The first half of the story is really, really good, but the second half doesn't quite ring true.
Nevertheless, the book isn't bad. I think it is improThe first half of the story is really, really good, but the second half doesn't quite ring true.
Nevertheless, the book isn't bad. I think it is improved by listening to rather than reading it. The narration by Anna Fields improves the book. The lines themselves are worth spending time on. Fields reads these lines with strength, clearly and strongly and slowly. You have time to think about what is being said. Secondly, through the narration the different characters' personalities come through distinctly; you comprehend from the voices used as you hear the different characters speak, who they are. You laugh even when some of the things stated are so ridiculously naive and wrong - because you so completely comprehend the character's personality. Through the expert narration you both pay attention to the lines and recognize the different personalities of the characters.
Maybe I should mention - this book is told to us by Lidie herself, so it has first person narration.
I have yet to even discuss the topic that is so worth our attention! The book is about the civil war in Kansas during 1855 through 1856, before the REAL American Civil War from 1861-1865, just a few years later. What you think about is civil wars in general and slavery. Nothing is cut and dry; nothing is simple. If you prohibit slavery, what then? You free the slaves, what then? Do you leave them to fend for themselves? What I really liked about this book is that different sides of each question are looked at closely, so you see the pros and cons, the arguments thrown back and forth by both sides. The civil war in Kansas was not only a matter of its being a slave state or a "Free-State" prohibiting slavery; it also concerned when and how and if it should become part of the United States of America. First it was only a Territory, nicknamed K.T., the Kansas Territory! I knew very little about the specifics of this earlier war. Even if you have read about the Civil War per se, this book has a different angle, i.e. the events as they played out in Lawrence, Kansas, and neighboring Missouri a few years earlier. You learn about these events through the life of a strong pioneer woman who lived through it. Yes, she is imaginary, but it doesn't feel that way. She tells you of her own experiences, what she thought and felt. One thing happens half way through the book. As I stated earlier, this didn't ring true for me. (view spoiler)[ She cuts off her hair, disguises herself as a boy and runs off to Missouri to catch those who had killed her beloved horse and murdered her husband! (hide spoiler)] But the ending is good. It is not sugar-coated. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Although I gave the author's The Hard Blue Sky five stars and her Pulitzer Prize winner The Keepers of the House four stars, this one disappointed me. My reaction is simply that the book was just OK, thus only two stars. Almost the whole first half is a review of numerous characters (several generations of families that really are not the main focus of the book) and historical events (Civil War, Reconstruction, WW1 and the Depression). Lead events are simply dropped, never to be mentioned again. It covers too much and thus lacks depth. We are told rather than shown. This portion has little dialog.
The latter half is about the daughter of one of the original "roadwalkers" introduced at the very beginning. As explained below, "roadwalkers" is the term used for the homeless wandering the South during the Great Depression. This portion about the daughter focuses upon being African American in the South, about being a teenager, about being "the girl who integrated" her school. There are some great lines in this section. It is a coming of age story AND focuses on one woman's path toward feeling comfortable with her black identity. BUT, it covers her entire life up to modern times....
This is not a long book. If you add two and two together it is obvious that you cannot in a short novel also achieve depth. A few sections zoom in on a short time period, and here the writing is at its best. I loved her time as a young adult. What sass! Some of her remarks about her parents are priceless. The dialogs are great too. BUT this section ends too, and falls back on breezing over many topics. It covers modern liberal views on drugs and sexuality. It covers modern views on black identity and equality of the sexes. Black identity is covered with deep perception...in parts.
The author, when she focuses on smaller events, really has a wonderful way with words! She describes clothes, gosh they are gorgeous. She conjures them in front of your eyes. She describes traditional Southern Christmas traditions, so you really wish you could be there too. The mother is a talented artist, and the author paints her creations with words. Beautiful! And dialogs are fantastic. Also, the coming of age section shows real insight and understanding of what kids go through.
