Martha Washington: An American Life
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Martha Washington: An American Life

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  412 ratings  ·  84 reviews
With this revelatory and painstakingly researched book, Martha Washington, the invisible woman of American history, at last gets the biography she deserves. In place of the domestic frump of popular imagination, Patricia Brady resurrects the wealthy, attractive, and vivacious young widow who captivated the youthful George Washington. Here are the able landowner, the indomi...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Susan
I have a habit of visiting a place, becoming fascinated, and then wanting to read about that place or the people associated with it. This year, when I knew I'd be visiting Mount Vernon, I got smart and decided to read about Martha Washington before I went.

I like the cover of "Martha Washington: An American Life" - it's a nice contrast to our usual image of Martha as the kindly, plump, white-haired old first first lady. What we know about her has been greatly hampered by the fact that, after Geor...more
Shaun
For many, Martha Washington, referred to as Patsy by those close to her, exists as little more than an afterthought, a character significantly overshadowed by a husband whose legacy has reached mythic status in American culture.

Yet Patsy epitomized the woman behind the man, a woman George deeply loved and whose constant support and affection made his heroism and dedication to his country a possibility.

If "Martha Washington: An American Life" does anything, it humanizes George Washington, which...more
Lindsay (Everyday Is An Adventure)
This is a great biographical piece on the life on a historical figure that doesn't always get the deserved recognition because of her marriage to perhaps the most well-known man in our nation's history. This is a great look at her life, her trials and tribulations, and her marriage to George Washington and it follows her from her early years in New Kent, Virginia through the American Revolution, presidential years in New York, to her ultimate death at Mount Vernon.

My Thoughts:

I really liked this...more
Sara
I'm stashing this book on my "unfinished" shelf for now. It's really rather enjoyable, fleshed out with lots of anecdotes and period cultural stuff (colonial home decor, how they set their tables, how their children were schooled, etc.), and I can't say anything actually bad about it. I am, however, not one for elite history. Granted this is an elite woman's history, so it's not the same old Revolutionary period spiel - the author is rooted in a social historical methodology that tends to look f...more
Jerry Landry
Wow -- Brady does a great job in bringing Martha Washington to life in this biography, not an easy task considering that Martha burnt her and George's correspondence before her death. I had read a review that Brady's biography was more about George than Martha, but after finishing it, I beg to differ. While George does figure prominently in the text, I argue that it wouldn't be true to form if he didn't in terms of what we can surmise about their relationship. They were partners in a way that wa...more
Karen
Aug 19, 2009 Karen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Karen by: I located this edition in a book store in Virginia
Martha Washington as the first 1st Lady of our nation set the standard for all others to be judged. This story gave a good account of daily life at the time as well as her influence on the nation as a whole. Life was most difficult in Washington's time ... illness, early deaths, difficult travel. Martha Washington was a strong, devoted wife with a desire to always be near her husband when at many times it would have been easier to stay at their home in Mount Vernon. I read the John Adams book ea...more
Melissa
This was a great read! I fell in love with Martha and George when I vistited Mt. Vernon, VA and viewing their home made me want to know about both of them. This book really gives a historical picture of the devotion she had for George and how she was the behind the scenes supportive spouse that helped encourage not just him but the troops. She would travel my coach just to be with him, even in the winter, when he was away at war. I am not one who always finishes books that can become boring and...more
Karen
Nice account of life of our first First Lady. Takes a genealogist to appreciate early chapters as the author details Martha's ancestors. (And I did - amateur that I am!) I liked details about everyday objects and events as well as historical happenings. Too bad that in a desire for privacy, Martha burned all her letters. We could get closer to her actual feelings if they were available. Facts chosen by the author do a good job with suppositions made from other primary documents. Author's admirat...more
Sue
Well researched and well written bio of Martha Washington (and by default, we read a lot about George also). Martha Dandridge Custis Washington burned all of her correspondence between her husband and herself so there is very little primary information available. But Patricia Brady has found letters and local documents from Mrs. Washington's contemporaries to portray our first First Lady.

I enjoyed reading about her life, chapter by chapter. It was easy to put down and take up again, rejoining M...more
Rachel
I had to undergo some medical testing with my sons and this book was just absolutely fascinating. I read it in a day and it changed my perspective on the First Lady of the First President. I absolutely love this book and love how detailed the lifestyle of Martha in those days. I orginally thought she was a fussy old lady but after reading this book, I no longer think that. If I have to have a favorite figure in the past (to add to my already long list) that I would love to visit, it would be her...more
Carol
Enjoyable read on Martha and her relationship with George, courtship, marriage, the births and deaths of her children from her first marriage, living with George as requested during the Revolution and much more. There is no doubt that they both loved each other deeply and were totally committed to each other.
Danny
A friend at work lent me this book. It was a fast read about someone I knew nothing about. The most fascinating thing was all the effort the author had to go to in her research. Martha Washington burned all her correspondence before her death. Quite a mystery.
Courtney
I think I learned more about Martha from Chernow's biography on George Washington than I did from reading this book. I found this book easier to read, but it seemed like there was no meat to it. I'm not sure what I mean by meat. I'm not good at rating historical biographies. I did not like Chernow's work, but it turns out that, by comparison, it was pretty good. I think I would be less annoyed if the Epilogue was called something other than "The Real Martha Washington." It made me wonder, "What...more
Whitney Hassell
What a fabulous biography of an American icon, made particularly fascinating because the subject is so otherwise unknown. I learned a great deal about Martha, her life, her relationships, and her personality. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Martha, George, women in the 18th century, or the time period itself. Patricia Brady wonderfully and tightly wove together large and small events, both political and personal, to create a cohesive and accurate life story of...more
Suzanne
“It was quite a love story, but a lasting one, not one of those tempestuous romances that blaze up suddenly and just as quickly turn to ashes. Both Martha and George had been in love with others, but once they married in their late twenties, their relationship became a joyful duet that lasted more than four decades.”

