A gripping portrait of the first president of the United States from the author of Alexander Hamilton, the New York Times bestselling biography that inspired the musical.
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.
Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
“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
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway musical Hamilton has sparked new interest in the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers. In addition to Alexander Hamilton, the production also features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Lafayette, and many more.
Ron Chernow's latest biography, Grant, is now available in paperback.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:March 3, 1949
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, NY
Education:Yale University; Cambridge University
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.
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
What People are Saying About This
“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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Totally worth the price on the Nook.
I learned many facts about how our country and our political structure and many of their struggles are our current struggles.
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.
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.
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.
Felt like going through a lot of obsequious chatter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chernow’s writing style is so engaging, you feel like you get to know George Washington as a person. After I finished, I actually missed it.
Every historian and student of history should read this amazing book. No wonder it won such acclaim for it's able author.