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Washington: A Life

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  19,266 ratings  ·  924 reviews
In Washington: A Life biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth & depth matched by no other one-volume life, this crisply paced narrative carries readers thru his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French & Indian War, his creation of Mt Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his ...more
Hardcover, 927 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Penguin Press (NYC et al.) (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Steve Sckenda
Above all the man had character. At the center of his character was restraint and self-command. Washington best exhibited his character when he surrendered command of the Continental Army and returned to his farm rather than using the army to establish himself as dictator. He exhibited restraint again when he voluntarily surrendered the presidency.

Washington’s restraint manifested itself as personal reserve that governed his anger and his appetites. Chernow argues that Washington was not the col
I generally don't like biographies, but, knowing little of Washington save for his French and Indian War and Revolutionary War exploits, and not having heard anything bad about Chernow's biography, I figured I might as well learn something.

Why should you read this book when you think that you know all you need to about George Washington? I think that you should because this book is wonderful, both in the writing and in the level of detail. Chernow is a wonderful writer. As with his other biograp
I think it has something to do with his portraits.

George Washington is our most important president (for good or bad he shaped the office into what it is today), he is our most distant president, and he is our most inscrutable president (of the presidents we care about, of course; Benjamin Harrison is also a tad inscrutable, as if anyone cares).

To many of his contemporaries, Washington was a demigod. As the leader of the Continental Army, he’d done the impossible in fighting off the British Em
This was the fourth (and thickest) book I've read about George Washington, and the third book I've read by Chernow (I previously read his Rockefeller and Hamilton books) so I knew what to expect going in. It's slow moving at times and it took me a little while to get traction, but I found that the pace picked up around the time that the Revolution got underway. Very well researched, and a lot of depth. Chernow covers Washington the farmer, the soldier, the general, the President, and the patriar ...more
Update: I just couldn't leave this review as it was, given Winona Ryder's amazing “Drunk History” portrayal of Benedict Arnold's wife, Peggy Shippen.

This book was everything that I didn't know that I didn't know about George Washington (you know, like in that punnet square of things you know you know etc.). Prior to reading this, I kind of assumed that I was knowledgeable about GW, I guess just through osmosis (my walk to work literally follows the Freedom Trail).

Turns out that, despite c
I have been a political junkie for most of my life. I realized, however, that outside of the presidents in my lifetime, I have little or no knowledge of the earlier presidents. My goal is to read a biography of every president (if possible). I started with this one.. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It is a tome.. over 800 pages but I am so happy I stuck with it.Outside of the folklore, I realized I knew nothing of the person who was George Washington. This book changed that for me. Chernow's ...more
May 02, 2013 Chrissie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
From Pulitzer-prize winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington:

“In Washington: A Life” celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding
After reading a fictional series set throughout the U.S. War of Independence, I became highly curious about some of its key actors. The first such individual is George Washington, known as the general who led the troops to victory and became the Republic's first president. However, as Ron Chernow seeks to illustrate in his tome, little is actually known about Washington beyond his general persona. Chernow posits that many short and superficial biographies have been written, which offer only a sh ...more
Andy Miller
This great biography of George Washington deserves its critical and popular praise. At the end I felt that I knew both the man and the country he helped create.

Chernow does a better job than any other book I've read in depicting Washington's courage during battles and how his presence and leadership stopped many American retreats and inspired many American advances during key moments in the Revolutionary War. However, this is not a fawning biography, Chernow discusses strategic mistakes by Washi
Shellys♥ Journal
This is the story of George Washington's life - from the cradle to the grave, his family, his country, his story. Chernow has created a passionate volume of the personage that was Washington.

