fourteen of his men to death for desertion and insubordination. Though he will eventually spare twelve from the noose, he will still punish them with absolutely fierce and shocking floggings, an average of six hundred lashes per prisoner. "Washington made a point of hanging people in public," Ron Chernow writes, "to deter others." It is an expression of "his blazing temper." It is also a result of his experience as explorer and soldier in the Virginia wilderness, "which darkened his view of human nature." His lifelong practice will be to see "people as motivated more by force than kindness." When he hangs his first man, the year is 1756, Virginia is still a British colony, and Washington is twenty-four years old.

These gallows will recur. They are what novelists call a "through-line" or motif, a pattern of figures within a story. To an historian they are that and more. They are a kind of portal into Washington's famously elusive, enigmatic character.

Gallows and nooses were, of course, an ordinary part of Washington's time and world. To hang a disobedient solider -- or rebel -- was commonplace in eighteenth-century warfare. The British government routinely punished treason this way, with the additional flourish of disemboweling the offender while he was still alive, and then decapitating him. When Benjamin Franklin cautions the Continental Congress that "we must all hang together, or we will all hang separately," only the first part of his famous sentence is metaphorical.

Washington became a rebel and a revolutionary well aware that, in the event of defeat, just as Franklin said, he would be hanged, drawn, and quartered by the king's justice. As the culprit in chief, he could expect no mercy. The revolutionaries all fought, he later said, "with halters around our necks." But his recurrence to the imagery of hanging -- and to the real thing -- reminds us not only of his courage and realism, but also of the remarkable, even perpetual fury he usually buried or concealed behind a calm, stony façade. When he had reached the limit of his patience with war profiteers at Valley Forge, Washington erupted in a violent rage that would not have surprised any of his subordinates -- "I would to God," he burst out to the President of Congress, "that one of the most atrocious of each state was hung in gibbets upon a gallows five times as high as the one prepared for Haman."

These gallows and halters show us something else as well: the discipline, the iron will that sets Washington apart from almost all of his contemporaries. In the Benedict Arnold affair, when the captured British spy John Andre, a handsome and sympathetic figure, pleaded to be executed like a gentleman by a firing squad, Washington turned his back. Despite the wrenching protests of Hamilton and Lafayette, he ordered Andre hanged in full view of the army, as an example to his own soldiers and a message to the British. "Policy," he explained to the French admiral Rochambeau, "required a sacrifice."

The second recurring image is much less stern and inflexible. It is the image of Washington taking his place, sitting or standing, before a portrait painter, an act that he performed literally hundreds of times in his life. Chernow begins his book with such a moment -- Washington in 1793, the newly elected first President of the United States, seated before the disheveled, chattering, snuff-taking artist Gilbert Stuart. The supremely self-disciplined Washington would not care for such a man. Almost at once, Chernow notes, he retreated behind his stolid mask. But Stuart was a painter of genius. He saw the immense force of personality that lay behind Washington's discipline. "The mouth might be compressed," Chernow says, "the parchment skin drawn tight over ungainly dentures, but Washington's eyes still blazed from his craggy face. In the enduring image that Stuart captured and that ended up on the one-dollar bill -- a magnificent image of Washington's moral stature and sublime, visionary nature -- he also recorded something hard and suspicious in the wary eyes with their penetrating gaze and hooded lids."

Stuart knew that he had seen -- and painted -- a man of explosive, tumultuous character. Afterwards, he would tell a friend that Washington's features "were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions." Such was the force of his personality, Stuart declared, that had Washington been born in the forests, he "would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes."

In a brilliant use of scholarly material, Chernow -- the author of a number of other distinguished biographies, including The House of Morgan, which won the National Book Award, and Alexander Hamilton -- pauses again and again in his narrative to describe such portraits of Washington, from youth to old age. It is, if you write as clearly and sensitively as Chernow, a wonderful way of giving the reader a concrete sense of the arc of Washington's life and the changes in his appearance over the years. And it is a vivid way of stressing the charismatic effect of his physical presence, lost to us now except as we glimpse it in faded splashes of color within the frame of a painting, though every contemporary testifies to its existence. "It is hard to exaggerate his impact on others," Garry Wills has written. "Some animal vitality, conveyed we don't know how, baked off him."