I really enjoyed the narration by Karen Chilton. The smart aleck teenager and then the suave adult she later becomes are perfectly executed. The final section is told from the first person point of view; the words and the intonation are perfectly matched.
In one sentence, the book tries to cover too much and thus lacks depth, but it is good when it focuses and it does have some great lines.
After chapter two: YES, the tone does change - by the end of chapter two, but they are long chapters. So be patient! Now I am enjoying the book. By the end of chapter two the book begins to focus. From the Civil War and WW1 and all the details about family relations you finally get to the 1930s. Things start happening! Descriptions of places are always excellent, but I needed some dialog, some excitement, some action, and now all this is delivered. Race and the power of money are, as usual, central themes - and the "roadwalkers", that is the homeless wandering the South during the Depression. What happens in this chapter I did correctly guess, but I am not telling YOU!
After two and one half hours of listening (of a total 10 hours): What a shock. The tone of this book is so different from the last I read by the author: The Condor Passes! No one can accuse the author of repeating herself. This reads like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books! Large time periods are rapidly covered - from the Civil War and Reconstruction through to WW1 and then the Depression. All very cutely presented. No depth. I am not saying it is bad, just maybe not for me. This reads like a delightful child's book.
2 stars I read this in high school and it is time for a reread.
Unfortunately, I appreciated this more on the first read. Wh2 stars I read this in high school and it is time for a reread.
Unfortunately, I appreciated this more on the first read. When the book was published in 1952, what was therein revealed about racial bigotry was hot. Today it reads as just one of the many books focused on the racial divide. A secondary theme is identity, how we look at ourselves and how others look at us; this being the symbolical expression for the main protagonist's invisibility. He doesn't exist to those around him, and thus he was invisible.
The events played out in the novel feel dated. There are revival meetings, seduction by white women, riots that get out of hand where the Blacks burn their own housing. When the book was written this was all spanking new, but not anymore. During the years since this book was written these events have repeated themselves umpteen times.
I felt the main protagonist was terribly naive at the beginning. Then when he was accepted into the brotherhood, a group supposedly working toward liberation of the Blacks, he quickly understood so much, became so wise and all knowing. First he sounded like an 18 year old, and then too rapidly his speeches reflected the thoughts of a middle-aged person, only to revert to near insanity when he realizes how he has been duped. What I am saying is that the character portrayal is not convincing, neither of the central protagonist nor of others.
There are elements in the story that seem exaggerated - individuals with glass eyes that fall out. Over and over I asked why the author added that? Why the seduction by the white woman? The author in each instance wants to make a statement, but the event itself is not well worked into the story. It is there for a purpose, to get the author's "message" across. In this way the story itself becomes unbelievable. And here is the message: (view spoiler)[Whites are only using the Blacks for their own purposes….and Blacks are tricked into destroying themselves! (hide spoiler)]
That the book is concerned with Marxism is clearly an exaggeration.
The narrator, Joe Morton, used too many "bells and whistles" for my taste. During violent/exciting sections the tempo and the volume builds to a crescendo and then crashes. There is one Black from Ethiopia; here I agree the African sound was well done. On the whole I wanted less melodrama in the narration. Morton employed a masculine laugh that drove me crazy, and different males had exactly that same laughter.
This piece of work is dated and has not much to say any more. Since the book was first published other authors have more eloquently expressed themselves on the topics covered. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are books that start off slow, but it is worth your time to continue. This is one of them. I am even tempted to give this one five stars. The slThere are books that start off slow, but it is worth your time to continue. This is one of them. I am even tempted to give this one five stars. The slow start and a speech or two that were long-winded is why I drew off one star.