As the most famous American and possibly the greatest hero our country has ever known, George Washington has been much studied and written about. But to truly understand this man,...more
Cami
My mother loves Martha Washington and I have been enjoying biographies lately, so I picked this one up. Unfortunately, I found that the book reads more like a detailed (and somewhat soporific) textbook about that time period that happens to feature Martha Washington than an actual biography. But, as the author points out in the Epilogue, those details are necessary to get a good picture of someone that lived in a former century where life was completely different from today. Overall, I did enjoy...more
Bridget
I am glad I read this book right after the one by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, because it dealt with a particular woman's life during part of the same time frame, but in another geographic area as well as in a different economic class. Plus, it was just a good book!

I really didn't know much about Martha Washington before I read this. I've visited Mount Vernon a few times, and so I knew some basics, but nothing really substantive. As Brady mentions, after George Washington's death, Martha burned their...more
Jill
I found this book a fascinating read. With no diary or personal letters to go by the author needed to piece together a lot of facts but I found the information quite interesting. Martha was an intelligent, strong woman who did not just do what she was told in a time period where woman were often seen as possessions. Just the juxtaposition of our time to hers made me grateful to be born in this century.
Janet
Jan 02, 2010 Janet rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: females interested in US history
Recommended to Janet by: no one - found it at 1/2 price books
I gave this book 3 of 5 stars based soley on the author's sources. It is not as document-based as I would have liked. The author freely notes as her #1 challenge was to find good written historial notes of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington due to the fact that Martha herself burned most of the letters between her and George. Therein we lost much of her own voice. However, the author was able to discover much through other historical sources. And indeed I offer up 5 stars for the joy of reading...more
Katie
I don't remember where I found this book, but really enjoyed it and am so glad that I read it. It's a great biography of Martha Custis Washington. I admit I didn't remember much about her and her life and was completely enthralled by how much the author found out about her.

Unfortunately for us Mrs. Washington burned almost all of her letters that she and and George wrote to each other. So their relationship was not widely known. But by getting other letters and correspondence from people (friend...more
Randan
This is a great portrait of Martha Washington and provides substantive insight into the daily lives of women during this time. While it's frustrating that prior to her death she burned nearly all of her correspondence with her husband, readers are able to form a better understanding of the important role she played in her husband's success through the context of others' letters and historical events. One major critique of the book is the lack of details regarding the setting, most specifically,...more
Ashley
This is a short but well-constructed bio. I liked the opening insight into Virginian plantation society and Martha's top-rate eligibility as a wealthy widow before she married George Washington. She seemed like a very domestic and family-oriented woman who was uncomfortable with war and political life, but she also seemed very supportive of her husband and passionately patriotic. The book definitely lacked feelings and perspective in Martha's own words, but that's because she burned so much of h...more
Sue
I love biographies of First Ladies, and it's hard to find one on Martha Washington. There's not a lot of information out there about the woman.

I wasn't impressed with this book as far as biographies go. Like I said, I wasn't expecting a ton of information, but I like biographies that are engaging and read like a novel, not a school history book. This one read more like the history book. I came away learning nothing new about Martha.

At 236 pages, it was one of the shortest biographies I've read...more
Kimberly
Loved learning about her and respect her immensely. I read this in preparation for a trip to Mount Vernon which made my visit that much more special and meaningful.
Michael
Okay so this didn't have any new information for me. The worst part is that it was written on a middle school level. Not a book I would recommend.
Geneil
Aug 05, 2011 Geneil rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
Excellent, excellent book! I really enjoyed the author's writing style, although I was disappointed with some of her worldview assumptions--things she felt a need to explain to herself and her readers that were obvious to me--things that Martha and I (and anyone else with "old-fashioned" morals or a family-centric life) had in common, I guess.

I loved this line: "She wasn't fearless, but she was brave enough to do things anyway."

I'll probably buy this one sometime.
Elizabeth
I love historical novels. Although I do prefer fiction based on historical event or figures I found this book fascinating. Not much is known about Martha Washingtons life and I found it inspiring to read about the collective events and facts that the aurthor was able to uncover. She wove the fact and events together so even though the book is clearly a historical biography it read more like a novel. Martha Washington was a revolutionary inspiring woman!
Evvie Williams
The book provides wonderful insights into the many losses and hardship Martha Washington endured. She set the standard for all First Ladies to ascribe to achieve. Because Martha destroyed their correspondence, the intimate feelings the first couple had for each other remains open to speculation . Nevertheless the descriptions of life during the colonial period makes it well worth the read. I highly recommend a trip to Mt Vernon as a follow up.
Mackay
I didn't find this as illuminating as I'd have liked. Yes, the author was working with severe handicaps (Martha burnt all her letters to George, and all but one of his to her, and women weren't rated worth much back during the so-called Enlightenment), but still... I suppose I shall have to continue believing that Martha Washington was a woman of substance, cleverness, and great worth. Washington loved her, after all.
Jewels
It is a bit frustrating knowing that Martha Washington destroyed all of the private correspondence between her and her husband, but I can understand wanting to protect privacy. That being said, this book was more or less based on others' views and accounts which the author was very resourceful in finding. It only gives a tantalizing glimpse however, and more than that, I think we will never see.
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