There are two historical figures that I have great admiration for, but for different reasons. Reading their biographies over the past year has been a wonderful eye-opener to me. The first one I want to share with you is Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.
Chernow does a superb job at bringing this dusty historical hero to life. He doesn’t linger long on the president’s ancestry or childhood, which has proven to be quite sluggish in other biographies. The majority of the book centers around Washington’s generalship in the Revolutionary War. With the way Washington constantly carried himself, it’s no wonder people thought of him as a god. He struck fear and admiration in the hearts of men, sort of like an 18th century William Wallace. Having a deep-rooted admiration for the man, I was glad that the author points out his flaws, one of them being that he was overly flirtation with the opposite sex throughout his married life. This prevents me from worshiping the man in my heart, which I’m prone to do. This flaw proves that he may have been an honorable war hero, a trustworthy statesman and sound president, but he was not a model husband. It is referenced over and over that he and Martha shared a deep friendship but not much more.
Washington was a much generous man than I ever would have known. He gladly adopted Martha’s children, and then helped raise their children. He paid for his son’s tuition, and even his nephew’s, even though they both proved to be sluggards and disappointed Washington in the ways of work ethic. He constantly had the door of his home open to guests and admirers. He repeatedly served his country in any way he was called to, though he was deeply reluctant to accept the presidency and much abhorred the idea of postponing retirement to his beloved Mount Vernon home.
As with the issue of slavery, Washington straddled the fence to say the best. It was as though in his heart he knew the practice was a deep evil, but he fooled himself (as had most other plantation owners), that it was an economic necessity. Even though he wasn’t as brutal as other slave owners, nor did he ever consent to breaking up slave families or condone selling them to other slave holders (though he had to resort to doing that in his later years due to a poor economic standing), no one can refute the fact that he didn’t better make known his abolitionist mindset. Instead, he put it off for future generations to deal with.
To stick with the darker side of much revered world-shakers, Neal Gabler handles Walt Disney’s life with complete bluntness in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. In this book, Gabler discards the fairy-tale myths that often accompany the image of Walt Disney. To say the least, he was not an easy many to get along with, nor work for. He was self-motivated, hard-driven, and always had his nose to the grindstone, often forfeiting time with his family. The business of cartooning and moviemaking was air to him. Later on, his passions dramatically changed to amusement park building.
Talk about building a kingdom for yourself. In stark contrast to Washington, Disney sought only self-perseverance. He lived on his Mount Vernon his whole life, constantly devising ways to build his kingdom higher and bigger than anyone else’s. But the one thing no one can hold against Disney is his steadfast faithfulness to his wife. Unlike Washington, he was never bellow reproach on that subject, even though he once claimed that women were of no interest to him (and he certainly didn’t view them as the delicate flowers Washington had because he almost always cast women as the antagonists in his earliest films).
Washington died on December 14, 1799 and Disney died on December 15, 1966. Washington gave his life up in service to his country, and he welcomed death, never fearing it in the least throughout his life. Disney kept his life to himself, serving only his namesake, and he viewed death with much trepidation. One founded the greatest country in all the world, and the other founded the greatest entertainment industry Hollywood has ever known. One set humble goals for himself, but was swept away by his generous heart to serve his fellow countrymen, and he was happy to let go of the obligations to his country when he died. The other set lofty goals for himself and achieved those, but in the end, he did not get to take his kingdom with him when he died.
Though both America and the Disney Kingdom still stand strong today, it is fair to say that Washington did not lose nearly as much as Disney did at his death because he did not value his own life as much as Disney had. When you value yourself too much (at the expense of valuing others more), then in the end, you will most certainly lose the one thing you love the most. Death is eminent. Will you leave behind a legacy of servitude toward others, or will you grudgingly have to be torn away from the precious kingdoms you’ve built for yourself on this earth?
You can order Washington: A Life on the right side of this page.