First of all, I give it 4.5 stars, not a perfect 5 as I think the one downfall to this story is that it is not something that every American will read (and in this day and age, we all need to read this story) - full of intellectual vocabulary (thank goodness for reading the ebook version), and the relative
This is book six (I think) in my "Joe reads at least one book about every President" challenge. This one was a beast at 928 pages but well worth it. What I knew about George Washington before this book you could fit in a thimble. I only knew all the stuff they teach to little kids: He couldn't tell a lie, chopped down a cherry tree, threw something across a river at some point (I guess), wooden teeth and something about Valley Forge. That, and everything Dan Brown "taught" me in "The Lost Symbol ...more
Aug 24, 2011 Ronald rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my daughters
Recommended to Ronald by: I heard and interview
I am up to the point of Washington's first Presidency. I am especially enjoying the way Chernow has presented the very human side of GW and the people with whom he associated. Makes one realize that human nature has not changed over generations. Too bad we do not have leaders such as GW today. I doubt that he would have survived the brutal political process that modern day Presidents must run the gauntlet. I sense that GW suffered in his presidential role. I believe that he may have been introve ...more
Russell Stoewe
With a military history minor and plans for a masters degree arond the corner, I devote an inordinate amount of my time to reading history books and biographies. Chernow's take on Alexander Hamilton has been on my 'to read' list for some time, but he released this Washington bio before I could get to Hamilton.

And, I had to grab the George Washington piece first. As an avid fan of the legendary American figure, I absorb any and all information on him as I can. And, Chernow does a fantastic job de
Curtis Haderlie
This reading has enabled me to become more intimately acquainted with this larger-than-life hero of mine. I am able to more fully appreciate the drudgery of war that Washington endured over the months and years. His ability to deal with the paradox of his situation is what in my mind makes him the true hero. It becomes clear that he was conforming to a divinely appointed roll. As he himself believed, providence worked in his and the new counties behalf.

As the new government works out the details

“Washington: A Life” is acclaimed author and historian Ron Chernow’s most recent book, for which he received a 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He has also written biographies on John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton and is particularly well-known for his inaugural book “The House of Morgan.”

This is the longest single-volume biography on Washington in my library and is the second best-read among major available titles. Because this biography clocks in at three ti
BJ Schall
I had a hard time rating this book. One one hand, the detail put into researching and documenting Washington's life is incredible. Miniscule details about his social and political life really bring out the full picture of just who Washington was. Essentially this book will give you a great look into how Washington lived his life.

However, I was slightly disappointed in Chernow's presentation of Washington throughout the book. The author's glowing admiration for Washington's character put a distin
This book is full of such detail that I do not sure how to start. It covers all details known of George Washington’s life. Although he was considered one of Virginia’s wealthiest farmers, he always struggled to make money and particularly struggled when he left Mount Vernon to lead the war against England. The troubles he faced leading the continental army are thoroughly described. To keep my review of this fantastic book short I am going to lay out some of his great achievements first.
After bei
Washington: A Life deserves kudos for its painstaking use of primary source material to re-construct the world in which George Washington lived, but it does not rise to the level of my favorite historical biographies because it too often eschews analysis (save for the occasional paragraph or two at the end of certain chapters).

Ron Chernow appears to be in the "pure" historical biographer camp, in that he presents events + context, and leaves most of the critical thinking to the reader. While th
Russell Reidelberger
I have a life long goal of reading a biography about every president of the United States. I've read 1776 and Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution as a warm up. I originally started reading His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis. I picked it because it was almost 500 pages shorter than Chernow's version, but after the first section, I bought this one. Ellis' version doesn't go into the details that this one does. If you want to read a comprehensive account of Geo ...more
Hallelujah! Finally finished it. I'll give it 9.5/10. I thoroughly recommend it. It seems like a very unbiased and non-hagiographic portrayal of a complicated man who did great things for our country. Very readable, if long. I kind of read it in two parts with several months break in between.
The life of George Washington is not the stoic, myth-laden journey most people have fixed in their minds. As revealed in Ron Chernow’s excellent biography, the stoic man in paintings hid an emotional complex man who went from being a loyal British subject for the first two-thirds of his life to the individual who brought a new nation into being over nearly a quarter century.