These recurring portraits also allow Chernow to return, logically and gracefully, to his central theme: "Washington's lifelong struggle to control his emotions." He has in mind more than simply Washington's well-documented temper, or its opposite, his notorious and unnerving gift of silence when pressed or offended. For Chernow, Washington was always on guard as well against his "softer emotions." He was a rugged soldier who could weep in public, a sentimentalist who never forgot his earliest, perhaps illicit romance with Sally Fairfax. "This man of deep feelings," Chernow writes, "was sensitive to the delicate nuances of relationships and prone to tears as well as temper. He learned how to exploit his bottled-up emotions to exert his will and inspire and motivate people. . . . His contemporaries admired him not because he was a plaster saint or an empty uniform but because they sensed his unseen power."

Chernow follows this theme through more than 800 fascinating pages. He touches repeatedly and masterfully on topics well-known to scholars -- Washington's cold and difficult relationship with his mother ("the lifelong whetstone of his anger"); his anxious, avaricious attitude toward money; his luck as a general; his obsession with his clothing and his flair for theatrical self-presentation. But in such a full-scale, cradle-to-grave biography, these familiar topics gain energy from context and repetition. For Chernow, Washington's personality is not a mystery to be solved, but a complex, hot-blooded expression of character to be traced over a long life, to be seen and understood from every possible angle.

What will a reader learn here that is new? Perhaps little in the factual way, though Chernow's account of Washington's evolving and tortured "moral confusion over slavery" is fresh and important. From the vantage point of Mount Vernon, some readers may find Jefferson and Madison diminished figures. Others may be shocked by the venomous partisanship, conspiracy theories, and "lethal political atmosphere" of Washington's last years, far too reminiscent of our own cankered time. (It is hard to believe that Washington's rabid critics could seriously accuse him of being a British double-agent during the Revolution.)

But Chernow's narrative is so rich, its scale so massive and epic, that what is new fits seamlessly into the wider picture. The final impression a reader will take away -- his or her lasting image of Washington -- will be profound and dynamic. Chernow has gone into Washington's world, almost into his mind, and inhabited it. Under his gaze, from the very first page, that world begins to speak and stir, and great Washington steps before us, as if on an enormous stage, distant but clear, breathing. If I have not said so already, this is far and away the best life of George Washington ever written.

--Max Byrd

Max Byrd is President of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the author of many historical novels, including Jefferson and Shooting the Sun.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594453420
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/5/2010
  • Pages: 928
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow is the prize-winning author of five previous books. His first, The House of Morgan, won the National Book Award. His two most recent books, Alexander Hamilton and Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, were both nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography.

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Read an Excerpt

Read "Surprising Facts About George Washington" from Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

The Portrait Artist

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. Though born in Rhode Island and reared in Newport, Stuart had escaped to the cosmopolitan charms of London during the war and spent eighteen years producing portraits of British and Irish grandees. Overly fond of liquor, prodigal in his spending habits, and with a giant brood of children to support, Stuart had landed in the Marshalsea Prison in Dublin, most likely for debt, just as Washington was being sworn in as first president of the United States in 1789.

For the impulsive, unreliable Stuart, who left a trail of incomplete paintings and irate clients in his wake, George Washington emerged as the savior who would rescue him from insistent creditors. "When I can net a sum sufficient to take me to America, I shall be off to my native soil," he confided eagerly to a friend. "There I expect to make a fortune by Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits… and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English and Irish creditors." In a self-portrait daubed years earlier, Stuart presented himself as a restless soul, with tousled reddish-brown hair, keen blue eyes, a strongly marked nose, and a pugnacious chin. This harried, disheveled man was scarcely the sort to appeal to the immaculately formal George Washington.

Once installed in New York, Stuart mapped out a path to Washington with the thoroughness of a military campaign. He stalked Washington's trusted friend Chief Justice John Jay and rendered a brilliant portrait of him, seated in the full majesty of his judicial robes. Shortly afterward Stuart had in hand the treasured letter of introduction from Jay to President Washington that would unlock the doors of the executive residence in Philadelphia, then the temporary capital.

