J's Reviews > Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision for Our Nation's Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army

Washington Burning by Les Standiford
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's review
Nov 15, 2015

liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Recommended for: people who appreciate history but aren't hardcore readers of history
Read in July, 2008


I wouldn't go so far as to claim what the book jacket does -- that "the narrative is as absorbing as that of any good novel" -- but I found the material interesting and think Standiford did a great job considering that the only verbatim dialogue came from diaries, letters, articles.

A few of the bits that made an impact on me -- 1. the notion that D.C.'s location was not a surefire thing, 2. that it had several names (incl. Federal City and Washingtonople) beside Washington D.C.; 3. that Washington had farmland not far away (which was probably enhanced in value by the siting of the nation's capital; 4. that the destruction of D.C. united the nation in a way that the construction of D.C. never achieved.

I didn't like Jefferson as well as I thought after reading this -- quite a harsh guy in some ways.

I liked Dolly Madison in the end, when earlier I had no opinion of her at all.

I liked and disliked Pierre L'Enfant, which is what I think Standiford was going for -- L'Enfant was a larger-than-life character who never got his due during his lifetime, in part because he could be so annoying.

One quibble w. "Washington Burning" -- I wish the author or publisher had commissioned a map illustration that would have combined some of the 18th-century landmarks (geographic and manmade) of D.C., with key modern landmarks superimposed.

As I'm not a hardcore history buff, I have to say I couldn't sit and read this through: instead, I'd read for a couple nights, then lay off for a night or two, then resume.

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