Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Report: Washington: A Life

Washington: A LifeWashington: A Life by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chernow's founding fathers biographies are more enlightening than any docuseries or history course could possibly be. Breathing life into historical figures that might otherwise seem stale and distant -- as foreboding and unsympathetic as marble busts -- he shapes a figure of Washington as a man with resentments, foibles and idiosyncracies rather than the infallible icon that's on your dollar bill.

Chernow probes into Washington's insecurities about his lack of college education, his passion for dancing, his questionable business practices, his plague of dental issues (guy only kept one of his original teeth!), his obsession with agricultural science, his deep, near-adulterous flirtations with a couple of female friends and his complicated relationship with slavery. It's on the latter point that Washington hits the hardest, exposing him as a man willing to compromise his abolitionist morals to not only appease Southerners during the Union's unstable early days, but to prop up his bottom line.

Another theme that emerges is Washington's Kryptonian-like invulnerability -- whether due to a combination of chance and confidence or by simple divine intervention -- that kept alive and able during brushes with death during the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars.

Chernow's research digests dozens of previous, no doubt less readable Washington biographies into a comprehensive equation that helps you make sense of the icon as a man rather than a Mount Rushmore carving.

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