It is all in the writing. Carson McCullers was only twenty-three when she wrote this. I believe writing is a talent that you either have or do not have, although there are some techniques that can be learned. McCullers just did it perfectly from the start. I am impressed. She clearly has the ability to observe the world around her and recreate what she has seen and what her own experiences have taught her. She has looked at life in the South at the end of the thirties. This novel reflects that world, the poor white Southerners' and the black Southerners' and the war in Europe, the discrimination against Jews, how Marxism was growing and why Christian revival practices were popular. All of these issues are illustrated through the lives of a few townsfolk in a Southern mill town, the people of this book. These imaginary characters seem real and this is all achieved through the author's ability to describe small details that we the readers can relate to personally. McCullers writes of hot dusty roads, swimming in a creek, a thunder storm, an ant bite, the thick heat on a hot summer day and sex and parties and conflicting desires and life in general, things we all relate to. By starting on a familiar level we come to understand the bigger issues of that time and place - racial bigotry, injustice and the hopelessness these people felt. Life was hopeless and to feel so is appropriate.
I have been reading several books on the racial situation in the South during the first half of the 20th Century. THIS book has captured that time and place best.
A word about the other topics mentioned in the book's description: Mick's love of music and the prominent role of a deaf mute. They were for me not the central point of this book. Mick's love of music is tied to hope, to a person's need to see light in the future. John Singer, the deaf mute whom the central characters all turn to to talk and talk and talk. You will learn why that was possible, but the central question is why and how he was so important to the other characters. What does this say about our need to share our thoughts with others? What does this say about how and why each of us needs each other? We can even see this as a responsibility we each must shoulder. There is a great lesson to be found in this book. The lesson isn’t simplistic - it doesn't mean we are strong enough to always give what we should give. This is why I can accept what may be termed a depressing, hopeless, sad tale.
The narration by Cherry Jones was perfect, better than perfect. My friends know how I love Simon Vance / Richard Whitaker's narrations. Well this is just as good. Each character had his/her own intonation. The tone of the omniscient narrator was quiet and steadfast, unhurried, clear. How can I praise this so you will understand? If you enjoy audiobooks I recommend listening to this one rather than reading the paper version. The narration adds to the atmosphere and understanding of each character's personality.
I grew to care deeply for six people in this book: Mick Kelly, her younger brother Buber(George), the black house servant "Porsche", her father Dr. Copeland, her brother Willy and finally Jake Blount too. This book is not just about Mick or John Singer. Remember, he is the deaf mute the book description focuses on. You come to care for these people because who they are is so intimately drawn through McCullers' words and scenes. Through these characters the author has drawn a picture of the South with its horrible racial injustice so you will never forget it and so you will truly understand what real people of these times experienced.
This is not a light read. You will be torn, and you should be torn because in so doing you come to understand another person's life. ...more
I KNOW my emotional response to this book. I liked it, so three stars it has to get. But why? What is it that has prevented me from giving it more?
PlI KNOW my emotional response to this book. I liked it, so three stars it has to get. But why? What is it that has prevented me from giving it more?
Please read the above book summary. I am not going to repeat all of that. I assume you know that this book is based on the two real-life Grimke sisters that fought for the Abolitionist and Women's Rights movement in the 1830s and 1840s.
The book is well researched. It has an excellent epilogue that in detail specifies what is and is not fictional. Many of the characters really did exist and they are woven into the fictional events. It is the fictional story that gives me trouble. In reality Sarah Grimke was given a personal slave when she was eleven, Hetty (of ten years), but this slave soon died. Here she lives on and is used by the author to show us the horrors of slave life in Charleston, South Carolina. It is this fictional story that doesn't ring true to me. There are cups of tea on roof tops, things like that, which create a feel good story that people so love...... but which didn't work for me.
And I will not talk of the ending; how realistic is that?
The theme of slave quilting is pretty too. Too pretty? Too sweet? Is it a gimmick to tie the story together?
Slavery is bad. Of course, but there is no discussion of why so many people refused to abandon it. Nothing of the economic basis for slavery in the South is discussed. Am I too much of a non-fiction book lover for this? Should I give up on historical fiction completely?
