I’d like to take this time to draw your attention to one of my favorite biographies. Maybe not so much for the writing style, as parts of it did drag on (which really just put off the ending which I didn’t want to come), but for the life that it covered – and not only examining it, but etching out every finite detail we could ever wish to know about our first president of the United States.
Ron 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 flirtatious 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 more generous man than I ever would have known. He gladly adopted Martha’s children, and then helped raise their offspring. 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 – a sort of angelic destination he continually longed for throughout his life.
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.
This book, Washington, A Life is a commitment, to say the least. It had taken me nearly a year to read in all its 817-page small-print glory. But don’t let the hefty weight scare you away. See it, instead, as a wealth of knowledge and thousands of juicy details about the life and times of one of America’s greatest heros of all time.
Happy birthday, President Washington.