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This is a great read, very absorbing and getting the right balance between historical detail and character description. I realised that I didn't really know anything about Washington the man and I wasn't inspired by those doughy-faced portraits of him. Ron Chernow has changed that, bringing Washington's unique character alive and the originality of his personality. Enormous personal decency, modest reticence and ego, highly disciplined, almost fatalistically brave, largely self-taught and self-motivated, excellent judge of character, aware of the moral dilemmas of issues such as slavery and while acknowledging his economic dependance on slavery,predicting that if the issue was not resolved over time it would threaten the Union. Did not regard himself as an intellectual, and patronised by his fellow Founding Fathers who never doubted their own genius, but he constantly exercised wisdom that was all the more powerful because it was not egotistical in any way. This meant he was trusted through the worst travails of the revolution and the explosive potential of the constitution-building. He was the essence of authority, with a sense of duty that compelled him to tasks that he did not relish but took no glory from. And in retirement he endured constant visitors to Mount Vernon and felt obliged to feed and water them all at some expense as long as they didn't expect him to engage in small talk (or any talk).Thanks to Ron Chernow's brilliantly written book, superbly edited to maintain a coherent narrative of personal detail and historical sweep, Washington of the doughy face has become my favourite and most original character from history. Americans are right to revere him, I have finally understood.
Jesus, this book is a long read. I've had it for a few weeks and as a not-so-avid reader I've barely put a dent in it, but I can not recommend it more. It's incredible how much this book has pulled me in as an English person. The history is brilliantly presented in a genuinely interesting way, making you feel as if you aren't trapped back in high school history again and instead making it feel as if you're reading a story book. George Washington's life is so interesting and there are actually some genuinely funny moments, my favorite so far being;
"According to legend, Washington attended the Fairfax County election and ended up in a heated exchange about George William with one William Payne, who favoured an opposing candidate. Their confrontation grew so angry that Payne struck Washington with a stick, knocking him to the ground. When Washington got to his feet, he had to be restrained from assaulting Payne."
Now I don't know about you, but the idea of George Washington, first president of the United States of America, being hit to the ground with a stick of all things is the most entertaining thing I've read in a while. This isn't the kind of thing you'd find in your average dusty 20 volume biography, so don't for a second think that this is even on the same caliber. It's funny, it's witty and it's charming. There aren't enough good words about this book, so if you have any sort of interest in American history or the man himself, then I can safely say that this is a great place to start.
Ron Chernow has become "the" biographer of reference of the XIX century America. One can read his biographies of Washington, Hamilton, Grant, Rockefeller and Morgan as the great fresco of the great men that (almost) made America. Each volume has about 1,000 pages, and keeping the attention of the contemporary reader for that long is no easy feat. Yet Chernow achieves it and with top marks. All the five books mentioned above are very good, better perhaps those dealing with politics (Washington, Hamilton, Grant) rather than with finance (the other two). The author seems somehow more comfortable dealing with the matters of the White House and the Capitol than with Wall Street. This one tome, on the First President of the USA, is one of the best. Partially because its subject is the more elusive and the book ends up being very rewarding. The author takes its subject and goes through the second part of the XVIII century, including obviously the independence war, with a master hand. Here are well told the clashes with the native Indians, the wars with the French and, obviously, the great battles (and river crossing) of a great soldier, but also the well explained the tensions between Britain and the colonies and the ultimate reasons for the independence. There are also very good details that help to understand the man, such as his care with the clothes he wore and his health problems (he had only one tooth left when he became President). The only blemish of this superb tome could be, as with the Grant biography, that the author sides way too much with its subject, and the result at some points is an almost saintly portrait. It reads sometimes as a pamphlet. Even the fact that Washington owned and trade with slaves is sanitized and presented to the modern reader to the point almost of embarrassment: "Washington had slaves, but he allowed them to go to the theatre on Sundays, and paid for the tickets". Yet on and all, a very good book that shows well a great man in his times.
OUTSTANDING. I can't think how the story of GW could be told better. I did worry for a lot of the book that Chernow wasn't critical enough of GW's vacillating opinions on slavery, but ultimately this is understandable given what GW finally did by emancipating those he owned in his will. A brilliant book, and I can see why it won the Pulitzer prize.
Livro maravilhoso. Ainda assim, é muito longo mesmo e pode ser enfadonho para quem não se interessa muito pelo assunto. A história é sempre emocionante/instigante, pois George Washington teve uma vida marcada, primeiramente, pela Guerra de Independência e depois pela presidência, episódios nos quais foi protagonista. É uma importante lição para vida/carreira, ver como ele resolvia os problemas internos e externos do exército e da presidência. Além disso, o autor (grande biógrafo e escritor) traz um histórico bastante abrangente da vida de Washington, tratando também do período inicial (pouco conhecido), em que o general atuou como Frontiersman, trabalhando em expansões de terras para o Oeste. Enfim, uma leitura muito gratificante e que avança com facilidade, pois não é cansativa, mas que pode não ser ideal para quem tem pouco tempo ou disposição para ler.
This is not the first work I've read by Ron Chernow (I highly recommend his book on Alexander Hamilton). The work is thorough without being turgid, and moves along quite nicely. I have very few criticisms. There is some inevitable speculation about Washington's motives and the author tends to explain by describing (not a direct quote, but in the vein "He did not say a lot because he was a quiet man"). This is a minor (though repetitive) flaw in a book that otherwise does as good a job as any I have read in not only explaining the subject's actions, but the times in which he operated.