Book: George Washington: A Life
Author: Ron Chernow
1. Date- Originally published in 2010, this is the most up to date book for anyone looking for a comprehensive biography. For a cradle to grave narrative there is no more contemporary volume available. One must take this into account because changing views on race and slavery are large characteristics in any person and are certainly a modern indictment on Washington. As time changes views of what is classified as humane this era gains in importance. Chernow keeps this in perspective however, too many modern blinders creates a harsh judgement in hindsight.
2. Scope- This is a true cradle to grave book with due attention to pre and post presidency of George Washington. For those seeking to learn about the presidency itself, the book does a great job covering it, but as 8 years in a very full and complete life. This is not a presidential story or a book about the Revolutionary Era. It is about George Washington and his role in that time. The presidency is well documented and given center stage, no small task for such an accomplished individual. However. the post-presidency is lacking especially since an aged Washington was again named head of the military and spent much more time in retirement than the docile ending Chernow conveys.
3. Author- Ron Chernow has written about the Revolutionary Period for decades. This book was written after the critically acclaimed biography of Alexander Hamilton. In Hamilton, Chernow received overwhelming praise for bringing stale characters to life. What is lacking is works from Chernow on the period and not the subjects themselves. For those looking for that type of approach to Washington will be disappointed. An interesting note about Chernow is the fact that he is currently working on a comprehensive biography on Ulysses S. Grant, one that promises to be a solid choice further down the line. His credibility on the era is solid, on biography it is of superior thread.
4. Length- Those attempting to complete the project at a rapid pace should steer clear of this book. It is dense, complete and thorough. At over 900 pages, this large volume takes time and commitment to give the book its proper due. For Washington, we are blessed with dozens and dozens of good choices that come in at a shorter length. This is a choice for those looking for a long and complete book that seemingly covers everything. The effort to turn this into a multi volume biography wouldn’t appear to be tough as each part within the book functions on its own. The book is way too dense, some may find the 900 pages are way too much of a good thing while oddly speeding from presidency to death.
5. Misson- Chernow’s mission was to break open the recently made available tomes of information and cast the figure in a new light. The immediate goal is to make Washington human, tear away the stoic and lifeless figure from history class into a living, breathing and yes, flawed hero who became the first President. He celebrates in his successes and buries him for his shortcomings. It is all done with care and fairness which makes the mission even more accomplished. Gigantic figures like Washington need this type of book every few years, because their relevance remains crucial to modern America. Chernow hits it out of the park.