As a portraitist, the garrulous Stuart had perfected a technique to penetrate his subjects' defenses. He would disarm them with a steady stream of personal anecdotes and irreverent wit, hoping that this glib patter would coax them into self-revelation. In the taciturn George Washington, a man of granite self-control and a stranger to spontaneity, Gilbert Stuart met his match. From boyhood, Washington had struggled to master and conceal his deep emotions. When the wife of the British ambassador later told him that his face showed pleasure at his forthcoming departure from the presidency, Washington grew indignant: "You are wrong. My countenance never yet betrayed my feelings!" He tried to govern his tongue as much as his face: "With me it has always been a maxim rather to let my designs appear from my works than by my expressions."

When Washington swept into his first session with Stuart, the artist was awestruck by the tall, commanding president. Predictably, the more Stuart tried to pry open his secretive personality, the tighter the president clamped it shut. Stuart's opening gambit backfired. "Now, sir," Stuart instructed his sitter, "you must let me forget that you are General Washington and that I am Stuart, the painter." To which Washington retorted drily that Mr. Stuart need not forget "who he is or who General Washington is."

A master at sizing people up, Washington must have cringed at Stuart's facile bonhomie, not to mention his drinking, snuff taking, and ceaseless chatter. With Washington, trust had to be earned slowly, and he balked at instant familiarity with people. Instead of opening up with Stuart, he retreated behind his stolid mask. The scourge of artists, Washington knew how to turn himself into an impenetrable monument long before an obelisk arose in his honor in the nation's capital.

As Washington sought to maintain his defenses, Stuart made the brilliant decision to capture the subtle interplay between his outward calm and his intense hidden emotions, a tension that defined the man. He spied the extraordinary force of personality lurking behind an extremely restrained facade. The mouth might be compressed, the parchment skin drawn tight over ungainly dentures, but Washington's eyes still blazed from his craggy face. In the enduring image that Stuart captured and that ended up on the one-dollar bill—a magnificent statement of Washington's moral stature and sublime, visionary nature—he also recorded something hard and suspicious in the wary eyes with their penetrating gaze and hooded lids.

With the swift insight of artistic genius, Stuart grew convinced that Washington was not the placid and composed figure he presented to the world. In the words of a mutual acquaintance, Stuart had insisted that "there are features in [Washington's] face totally different from what he ever observed in that of any other human being; the sockets of the eyes, for instance, are larger than he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose broader. All his features, [Stuart] observed, were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, it was his opinion that [Washington] would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes." The acquaintance confirmed that Washington's intimates thought him "by nature a man of fierce and irritable disposition, but that, like Socrates, his judgment and great self-command have always made him appear a man of a different cast in the eyes of the world."

Although many contemporaries were fooled by Washington's aura of cool command, those who knew him best shared Stuart's view of a sensitive, complex figure, full of pent-up passion. "His temper was naturally high-toned [that is, high-strung], but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it," wrote Thomas Jefferson. "If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in wrath." John Adams concurred. "He had great self-command… but to preserve so much equanimity as he did required a great capacity. Whenever he lost his temper, as he did sometimes, either love or fear in those about him induced them to conceal his weakness from the world." Gouverneur Morris agreed that Washington had "the tumultuous passions which accompany greatness and frequently tarnish its luster. With them was his first contest, and his first victory was over himself… Yet those who have seen him strongly moved will bear witness that his wrath was terrible. They have seen, boiling in his bosom, passion almost too mighty for man."

So adept was Washington at masking these turbulent emotions behind his fabled reserve that he ranks as the most famously elusive figure in American history, a remote, enigmatic personage more revered than truly loved. He seems to lack the folksy appeal of an Abraham Lincoln, the robust vigor of a Teddy Roosevelt, or the charming finesse of a Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, George Washington has receded so much in our collective memory that he has become an impossibly stiff and inflexible figure, composed of too much marble to be quite human. How this seemingly dull, phlegmatic man, in a stupendous act of nation building, presided over the victorious Continental Army and forged the office of the presidency is a mystery to most Americans. Something essential about Washington has been lost to posterity, making him seem a worthy but plodding man who somehow stumbled into greatness.

From a laudable desire to venerate Washington, we have sanded down the rough edges of his personality and made him difficult to grasp. He joined in this conspiracy to make himself unknowable. Where other founders gloried in their displays of intellect, Washington's strategy was the opposite: the less people knew about him, the more he thought he could accomplish. Opacity was his means of enhancing his power and influencing events. Where Franklin, Hamilton, or Adams always sparkled in print or in person, the laconic Washington had no need to flaunt his virtues or fill conversational silences. Instead, he wanted the public to know him as a public man, concerned with the public weal and transcending egotistical needs.