Chernow beings by putting Washington not only into the context of his times, colonial Virginia, but also into the family dy
Robert Laird
This biography of George Washington was detailed and fascinating. The author took great pains to be truthful and honest in his descriptions, and kept a very even hand when describing his faults as well as his better nature. Through his eyes, you get to see George Washington as a person, not as a legend. Stated in the book, you can know the General better than any of his contemporaries ever did, as the author had a wealth of resources to pull from. Despite being a very lengthy book, it's amazing ...more
Chad Sayban
The name George Washington conjures up many images for Americans – heroic general, father of the nation, impeccable honesty, stoic demeanor, first president. However, there was much more to this complicated man. He was also a land speculator, elegant dancer, slaveholder, fiery taskmaster and someone who would hold a grudge to his grave. Washington was a far more complex man than what you learned in school…and no, he never had wooden teeth!

“By the time of his death, Washington had poured his last
Since I began this book, and it took me a few weeks to read, I have talked about it countless times to anyone who will listen. It was extremely well-written and read like a story, almost historical fiction. Chernow incorporates a huge amount of primary texts, both from Washington, who was a prolific letter writer, and from his contemporaries - friends and random admirers and critics. He begins the book with a prologue about Gilbert Stuart's very staid portrait of Washington, about how Americans ...more
James Murphy
Ron Chernow writes in his "Prelude" that his aim with this fresh biography of Washington is to present him so rounded that he'll come alive to the reader. Unquestionably he's done that with a life so filled with detail that we know not only how he dressed but why he dressed that way, what his mannerisms were, what he ate, what his ailments were, and how he arranged his working day. Washington the man truly becomes real in these pages. Chernow's mastery of the material also includes a comprehensi ...more
Feb 28, 2012 K rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: biography
I started reading this large book (817 pages not including notes, bibliography and index) in June and I came to the part about the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July holiday. And I am glad I did – by following George Washington’s life this book was tremendously informative on much of our country’s early history!

I know, we all learned about Washington in grade school – how honest he was (the old Cherry Tree episode) and all about his false teeth made of wood. How he was the general in
Sean Gill
Among the strengths of this book: it is well-researched and very insightful. Washington was a man of legend, even myth, even in his own time, but the author is very good at presenting Washington as an actual human being. I found the formative years of Washington's life to be more interesting than even the Revolutionary War. The war period is still fascinating, but at times the author could have helped himself by providing an overview of the war. The camera is narrowly focused on Washington and i ...more
Eric Paulsen
Whew! I am finished! After a grueling 43 days of reading about the remarkable life of George Washington, I am ready to embark on the next stage of my project, John Adams. The remarkable writing style of David McCullough will surely make Adams a bit easier to digest, but I am by no means not excited to read about our second president. Today, I am taking a break, and hoping to start tackling Adams in the next day or two. I came across an amazing affirmation a few days ago. During a lunchtime conve ...more
Obviously this is a book about George Washington and it's a good one, but it is so much more than that. Here's a chance to see America at a critical time in our history from roughly 1750 to 1800 through the eyes of a man at the center of it all. As a member of the Virginia aristocracy, Washington gradually came to appreciate the northern, free state perspective coming out of his Revolutionary War experience and this ability to appreciate the entire country became a defining characteristic. Of pa ...more
Jason Russell
A great biography is a precious find, and this biography is one of the best I have read. When this volume first appeared about two years ago, I was eager to add it to my library. At the same time, however, I wondered how much I would enjoy it and it was on my shelf for 21 months before I cracked the cover.

A few years ago, I got a biography of Babe Ruth. Besides biographies of historical figures, I like bios on baseball players. One of the best was one on Ted Williams, and this Ruth bio was from
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Ron Chernow was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating with honors from Yale College and Cambridge University with degrees in English Literature, he began a prolific career as a freelance journalist. Between 1973 and 1982, Chernow published over sixty articles in national publications, including numerous cover stories. In the mid-80s Chernow went to work at the Twentieth Century Fund ...more
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“Many mickles make a muckle.” 5 likes
“In his self-serving view of events, Lee believed that he had performed a prodigious feat, rescuing his overmatched army from danger and organizing an orderly retreat. "'The American troops would not stand the British bayonets," he insisted to Washington. "You damned poltroon," Washington rejoined, "you never tried them!" Always reluctant to resort to profanities, the chaste Washington cursed at Lee "till the leaves shook on the tree," recalled General Scott. "Charming! Delightful! Never have I enjoyed such swearing before or since.” 1 likes
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