Feeling Presidential

Title: Washington: A Life
Author: Ron Chernow
Publisher: Penguin Press
904 pages
ISBN: 978-1594202667
Source: Publicist
Grade: B+

If A Reader's Respite has been a little quiet in the blogosphere lately, we blame it entirely on renowned biographer Ron Chernow.  The wretched man has gone an written another epic-sized biography, this time covering the life of George Washington.

Now you might think that at 904 pages, Washington: A Life caused A Reader's Respite to slip into a coma.  But it didn't and that is why we call Ron Chernow a wretched man.....the book was fascinating.  Long, to be sure, but utterly fascinating.  Chernow didn't content himself with regurgitating the same old biographical information here.  Instead, he went after new information and insights contained in a slew of newly released letters and journals written by the Old Man himself.

Still, in the hands of any other biographer the information might be coma-inducing.  Thank the book-gods that Chernow is never boring.  His respect for America's first President is evident throughout the book, but he doesn't hesitate to reveal Washington's innate flaws:  the man was petulant, ambitious and arrogant to the extreme with an inferiority complex borne out of his Colonist background.

We think you can somewhat see Washington's lazy eye in this portrait

In other words, he may have turned out to be an idolized figure of American history, but he wasn't a likable man.  Chernow paints a portrait of a brash young man who matured into an astute military leader...one that was needed for America to emerge as a country.  In many ways, this portrait of Washington is a portrait of who we are as a nation today (that petulant, ambitious and arrogant thing again).

Don't be intimidated by the books length and scholarly presentation.  You do not have to ensconce yourself in a leather chair by the fire, wearing a worn tweed jacket and smoking a pipe to get the most from this biography.  Like all of Chernow's remarkable biographies, it's accessible and highly readable for anyone who has ever wondered about our first President.  (No, he didn't cut down a cherry tree.  Yes, he did have false teeth, but they were ivory, not wood.)


And if you've never heard of the U.S. Presidents Reading Project, go check it out.  It's a perpetual reading project challenging bibliophiles and history buffs to read one book about each of our U.S. Presidents.  Washington: A Life happens to be a perfect way to start.


  1. Rhapsody Jill read this recently too I think. My first reaction is fear and some boredom. 900 pages? Ugh. But I trust the two of you, and I know from experience that "history" doesn't have to be a bad thing, despite my baggage from high school. So no cherry trees, huh? Someone lied!

  2. 904 pages? Aiyee, I'd never make it. A novel yes, a bio no.

    I'm assuming those hooky things on the teeth are removed when put in one's mouth. I sure do hope so.

  3. I just cringed when I read how painful the teeth and wire thingy was to wear. And that he had to use laudanum. Actually we should have mentioned that. Maybe we can work up a post on Washington And His Bong: Was The Father of Our Country High as Franklin's Kite?

  4. Despite the length, I would love to read this one.


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