The narration by Jenna Lamia who voices Sarah's story and Adepero Oduye who speaks Hetty's, the slave girl's story, are distinct. I like how each uses their own appropriate vocabularies. Sarah is genteel, clearly from the upper crust, the slave owning class; her speech and choice of words well reflect this. Hetty's is exactly as expected, that of a slave's, with a diction that matches. Each uses a language that seems genuine. BUT at the end of the novel, when both are middle-aged woman, they still sound like teenagers. This, along with the author's feel good touch, had me thinking this was more a young adult novel than a serious one for adults....more
As you probably know if you have skimmed the book description, the author has in Shadow Country put all three of his earlier books about Watson into oAs you probably know if you have skimmed the book description, the author has in Shadow Country put all three of his earlier books about Watson into one. The first section expresses the views of all the diverse people who knew Watson. The second is his youngest son's view of his father and his life, and now finally in the third section we hear Watson's own version. Third time around, all this feels rather repetitive! Third time around is rather boring, even if the picture is further clarified. Couldn't all these different versions have been incorporated into one? Did you know that Watson really did exist; this fictional book is an attempt to understand the legend of the man. I will follow this to the end. I have about 14 hours of the total 40 hours left!
Now I have completed all 40 hours! Phew. I will not repeat what I have noted before. The sections below relate to the three different books making up this story. Each book has a different style, but in all you get great dialogs that feel genuine to the core. On completing this book you understand the lawless character of southwestern Florida at the turn of the 20th Century and everything about Watson. The third and last part fills in lots of historical details. These details about the sugar industry, unions, the coming modernization, building of canals and roads, the development of the tourist trade and its encroachment on the fauna and flora are new to the previously told stories. Also you learn of life in the South during the Reconstruction. Do keep in mind that what you learn is primarily about outlaws, corrupt politics and racial discrimination. Does it give a balanced picture? There have to be SOME uncorrupted people, huh?!
OK, I would have preferred if these three books had not been split up but rather all the different views incorporated into one story. I got bored third time around. I found parts repetitive.
The narration by Anthony Heald remained fantastic throughout the entire audiobook. Totally fantastic. Unbelievable that this same guy could narrate Crime and Punishment and this, two very different books with completely different characters and voices and vernacular! Is he now my favorite narrator? Women, Blacks, Whites, outlaws, educated snobs - he can do them all. I have no complaints on the narration. None.
Really, a very good book, but the story should have been told once. I really liked how it drew what seems to be a so genuine picture of southwestern Florida and of racial inequality at the turn of the 20th Century.
Half-way through: You want to know all the details of the murder, the why and who and everything about what happened. You need to know. Does that make it a mystery?
The book also gives an absolutely excellent picture of how life was in southwest Florida at the beginning of the 20th Century. How whites looked at Negroes and Indians. Does that make it historical fiction?
I am very drawn into the book. Right now I think it is absolutely excellent. The narration by Anthony Heald is stunning! There is a Negro dying and how Heald reads this section could simply not be improved upon. At first I thought his women voices were not good, but I have completely changed my mind and think he does them perfectly too.
But don't expect a comfort read. Blatant racial inequality, hard life, liquor and sex, but it is not written salaciously. This is quite simply how life was there and then. Do you really want to know how it was or not? If you can't stomach this then don't read the book. I think it is absolutely excellent. What is says about racial inequality is just so r-e-a-l!!!! Genuine is the one adjective that best describes the book. Sometimes what you see is not the whole truth, and yet even that can be debated.
What is also amazing is how people make so many assumptions about what MUST have happened without really understand what DID happen. I think that is an important message of the book too.
Hope? Well, some people belatedly realize that they actually admire some of the colored people they so despised before.
This is how the second of the three books hit me.
Tremendously atmospheric! This is primarily how I was reacting to the first of the three books. ...more
Are you a White? Do you want to understand how it was for Blacks, particularly those who are poor, in the States, in the 30s and 40s and of course befAre you a White? Do you want to understand how it was for Blacks, particularly those who are poor, in the States, in the 30s and 40s and of course before that too? This book is set in Chicago. You read it to climb into the skin of a Black. It is not pleasant, but it is revealing. Do you dare?