Washington's lifelong struggle to control his emotions speaks to the issue of how he exercised leadership as a politician, a soldier, a planter, and even a slaveholder. People felt the inner force of his nature, even if they didn't exactly hear it or see it; they sensed his moods without being told. In studying his life, one is struck not only by his colossal temper but by his softer emotions: this man of deep feelings was sensitive to the delicate nuances of relationships and prone to tears as well as temper. He learned how to exploit his bottled-up emotions to exert his will and inspire and motivate people. If he aroused universal admiration, it was often accompanied by a touch of fear and anxiety. His contemporaries admired him not because he was a plaster saint or an empty uniform but because they sensed his unseen power. As the Washington scholar W. W. Abbot noted, "An important element in Washington's leadership both as a military commander and as President was his dignified, even forbidding, demeanor, his aloofness, the distance he consciously set and maintained between himself and nearly all the rest of the world."9

The goal of the present biography is to create a fresh portrait of Washington that will make him real, credible, and charismatic in the same way that he was perceived by his contemporaries. By gleaning anecdotes and quotes from myriad sources, especially from hundreds of eyewitness accounts, I have tried to make him vivid and immediate, rather than the lifeless waxwork he has become for many Americans, and thereby elucidate the secrets of his uncanny ability to lead a nation. His unerring judgment, sterling character, rectitude, steadfast patriotism, unflagging sense of duty, and civic-mindedness—these exemplary virtues were achieved only by his ability to subdue the underlying volatility of his nature and direct his entire psychological makeup to the single-minded achievement of a noble cause.

A man capable of constant self-improvement, Washington grew in stature throughout his life. This growth went on subtly, at times imperceptibly, beneath the surface, making Washington the most interior of the founders. His real passions and often fiery opinions were typically confined to private letters rather than public utterances. During the Revolution and his presidency, the public Washington needed to be upbeat and inspirational, whereas the private man was often gloomy, scathing, hot-blooded, and pessimistic.

For this reason, the new edition of the papers of George Washington, started in 1968 and one of the great ongoing scholarly labors of our time, has provided an extraordinary window into his mind. The indefatigable team of scholars at the University of Virginia has laid a banquet table for Washington biographers and made somewhat outmoded the monumental Washington biographies of the mid-twentieth century: the seven volumes published by Douglas Southall Freeman (1948 – 57) and the four volumes by James T. Flexner (1965 – 72). This book is based on a close reading of the sixty volumes of letters and diaries published so far in the new edition, supplemented by seventeen volumes from the older edition to cover the historical gaps. Never before have we had access to so much material about so many aspects of Washington's public and private lives.

In recent decades, many fine short biographies of Washington have appeared as well as perceptive studies of particular events, themes, or periods in his life. My intention is to produce a large-scale, one-volume, cradle-to-grave narrative that will be both dramatic and authoritative, encompassing the explosion of research in recent decades that has enriched our understanding of Washington as never before. The upshot, I hope, will be that readers, instead of having a frosty respect for Washington, will experience a visceral appreciation of this foremost American who scaled the highest peak of political greatness.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note 13

