Review of Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life

Jill Lepore is a widely recognized and well-respected historian of eighteenth-century America. I don’t usually venture this far back into the Early Republic, but her review might convince me to read Chernow’s biography of Washington.

Every generation must have its Washington; ours is fated to choose among dozens. Ronald Reagan, in his first Inaugural Address, looked at the obelisk across the Mall and spoke about “the monument to a monumental man.” Since 1990, major American publishing houses have brought out no fewer than eighteen Washington biographies, a couple of them very fine, to say nothing of the slew of boutique-y books about the man’s military career, his moral fortitude, his friendship with Lafayette, his faith in God, his betrayal by Benedict Arnold, his “secret navy,” his inspiring words, his leadership skills, his business tips, his kindness to General William Howe’s dog, and his journey home to Mount Vernon for Christmas in 1783. George, a magazine of celebrity and politics featuring on its cover stars dressed up as Washington, was launched in 1995. By now, just about every Presidential historian and potboiler-maker in the business has churned out a biography of Washington. And still they keep coming. At nine hundred and twenty-eight pages, Chernow’s is the longest single-volume biography of Washington ever published.
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