The book description just does not get across the most important aspect of the book: you will be in Bigger's skin, and this is scary. As I noted below, for much of the book you will be sitting on the edge of your seat. You will need to stop, pause, get a breath of air to go on.
I was totally thrilled with the book and its message.... until the end, until the court proceedings. The closing speeches of both the defense lawyer and the state attorney were both long-winded and not believable. The defense lawyer's was too theoretical, not to the point; the author should have been able to do better. The state attorney's speech would have to have been interrupted by the judge! No way could he have said what he said. Nope, here the writing could have been improved. The author was almost lecturing the reader, hammering in his message all too clearly. This book was really amazing, until almost the very end. It is still very good though.
The narration of the audiobook by Peter Francis James was f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!! Superb. Outstanding. He can imitate Black women singing, newspaper reporters, radio announcements; he did everybody perfectly.
DO read this book!!! Or listen to it.
After Book One, so still just at the very beginning:
I have begun. What a book!!! Do you want a book with suspense, one that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat from the start AND one that has/had an important message AND one that is perfectly executed? Every word is simple but perfect. I am scared with every move. I understand that Bigger is dangerous. Dangerous, not with evil intent, but from fear. And the white girl's total incomprehension makes me hate her more than even Bigger could hate her. What happens is NOT Bigger's fault; it is Mary's, the daughter of Bigger's new white employer. See the book description; this is not a spoiler. Did I say this was suspenseful? It is also heartrending. I DO understand that Mary is young and naive. She too has only good intentions.
I will reread this too. Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) and Richard Wright were friends. This time I will listen. Narration by Peter Francis James is available at Audible and Downpour, and it is supposed to be good.
Will I still give this four stars on my second reading?
The most obvious reason why one would choose to read this book is the magnificent way in which it evokes the atmosphere of the South in the 1920s. TheThe most obvious reason why one would choose to read this book is the magnificent way in which it evokes the atmosphere of the South in the 1920s. The hatred and distrust between the races was all pervasive. Such despair! To say the book is about racial discrimination is like saying a "painting is pretty" ……..and leaving it at that. It is the emotional response that Faulkner’s words evoke in the reader that is so exceptional.
Faulkner's sentences usually say more than the bare words; think prose poetry. Many of the sentences have a deeper meaning. For me this is a plus; I enjoy grappling with the meaning. At the same time as one is groping to understand the message implied, one is also grappling with a plot that can be confusing. A new chapter will start with - he did this and she that! "Who, who, who?" one exasperatingly asks. Calm down and wait and listen; you will find out. What is he saying? What does he mean? I certainly asked myself this many times. At times I was annoyed! Don't expect an easy read.
Faulkner’s writing is full of metaphors. Some of them worked for me and some didn't.
The book is dark in tone. It is gritty. I can't say there is a smidgen of humor in this book, except maybe the ending. I smiled, but don’t get me wrong, one is not happy while reading this book.
The narration by Will Paton was superb. The slow drawl and southern dialect further evoked Faulkner’s written words.
When I read this book I immediately recognized the style. It is hard to mistake a Faulkner from another author. For this reason alone one should read a Faulkner. Should I say simply say that everyone should suffer through at least one Faulkner to experience the challenge of his writing?
I like the way, Faulkner writes – his style of writing. I was drawn in by the plot and my emotive response was total. ...more
Too often people assume that when a war ends the trouble stops, the problems are over. That is far from true. It took over a century to begin to fix tToo often people assume that when a war ends the trouble stops, the problems are over. That is far from true. It took over a century to begin to fix the Civil Rights problem that was supposedly resolved with the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865! This book is an excellent study on what life was like for the blacks in the years following the Civil War. This book is all about how the Dixie Southerners continued to view the colored. Views did not change overnight. It is also about how the blacks viewed themselves. What is freedom when you have no money and no employment and no place to live? What is freedom when you don’t know where your mother, father, wife and children are or even if they are still alive? What is freedom after rape and murder and repetitive beatings? How do you reach emotional stability after living through such horror? Can you forgive?
