Guest Post: Washington, A Life

Posted 14 March, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in guest post

Guest Post: Washington, A LifeWashington by Ron Chernow
Published by Penguin on October 5th 2010
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, History, Presidents & Heads of State, United States
Pages: 928

In Washington: A Life celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president.Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull. A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man. A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life. Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master.At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency.In this unique biography, Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America's founding. With a dramatic sweep worthy of its giant subject, Washington is a magisterial work from one of our most elegant storytellers.


Now you might think that at 904 pages, Washington: A Life would cause me to slip into a coma.  But it didn’t and that is why we call Ron Chernow a wretched man…..the book was fascinating.  Long, to be sure, but utterly fascinating.  Chernow didn’t content himself with regurgitating the same old biographical information here.  Instead, he went after new information and insights contained in a slew of newly released letters and journals written by the Old Man himself.

Still, in the hands of any other biographer the information might be coma-inducing.  Thank the book-gods that Chernow is never boring.  His respect for America’s first President is evident throughout the book, but he doesn’t hesitate to reveal Washington’s innate flaws:  the man was petulant, ambitious and arrogant to the extreme with an inferiority complex borne out of his Colonist background.

We think you can somewhat see Washington’s lazy eye in this portrait

In other words, he may have turned out to be an idolized figure of American history, but he wasn’t a likable man.  Chernow paints a portrait of a brash young man who matured into an astute military leader…one that was needed for America to emerge as a country.  In many ways, this portrait of Washington is a portrait of who we are as a nation today (that petulant, ambitious and arrogant thing again).

Don’t be intimidated by the books length and scholarly presentation.  You do not have to ensconce yourself in a leather chair by the fire, wearing a worn tweed jacket and smoking a pipe to get the most from this biography.  Like all of Chernow’s remarkable biographies, it’s accessible and highly readable for anyone who has ever wondered about our first President.  (No, he didn’t cut down a cherry tree.  Yes, he did have false teeth, but they were ivory, not wood.)

And if you’ve never heard of the U.S. Presidents Reading Project, go check it out.  It’s a perpetual reading project challenging bibliophiles and history buffs to read one book about each of our U.S. Presidents.  Washington: A Life happens to be a perfect way to start.

Whatcha think, Readers? I’ve been dying to read this biography forever. I admit that I’m intimidated by the length, but after this review – maybe it’s time to give it a shot! Although, I hesitate to completely agree because since reading His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis, Washington has been my hero – complete with hero worship of all of his faults. After all, let he without sin cast the first stone. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



3 Responses to “Guest Post: Washington, A Life”

  1. Lost in Literature 108

    I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while. I don’t know about reading a bio on each one but there are several I’m interested in. I have John Adams by McCullough which I’ve heard raves about and I have Decision Points by G.W. Bush. I REALLY wanted to win the James Madison bio that Shannon at River City Reading gave away a while back so that on is on my radar as well.

  2. I’m impressed by the guest who read this, 928 pages. It’s a noble pursuit and I think you should go for it — sounds fascinating. I was a history major long ago. I just finished the Civil War novel “Neverhome” and someday should read the whole Shelby Foote’s 3 volume history. That would be epic. Cheers.