Prelude: The Portrait Artist 15

Part 1 The Frontiersman 23

1 A Short-Lived Family 25

2 Fortune's Favorite 46

3 Wilderness Mission 70

4 Bloodbath 88

5 Shades of Death 110

6 The Soul of an Army 129

7 A Votary to Love 152

8 Darling of a Grateful Country 172

Part 2 The Planter 183

9 The Man of Mode 185

10 A Certain Species of Property 206

11 The Prodigy 227

12 Providence 238

13 A World of His Own 254

14 The Asiatic Prince 282

15 A Shock of Electricity 305

Part 3 The General 329

16 The Glorious Cause 331

17 Magnificent Bluff 354

18 Land of Freedom 375

19 The Heights 402

20 All London Afloat 424

21 Disaster 442

22 An Indecisive Mind 465

23 The Crossing 485

24 The Busy Scenes of a Camp 513

25 Darkness Visible 539

26 Rapping a Demigod over the Knuckles 561

27 A Dreary Kind of Place 580

28 The Long Retreat 605

29 Pests of Society 623

30 The Storm Thickens 641

31 The Traitor 664

32 Mutiny 695

33 Plundering Scoundrels 712

34 The World Turned Upside Down 727

35 Man of Moderation 759

36 Closing the Drama with Applause 783

37 Cincinnatus 801

Part 4 The Statesman 821

38 American Celebrity 823

39 Gentleman Farmer 848

40 Devil's Bargain 863

41 The Ruins of the Past 885

42 A Masterly Hand 903

43 A House on Fire 923

44 Rising Sun 945

45 Mounting the Seat 960

Part 5 The President 985

46 The Place of Execution 987

47 Acting the Presidency 1014

48 The Cares of Office 1036

49 Rays of Genius 1050

50 The Traveling Presidency 1073

51 The State of the President 1091

52 Capital Matters 1110

53 Southern Exposure 1133

54 Running into Extremes 1158

55 A Tissue of Machinations 1182

56 Citizen Genet 1209

57 Bring Out Your Dead 1237

58 Hercules in the Field 1257

59 Crowns and Coronets 1277

60 Mad Dog 1287

61 The Colossus of the People 1306

62 The Master of Farewells 1328

63 Exiting the Stage 1350

Part 6 The Legend 1365

64 Samson and Solomon 1367

65 A Mind on the Stretch 1397

66 Freedom 1410

67 Homecoming 1420

Acknowledgments 1443

Bibliography 1453

Books 1453

Articles 1464

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Average Rating 3.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 277 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The kind of history book I love

    "Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow is an encompassing biography of George Washington. This marvelous book breaks the wooden image of Washington and brings out the character of the man we all learned about with all his charm and personality.

    "Washington: A Life" is divided into six parts, look for my review on my blog for more details as the B&N space is limited.

    The Frontiersman:

    The Planter:

    The General:

    The Statesman:

    The President:

    The Legend:

    This is the kind of history book I love. Mr. Chernow tells of little known anecdotes about George Washington which not only tell of of his character, but even relevant to this day. Some of the stories the author relates are laugh-out funny, the type that no-one can make up, the type that if you read them in a fictional book you'd hiss and throw the book at the wall - yet they are true.

    The self criticism of Washington literally leaps out of this book, that is the major difference I found between this biography and "His Excellency" (book review). Washington always internalized new things he learns and is able to change even though it goes against everything he knew to be true. One can see how over a lifetime of slave ownership his views towards this practice have changed from one end to the other.

    Ron Chernow is not only a wonderful historian, but also a masterful story teller. In this book Chernow painted George Washington in a relatable, unforgettable realism while keeping the story is vivid, flowing and compelling. Why, it's almost like you're reading fiction instead of a biography.
    Then again, I always maintained that no fiction story can be as good as history, otherwise it would almost be laughable.
    "Who makes up this stuff", we would cry to the heavens.

    Which author in their right mind would invent a character like Mary Ball Washington, George's mother. Poor George couldn't earn a word of praise from his emotionally numb mother, not as a loyal son, general, president or benefactor. Not only that, Mrs. Washington petitioned the Virginia legislature for a pension. and she was rich!
    Laughable - if in fiction.

    On an off shoot, while the book is about George Washington, I loved how Mr. Chernow peppered the narrative with a few sharp witted quotes from John Adams (review of "John Adams" by David McCullough) - funny today as they were when written.

    I have read many history books, several about Washington and I must put this one on the top of the list, the extraordinary quality of the writing and the psychological insights are worth the price of admission by themselves.

    For more book reviews please visit ManOfLaBook dot com

    35 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    Uplifting and Thorough

    Late in life I finally got around to reading about the Founding Fathers and the history of the creation of the United States. We all think we know them and it from our grade school history classes, but I was astonished on all I did NOT know. This book is a valuable addition to the effort to learn beyond the charactertures that we all "know." Exhaustive in detail, sometimes turgid in reading, but well worth the time. GW was truly an incredible man...perhaps the ONLY man who could have led the military resistance to Britain and then lead as the first President. I am constantly amazed at the things he accomplished, and the way in which he accomplished them. Highly recommend this book, along with "His Excellency: GW" by Joseph Ellis (which I found a better read, but maybe because I read it first).