This book draws a picture that I believe to be accurate and realistic. It cannot be an easy read or a comforting read, but it ends with hope and a promise for the future. Parts were hard for me to read, and that is because the author made me care for the characters. Some were clever, others despicable, but all of them felt real. I appreciated that both sides, the slave owners and the slaves, were portrayed fairly. One was not all wrong and the other all right. Even the most despicable were occasionally, well, at least not all bad!
I also liked how the plot unrolled. The author created a fascinating story that you want to understand. You want to know what is going to happen and how the problems will be resolved. At the end you understand everything. There are no loose ends, and I very much like the ending, being both realistic and hopeful too.
At first I was uncomfortable with the narration by Sean Crisden, but by the end I loved it. What bothered me at first was when he spoke lines presented in the third person. He stops at the periods and commas, and I felt he was listening to himself with a tone of self-satisfaction. However as you listen further, and as you become aware of each character’s personality, there are more and more dialogs and these are just perfect. He captures the Southern dialect and the Yankee dialect, the whites and the blacks, women and men and children, all equally well.
I will close with a quote from the book:
“You gotta have hope. To hope is the whole point. Being scared all the time ain’t much different from bein dead.”
There are good lines to suck on! I liked this book very much, and I highly recommend the audio format.
All descriptions of this book state that its themes are the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance writers and the civil rights movement. The book staAll descriptions of this book state that its themes are the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance writers and the civil rights movement. The book starts in 1910 and ends in the 60s.It follows one black woman, Easter, from her childhood in the South, her time up in Harlem, skims the intervening years and then ends up back in the South again. Yes, the book does cover those themes, but there is another central theme that is not mentioned. It must be mentioned – sex. If you are going to feel uncomfortable reading about various bizarre lesbian relationships, well then look elsewhere; this theme plays a very prominent role. I am fine with lesbian relationships that focus upon the loving relationship; it is a love like any other between two individuals. I think both the heterosexual and homosexual affairs are added to this story to pique the readers' interest, to shock, to add spice to the story. I checked internet to see if the sexual tidbits were in fact historical details that had to be there to portray the historical content correctly. No, pure fiction! From my point of view they detract from the story.
Too many parts of the fictional story were too bizarre and too revolting for my taste. I felt no empathy for any character. The book is short and covers the important events in Easter's life. You are not given her internal thoughts; you watch her actions.
The reader is given information about the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
I think it all comes down to this: I didn't like how the author told her story. Read The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau instead. There the lines capture you; here they don't, they only shock you. You will have to choose some other book if you are primarily looking for historical details of the Harlem Renaissance though.
The audiobook narration by Alfre Woodard was fine, but not exceptional, as was Anna Fields' narration of Grau's audiobook. ...more
Add this to your lists. It is very good. Listen to the audiobook narrated by Anna Fields, if you can. Read it or listen to it, but don't let it slideAdd this to your lists. It is very good. Listen to the audiobook narrated by Anna Fields, if you can. Read it or listen to it, but don't let it slide to the bottom of your heap of books to be read!
This book stands out as one of the better about the race situation in the South before the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. What is it like to have both black and white blood? Where do you belong? How do you deal with this? What do you do and what do yo not do? In this book you will see people who have made different choices, and you will think about why they made those choices. The reader will ponder what choices they might make.
The book gives you more than an in-depth understanding of being a bi-racial person. The feel of the South and how history played out there for those living in the South, that is what you get in spades. The Depression, WW2, the Korean War, and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement slide by, but the focus is on the people living there in the South. Is it set in Louisiana or Mississippi? Exactly where isn't really clear or really that important except that there are swamps nearby and you are taken in there. You will not forget that experience. The Ku Klux Klan and Prohibition and a sense of the racial inequality that existed in this time and place is what your are enveloped in. And what would you do if you were there - a Black or a White or mixed?
