in American Revolution Biographies
Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2011
From National Book Award winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington.
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 listener 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.
Okay, yes, I’m up for an occasional biography, but must admit I picked this one up strictly because I liked the narrator in a recent audiobook called Plum Island by Nelson DeMille. (And BTW, this audiobook garners the #1, 2, and 4 spots in the genres noted below I’m sure in part due to this narrator whose own bio of narrations is as impressive as extensive.)
So imagine my surprise when I realized I’d bitten into an almost 42-hour biography. (That pretty much covered our recent trip to Texas and back.)
A lot of information here that you don’t get from the textbooks, from Washington’s childhood through the French and Indian Wars, as leader of the Continental Army, General of the American Revolution, and finally his long and storied political life as our first President.
Let’s just say, once again, that I’m incredulous that we won that war after seven bloody years. Yes, we didn’t have the capability of sending timely messages then, but again and again, he was stymied by the lack of funds for food, clothing, and munitions much less than medical care for an untrained army easily susceptible to disease and unpredictable weather. And really, against even Loyalists, many of whom still staunchly refused any aid.
Perhaps it was a bit of prejudice against John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but it wasn’t long before I was also glad it was Washington who took control and created the system we have today—Washington supporting a new government that featured a strong executive branch.
Difficult to put yourself back in the eighteenth century and at times seemed the same for the author, particularly in terms of slavery, the topic of which he revisited a number of times painting Washington as a benevolent master who alternately struggled with the necessity at Mt. Vernon while bowing to the pressures of those strongly in support of the system. He hoped it would fade away and manumitted his slaves upon his death.
Washington did not have the benefit of an extensive education and was ever cognizant of those men around him who did. He confronted constant conflict with forming the fragile infant government, his manipulative vindictive unsupportive mother, ever-present teeth issues, foreign policy issues, and his lack of financial expertise in handling his own estate.
For all his flaws, he still proved an exceptional leader, his 6’ frame and inspiring and remarkable history commanding a hush of respect from the people. There were times when the chronology stepped back depending on the current discussion, repeated insightful observances of the expertise with which he handled situations and people, and sought to drive home a point previously made.
Perhaps the book could have been shorter and we’d have been just as impressed with the man who finally, adamantly refused another term and died two years following his retirement of a throat infection in 1799 that was treated at the time with multiple bleedings and an enema.
I downloaded a copy of this audiobook from my local well-stocked library. These are my honest thoughts.
Genre: American Revolution Biographies, Historical Biographies, Biographies of Presidents & Heads of State
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Listening Length: 41 hrs 54 mins
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publication Date: October 5, 2010
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: Washington: A Life [Amazon]
Rosepoint Publishing: Four point Five Stars
The Author: Ron Chernow won the National Book Award in 1990 for his first book, The House of Morgan, and his second book, The Warburgs, won the Eccles Prize as the Best Business Book of 1993. His biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Titan, was a national bestseller and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
[Goodreads] Ron Chernow was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors from Yale College and Cambridge University with degrees in English Literature, he began a prolific career as a freelance journalist. Between 1973 and 1982, Chernow published over sixty articles in national publications, including numerous cover stories. In the mid-80s Chernow went to work at the Twentieth Century Fund, a prestigious New York think tank, where he served as director of financial policy studies and received what he described as “a crash course in economics and financial history.”
In addition to writing biographies, Chernow is a book reviewer, essayist, and radio commentator. His book reviews and op-ed articles appear frequently in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He comments regularly on business and finance for National Public Radio and for many shows on CNBC, CNN, and the Fox News Channel. In addition, he served as the principal expert on the A&E biography of J.P. Morgan and will be featured as the key Rockefeller expert on an upcoming CNBC documentary.
The Narrator: Scott Brick is an American actor, writer and award-winning narrator of over 800 audiobooks. Audiobook narrator Scott Brick (2012). Born, (1966-01-30) January 30, 1966 (age 57). Santa Barbara, California, US. Occupation(s), Actor, Writer, Narrator. [Wikipedia]
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