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2010

    Chernow is a talented historical researcher

    The Washington of school books is brought into the spotlight of history and Chernow reflects his every bump and defect as well as his goodness and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Martha Custis Washington is also given a new and refreshing look other then a dowdy rich widow who sponsored another white man's success according to today's political correctness advocates. The book should be utilized by history courses in high school and college.

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recomend this book !1

    Mr Chernow's latest biography Washington, A Life is an excellent accout of our first president and the times with which he lived. The author provides a thourough boigoraqhy of our first president. We see a young Washington burden with adult responsiblities because of the death of hsi father. As a young man Washington is drivent to improve himself and better his situation. We see how he has no qualms in ingratiuating himself to with social superiors and representatives of Great Briatain to reach his goals.

    At an early age the young Virginia plnater had dreams of aa military career.His utlimtate goal was a commission in the British regular army. Mr Chernow talks about how the expanding British coolonial empire came into conflict with the expanding French colonail empire. Wahsington played an importan war in the start of the French and Indian War.

    Washington became a hero throughout the colonies. He eventually commanded the Virginia militia. He was an enthusiastitc supporter of the crown and the British Empire. Yet Great Britian treated their coloinal subjects shabiiikly. He was with Braddock and proved to hbe a vbery brave and capable officer. Yet the Britishish looked down on colonials and refused to grant him a comjmission. Washington took this as a personal reublke and sparked a growing disalussionment with the colonial system.

    We see how his marriage to Martha Custis, a very rwalthy Virginia widow propelled Washingtoon to the tops of Virginia Society. He became a very wealth planter after the French and inidan War. Mr Chernow writes that he was not an aloof overseer. but managed his estates. He kept careful notes about the conditions of his land and strove to learn s much as possible about agricluture. We learn that his experience has a pl/anter and his relationsion to factors in England only caused greater disalussionment.

    I thought Mr Chernow gave an excellent accout of Wahsington. I learned what motived the aristocratic planter to become a revbolutionary. Mr Chernow also gives a fasinating account of the times with which he lived. We learned why WAshingtong who had petionsions of being a British aristocrat came to support the revoltion. Mr Chernow's book not only is an excellent biography but it is also an excellent accoutn of the colonial period, Revboltion, and early republic.

    This book deservies a five star rating.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2010

    Very Interesting - Biography of Early America as well as Washington

    This book is the first installment towards my goal to read a biography of every US President. Through the telling of Washington's story, this book also gives a great picture of the birth of our Nation, and some of the personalities, hardships, and politics that were happening at that time. While Washington is the focus of the book, the relationships with Knox, Hamilton, Jefferson, the global events in England and France are given a significant role, and peaked my interesting in reading about these specific people and events in order to enhance the perspective.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Toast to Reading

    Oh my! What a fine piece of work. Mr Chernow, thank you sir. This book is loaded. If you are considering this book as your next, step up and begin. Please take your time because it's impossible to rush through it. There is just so much to enjoy. Hands down, Chernow's effort here should take 1st place in "all" categories of books considered in competition for biography. His research is astounding yielding a comfortable flow of Washington's history from beginning to end displaying well placed nuances supporting atmospheres the subject passed through. I most certainly feel I know Washington now. He was one emboldened man. The times required one such as himself. Buy this in hardback. My copy is filled with marked references I made throughout the reading connected to page footnotes on the books last two blank pages. Perhaps sometime in the future a grand or greatgrandchild will read it as well. I gained an anewed perspective of the periods principal players. I have in hand a Chernow printing of Alexander Hamilton. And so, I am in store for more better learning about our revolutionary history. Read this book when you can. With no failing you will understand America better.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2012

    A Masterpiece

    You can't appreciate where the United States is now, if you don't know why we got here. G. Washington was the primary reason why our democracy works as it does. He's not known to most of us, except as a engraving on a dollar bill. We should have known the younger and vigorous commander of his "band of brothers."

