Recently, I finished my second consecutive Ron Chernow biography. Washington: A Life , surprisingly, about the life of George Washington. Now, let’s say you don’t know who George Washington is. Aside from being the face on the one dollar bill, he is the Father of the United States of America. The novel delves into how the man became a legend.
See, George Washington wasn’t birthed into the six foot, powdered hair, military leading, President of the United States. He had an arduous journey from a very young age to his final breath. The novel is a one volume biography that examines George Washington’s life in its entire cradle-to-the-grave scope.
Chernow does something that so many historians have failed to do. He humanizes out first Commander-in-Chief. He presents Washington truly. Beyond the mountains and monuments, Washington was a fallible man. He made grievous errors, had a strained relationship with his mother, had a penchant for the ladies, and had an alarmingly furious temper. The amazing, and I use that word in its truest sense, thing is that, despite every mistake, George Washington was still just as strong and admirable a person as anyone could imagine.
The novel shows Washington throughout his long life and marks every tragedy that met him. His difficulties as a surveyor, farmer, soldier and politician never went away. He had to balance infighting and quell rebellion (several times). George Washington lived alongside Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Paine, Franklin, Madison, and countless other bright and unparalleled minds (each in their own right) and still, to this very day even, managed to become the most famous and admired American.
Although a single volume biography spanning all 67 years of George Washington’s life is comparatively light reading considering the scope and detail that has been put into examining him since the day he died, the novel is just a shaving over 800 pages long and, due to Chernow’s writing style, is a very high level of reading. The issue one has when reading biographies of historical figures is that each sentence is either a new fact or an analysis. With several week-long breaks, the book took me about two and a half months to read. I was already used to chewing through this writing style because I spent the previous four to five months (with breaks, I am not totally modest when it comes to my pace of reading) reading Alexander Hamilton by Chernow. It is not light reading.
I finished this book at 2 am (after spending the entire day destroying the remaining 250 pages of the book I had. What can I say? He’s an interesting dude) on December 13th, 2016. The date this blog post is being published is December 14th, 2016, exactly 217 years after George Washington passed away.
This review isn’t meant to memorialize Washington or praise Chernow. These paragraphs are simply meant to give a brief glimpse into my experience reading this book. It is a long book, but worth the insight and humanization it gives George Washington.
PS: The previous owner of the book wrote several very accusatory and unwarranted criticisms of Thomas Jefferson in the book. It was rather humorous reading these statements presented as facts being discounted immediately by reading Chernow’s analysis of whatever subject was pertinent.