But what makes this book better than others that focus on the question of bi-racial identity? This certainly isn't the first book to tackle the question! It is in the way the author expresses herself. It is in the way she describes their lives and their surroundings: the nearby swamp, the fires, the weddings, the funerals and an old man watching his children and their children and the following generations grow up, watching and observing and making his own life choices. By the way, look at the title - you can see the generations slip by.
There is clever dialog and subtle humor: Question:"Who are you calling?" Answer: "The barn!" When you hear this you will laugh. The Southern dialect and the slow desultory tempo with which Anna Fields narrates the book is the icing on the cake.
And the plot - the story finishes with a bang. You will be surprised. There is so much I want to tell you about William. What discussions you can have about the characters!
What makes this story so perfect is in the author's way of telling it....more
From Pulitzer-prize winner Ron Chernow, a landmark biography of George Washington:
“In Washington: A Life” celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides aFrom 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 over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president.
Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull……
These are not my words, but rather the beginning of the book description at Goodreads. I agree that Chernow’s work has great depth, but Washington remains for me more a man worthy of admiration than a man for whom I can empathize. Intellectually I followed what he could have thought, but I never truly saw what he saw through his eyes. He is not dull, but still he is not someone I really know. I have learned very much about his actions and beliefs and both his successes and failures. A good biographer must present a balanced view, and Chernow clearly presents Washington’s mistakes. I appreciate this and feel I have learned so very much from the book due to the author’s prodigious study of all available source material. I do highly recommend this book.
BUT, I still have some complaints, and it is for the points stated below that I have removed one star:
The book is thorough – that can be seen as both a compliment and as a criticism, and often this depends upon the reader’s own previous knowledge. The more you know the more interesting other subjects become……I found the chapters related to the military details excessive. I felt that the text was at times repetitive, and that too many examples were cited to prove what perhaps Washington was thinking. I followed the numerous examples cited by the author and sometimes in fact came to a different conclusion! Although Chernow always states positive and negative aspects, he clearly tries to make you, the reader, accept the author’s personal view. Adjectives chosen to describe Washington’s conduct clearly express the author’s subjective point of view. Time after time, we are told that Washington “must have” thought this or that….Well, I would think, maybe! I looked at Washington’s choices throughout his life and frequently arrived at different motivations for his actions.
There are many quotes in the book. Chernow often mimics the expressions used by Washington and his contemporaries, and this makes his own text rather verbose and at times even stilted. I would have preferred a more fluid presentation. I quite simply was at times not pleased with how the author expressed himself. At times it was pompous, stiff and too adulatory.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Scott Brick. The narration is clear and has an appropriate tempo for a book where the listener wants to have time to absorb the historical facts. However there is a tone of awe which unnecessarily increases the adulatory words of the author.
After reading this book, when I look at Washington what I primarily admire him for is his ability to unite people - his soldiers fighting in the French and Indian War and then the Revolutionary War, the divergent groups in the thirteen colonies each with different focal interests, then when he became president the emerging political parties, the Federalists versus the Republicans, and most importantly the Abolitionists and slave owners. He is aptly seen as one of the Founding Fathers of a nation and a government based on democracy and freedom. While the French Revolution led to a regime of terror, the American Revolution didn’t. Washington, idolized as he was, could have so easily slid into becoming a monarch himself, but he didn’t. He truly believed in democracy and freedom!
In my view, this belief in freedom leads directly to the question: how do you create a nation based on freedom if it also allows slavery? Washington’s view on slavery is ambivalent. He says one thing and he does another, over and over again. In that Washington in his will finally emancipated his own slaves, although NOT his dower slaves, the author will have us believe that Washington finally followed his moral inclination, whereas I more crassly feel he emancipated them because they had had become uneconomical, burdensome and cumbersome to manage. He also feared the possibility of slave revolts which had erupted in Haiti.
When will we be able to look at Washington freed of our need to see him as a hero and paragon of virtue. I admire what he succeeded to accomplish. I never really got to know who he was inside though. This is not necessarily a criticism of the author. Washington did not reveal his inner thoughts readily to others.