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 25, 2011

    Worth your time and well written

    If you would like to learn what this man struggled with and went through for all of us to enjoy this country, this is the volume to read. I have read other volumes and this one captures his true personality better that all others and also exposes the full truth sometimes glossed over in other volumes, of how his other co-patriots treated him. I feel Jefferson drops down a few notches in my esteem. based on his dishonorable conduct in this volume towards Mr. Washington. Having recently read "American Spinx" by Joeseph Ellis, I have changed my feelings for Jefferson and Madison based on this book.
    I read "His Excellency, George Washington" By Joeseph Ellis and this book leaves it in the dust. Well worth the 815 pages, they flew by.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    E-book prices....

    Hello Everyone:
    Even though this e-book price hovers around $20.00 it still is a bargain! If you were to purchase this book elsewhere, other than online, you would be still paying the full retail price of $40.00 for the hardcover version. Also, even discount stores such as Costco, Sam's, or Walmart would still charge well over 24.00 for this same book.

    The E-book price is literally half the price of the suggested retail cover price and still a bargain! You purchased a nook to be able to read your literature in a convenient form and weight rather than carrying around a huge heavy paper book.

    Everyone that owns a nook or similar e-book reader, should EMBRACE the wonderful technological advances in portable, convenient reading device, and not complain about the prices of the E-books, which is considerably less than a hardback, and more portable. Also, if you really look at prices of E-books, especially very RARE, books hard to find in Hardcover they still range over $200.00! The hardback version would be well over the price of the e-book price by as much as 3 or 4 times that price! It is still a bargain!


    3 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    Excellent biography by a first-rate historian

    A supremely well-written and researched book. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the most pivitol person in US history. Do to the United States' unmistakable role in world history, Washington could be seen as one of the most important leaders in recorded history.

    This is third book I've read by Mr. Chernow and I will no doubt dive into another one of his works in the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    very long, very good and very recommended

    At 1000 pages+, this is a book to remember. Chernow writes in such easy style that I felt like I was with a comfortable, old companion as the story would from Washington's early life through his experiences in the French and Indian War, and on through the Revolution and his presidency. Washington was much more than what we have come to know through the years, and in Chernow's extremely capable hands, I learned every bit of it. Don't be dismayed by the length of the book - it reads very well and is packed with insight and stories of Washington the man as I haven't encountered before. A treuly great book and highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2013

    At age 70, I remain an avid student of history. After years of C

    At age 70, I remain an avid student of history. After years of Civil War reading, I have turned to the creation and early days of the Republic by reading biographies of the Founders. I started with Jefferson and Adams -- largley because of their off-and-on friendship and livlely and long-term correspondence. I have turned to President Washington and could not, I believe, have found a better staring point than Mr. Chernow's "Washington-A Life." Well-written, concise, interesting and obviously thoroughly researched, the book has given me an outstanding view and a new and comprehensive understanding of a very complex man in the context of his time. Even more importantly, Mr. Chernow deftly displays why Mr. Washington was the right man at the right time in our nation's history. Mr. Chernow paints a complete portrait of our very complex first President, including his way of delaying tough decisions after researching the questions. I now understand better Washington's position(s) on slavery, his loyalty to Alexander Hamilton, and his bitterness over what he perceived as Thomas Jefferson's disloyalty. Mr. Chernow is loyal to Mr. Washington, but not blind. Not bad for a single volume biography. And there is more, much more. Buy the book, read it at your leisure, enjoy its smooth flow through Washington's life and, perhaps like me, mourn when you finish and close the last page of Mr. Cnernow's excellent volume. Next? Mr. Chernow's biography of Mr. Hamilton.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    Super History and Story

    Totally worth the price on the Nook.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    Equal to the Man

    Chernow's 815 page tome is richly detailed, vivid and well informed. He captures Washington's greatness, his flaws, and his times. He draws history and character in a tapestry including a straight ahead portrait of a slaveholder who devoted his life to freedom. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2014

    Eye-opening read

    Everything I never learned in school. Great read.

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  • Posted May 7, 2014

    Great book. But why does the NOOK book cost more than the paperb

    Great book. But why does the NOOK book cost more than the paperback?

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    Possibly the best biography I've read

    A true deep dive into Washington's entire life. The author gathers information from multiple sources and draws conclusions from them. As with any biography it focuses on the subject with other events, even momentous ones, being secondary.

    The treatment is balanced and well written, I found myself not wanting to put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    Loved it

    My only regret is that the book ended.

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  • Posted February 23, 2013

    Great book. I highly recommend.

    It covers so much history. A well written book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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