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Washington: A Life

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  13,726 ratings  ·  772 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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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
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
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
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 comm
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
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
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
Aug 24, 2011 Ronald rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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

“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
Goodreads reveals that there are far more books about George Washington than any person could ever be expected to read in a lifetime, but I doubt there are any as exhaustively researched and as eloquently executed as this book by historian Ron Chernow. The audiobook version required over 40 hours of audio. 40 hours!!

Chernow elucidates broad themes about Washington's character and significance:
Washington spent an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about what people thought about him wh
Oct 28, 2013 Lori rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs

An excellent bio, superbly researched and very well told. A magnificent documentation of the character and the times of "the Father of our Country." If you are looking for a complete definitive work, look no further. For the slightly curious, the 900 pages here, though fascinating and expertly told may be a bit much but if you enjoy history and this time period, this won't disappoint.
A solid 4.5 star read for me. I decided to round up because even though I don't consider this "clutch worthy," a
Even if you've read all the Washington books, you'll still get some great, new information. I chuckled to learn that he would count the number of women at events and log it into his diary. I previously knew of his personal sacrifices to his country and how he longed to be settled in Mt. Vernon with Martha but did not know of his pecuniary situation. By then end, I came away with a new impression to add to that of hero and father of the country, pity. He was a tired man who felt he missed out on ...more
Bryn Dunham
Simply an amazing biography of George Washington! Comparable to James Flexner's bio, this is far more detailed in the fact that Chernow not so much breaks down the mythical ediface of Washington but explains him in such detail that the reader can actually get a sense of who he really was. Chernow digs deep into Washington's mind by citing the facts and primary sources that make him far more human than mythical. Though critcal of Washington on many issues, he is fair in reavealing that GW was dri ...more
Ben Galbraith
I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the book, especially the revolutionary war bits, but as the book went on, and on, and on, my enjoyment waned. Still, I feel I learned a few useful things, such as the sour relationship between Jefferson, Adams, and Washington as time went on, and his post-farewell change of attitude towards party--or at least, his embracing of the Federalist Party as a matter of practical opposition to the Republican party's ideals.

I was also a touch surprised to learn that
I learned so much about George Washington - the man, the military leader, the plantation owner, the land surveyor, the friend, the husband, the step-father, the son, the president, the mason, non-partisan politician. This biography was very long, but full of interesting information gathered from Washington's letters, records and those who were close to him. I feel like I have a much better understanding of this man and I've come to the conclusion that Washington was an introvert like me. I recom ...more
Wow! I am so proud of myself for tackling this book. I had to skim a bit at the end because of the endless political non-intrigue though I think it is an probably one of the best biographies out there. The writing seem to carry over as written from the time period or thereabouts which I think brought authenticity to the subject matter and biography. After this, I think I'll pick and choose more carefully being that I detest politics! I managed to survive and still rate it highly.
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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...
Alexander Hamilton Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family The Death of the Banker: The Decline and Fall of the Great Financial Dynasties and the Triumph of the Small Investor

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“Many mickles make a muckle.” 4 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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