Guest Review: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

October 11, 2010 Historical Non-Fiction, Review 9

Taking a little break from Fright Fest, I’m particularly excited to welcome a special guest reviewer to my blog today: my husband, John! John has reviewed here before and although it’s been a while, it’s been worth the wait!  So please welcome John!

  • Hardcover: 904 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; 1St Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1594202664
  • Source: Publisher

In “Washington:  A Life”, Ron Chernow illustrates the “Father” of our country with a complexity, beyond the venerated figure presented to most of us during our history classes of adolescence.  With great detail, Chernow presents the experiences of Washington and how they lead him on a seemingly providential path from a Frontiersman all the way to the Legend so many Americans revere today.

The chronicle begins with a brief review of Washington’s lineage and the familial tendency to expire at an early age.  Chernow recounts again and again, the misfortunes with health of family, loved ones and contemporaries and pointedly displays how Washington directly and the United States of America indirectly benefitted from those events.  From the early expiration of a beloved, older half-brother to the passing of Daniel Custis, the wealthy first husband of the future First Lady, he paints a portrait of an almost predestined journey to the role of iconic, founding father so associated with the birth of a nation.

This deference to circumstances should not be mistaken as blind worship of Washington or of providing another layer of grandeur to the lore of the first President.  Chernow does a fantastic job of piecing together historic events from letters, journals and newspaper articles of the day to demonstrate the hardships endured by Washington along the way.  His volatile temper, youthful exuberance and virtually inexhaustible ambition; all virtues, at times were greater liabilities than assets to a younger Washington that we rarely read in our history books.

Chernow continues by demonstrating Washington’s ability to side step personal obstacles including his inability to receive a formal education in England after the premature passing of his father.  He also illustrates numerous difficulties in his professional pursuits such as the inability to obtain a commission in the army of the British “regulars” that presumably has an influence on his ideals of citizenry and equality.

All of the usual fanfare, regarding the man after which States, cities and monuments are named is present.  Fortunately, Chernow spares us from the romanticized history that we all grew up with.  The common knowledge of Washington is generously sprinkled in to ground us and provide context.

“Washington: A Life” is a grand review the life of George Washington.  Chernow provides an engaging exploration of the journey through the experiences of a complex and flawed man, instead of focusing on the destination of the great figure Washington is known as today.  As I have, you will enjoy relearning about Washington as Chernow recounts HIS story without genuflecting to the rose colored glasses of history.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing John this opportunity to take part in this tour.  Please be sure to check out the other stops:

Tuesday, October 12th: American Creation

Wednesday, October 13th: A Reader’s Respite

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9 Responses to “Guest Review: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow”

  1. Jason
    Twitter: BrainCandyBR

    Nice review John,

    I used to only read nonfiction exclusively, so this is right up my ally. I actually have this title on my wishlist so I was excited to read your thoughts.

    I hope Jen has you review more nonfiction from time to time!

  2. S. Krishna
    Twitter: skrishna

    I really like the idea of this book “humanizing” Washington, rather than thinking of him as that grand figure on a pedestal. I wonder if I can find it in audio! Thanks for the review, John!

  3. Misty Baker

    I have seen this book perched on the shelves at my local watering hole, but have remained abstinent in my desire to purchase it. I recently read a bio of Abraham Lincoln and though very informative, I was still put off by the loads of conjecture. You write as though that is absent from this novel which (to me) improves it’s shelf appeal. + “Chernow does a fantastic job of piecing together historic events from letters, journals and newspaper articles of the day to demonstrate the hardships endured by Washington along the way.” is a fantastic selling point & makes the 900 pages seem less daunting.

    Nice review :)

  4. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours
    Twitter: age30books

    Hi John! Nice to “see” you here chatting about this book. I’m a huge history buff but my early American history knowledge is sadly lacking – it sounds like this would be the perfect place to start.

    Thank you John and Jenn for being part of the tour. :)