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Washington: A Life

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  22,022 Ratings  ·  1,019 Reviews
From National Book Award 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 precoci
ebook, 928 pages
Published October 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published 2010)
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Oct 30, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2011 Darlene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it  ·  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
Aug 18, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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
Mar 05, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened-to
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
Andy Miller
Nov 24, 2012 Andy Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 24, 2011 Ronald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 19, 2012 Russell Stoewe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 09, 2011 Curtis Haderlie rated it really liked it
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
Jul 14, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“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
Colin McEvoy
I was excited to read "Washington: A Life" after thoroughly enjoying Ron Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton," and although I enjoyed that book slightly more, this one certainly did not disappoint. Chernow is an exceptional biographer, with a fastidious attention to detail and an engaging writing style that leaves you feeling as if you've really spent time with and gotten to know his subjects, which is the most you can possibly hope for from a biography.

I enjoyed "Hamilton" more than "Washington" less
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
May 11, 2015 Arminius rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents
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
Jun 29, 2013 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Dec 22, 2012 Merilee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Christopher Richardson
Nathaniel Hawthorne said that George Washington “had no nakedness, but was born with his clothes on and his hair powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world.” Hawthorne said this as a joke, but for most Americans, the vision of an austere, distant, and infallible Washington rings true. Somewhere over time, the real George Washington was lost and the image from Gilbert Stuart’s portraits and on our dollar bills took hold. Ron Chernow attempts to bring Washington back in ...more
Feb 22, 2016 Bruce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: idealists, pragmatists, and other political animals
By George, today is Washington's Birthday! Last summer I read Chernow's brilliant, page-turning, definitive take on Alexander Hamilton. Loved it. So much so, that when I discovered the author had gone from covering Hamilton to a full-fledged, contemporary consideration of Hamilton's principal mentor, I leapt to remove this book from the shelves. It's very good and highly illuminating if not quite as exciting as the earlier biography, but I think that reflects more on the men and their times than ...more
Apr 12, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2015-reads
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
Aug 11, 2012 Robert Laird rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 07, 2015 Chad Sayban rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 24, 2011 Courtney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 27, 2013 James Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 12, 2012 Eric Paulsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
More about Ron Chernow...

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“Many mickles make a muckle.” 6 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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