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Washington: A Life

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  44,934 ratings  ·  1,987 reviews
The celebrated Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of America. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life, he carries the reader through Washington's troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian Wars, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitution ...more
Hardcover, 928 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published January 5th 2010)
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4.07  · 
Rating details
 ·  44,934 ratings  ·  1,987 reviews

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Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.
- George Washington


My first exposure to Chernow was his now über-famous biography. My daughter owns her own copy of Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and just today showed me Chernow rapping "Alexander Hamilton" dressed in the show's distinctive revolutionary garb for #Ham4Ham. We were lucky enough to see Hamilton in NYC.

So, now, after President Trump's election, I'm finding spiritual solace in reading a book-a-day (at least in January) and trying
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
In early 2017, in an effort to numb myself to the clown show, I began a quest to read a biography of each President .... in order, one through 44. I wanted to immerse myself in Presidential history by selecting a good, well reviewed biography on each one. So, after extensive research I selected this one about George Washington to start. It is long and has fine print. Six months of eye problems and eye surgery slowed me down.
I am glad I persevered. This book is very detailed and well written. I
Paula W
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It was long. It was extremely well-researched and very detailed. Did I say it was long? It was really long. It was also brilliant. Before reading this, I knew the basic things everyone knows about George Washington. Now I know that he wasn't always this god that we think he was. He was ambivalent about slavery, made some fairly bad decisions, and spent much of his time dealing with his own insecurities (imposter syndrome?) In short, George Washington was an imperfect human just like the rest of ...more
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa-usa, audiobooks, 2016
41 hours and 54 minutes later, I am finished. 3.5 stars.

This biography was fascinating and definitely comprehensive. (I know more about Washington's dental troubles than I need to, really).

It was great on audio because it didn't allow me to get bogged down in the details, but by listening to this to and from work for seven weeks, I feel a have a really good general sense of this man and his vital role in the formation of our country. I'm sure I won't retain good recall of details, but I've becom
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been feasting on history lately, with this the latest course. At 817 pages, this book isn't for everyone, but having read Chernow's Hamilton, Vidal's Burr, Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello, Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, I chose to fill in this chasm in my knowledge of the early republic. As always, the truth is more complex and nuanced than legend. People who claim to love this country should invest more time in the study of its history.
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 26, 2012 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
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
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing

"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, Sr. 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 thr
Andy Miller
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Larry Bassett
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio
I feel like I have been reading this book forever although I see it has only been about three weeks. I experienced this book in the audible format and as such it is 41 hours long. I am giving it five stars because I enjoyed listening to it going to bed and felt that it gave a fairly balanced view of George Washington. I have just recently been reading some of the biographies of the founding fathers.

I was amazed to realize that the American revolution lasted eight years and Washington was the com
Jim Cooper
#1 Best Book I Read in 2018

Ron Chernow doesn’t really write biographies. He writes American history through the eyes of the person he’s writing about. This is his second American Revolution-era book, and the first one was based around Hamilton. I think I liked this one better, just because Washington was right in the thick of everything important happening. But they are both great.

Washington founded the country and then kept that country together through its difficult infancy. He did it while up
Tom Lowe
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have read many a book on our first president, George Washington, including the celebrated four-volume biography by James Thomas Flexner. This amazingly comprehensive and entertaining single volume biography by Ron Chernow is the best. Just when you think you know all there is to know about Washington, along comes this wonderful book to set me straight. Historiography tells us to beware of biographies, as they tend to be tainted by the prejudices of the author. Chernow’s biography of GW, on the ...more
11811 (Eleven)
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read more Chernow.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ever read a book where, at the end, you want more? I felt this book could have been even longer than it was at 800 plus pages. A masterful biography of our foremost and first President, this tome was engaging through its entire length. I may be biased in favor of this author, because I have read some of his other works in biography. But this book was by far my favorite book so far this year. Absolutely smashing biography!!!!
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers Interested in American History and/or George Washington
A magisterial book, one which deserves a far more magisterial review than I am capable of giving it, Ron Chernow's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of George Washington is as well written as it is informative, and, despite its length, never once fails to keep the reader involved in its unfolding story. And what a story it is! The name of Washington needs no introduction - memorialized in our history, in the very name of our capital city, as well as the name of one of our fifty states, it is ever ...more
Oct 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
How to breathe life into this man, already eulogized, mythologized, stamped on currency and sculpted into marble? Washington didn't help by being so guarded and so careful with his public image. His wife didn't help by burning their correspondence. So, historians have suffered (or invented).

Chernow has succeeded, and convincingly. He does it by looking at Washington in relation to others. Thus, we see Washington the pragmatic yet loving husband. So, he married for money. So what? He was faithful
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
I FINISHED. It has been a long four years, you guys.

This was interesting. It's certainly comprehensive and it's mostly readable, but the trouble I mostly had is that there is a lot I just didn't care about reading. This is often a problem I have with biographies of military figures, in that stuff is very hard for me to conceptualize. I think that I found the stuff about Washington's relationship to slavery the most compelling of all of the information in the book, and it definitely does the most
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It is understandable why it can be hard to penetrate the surface of George Washington, 'Father of the United States.' In his lifetime, Washington was revered as a demigod, winning his three most important political appointments (general of the Continental Army and two terms as President) unanimously. The gloss of history has only served to further cement the man into marble, starting immediately upon his death with contemporary publishers seeking to cash in on his passing with glorified renditio ...more
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This was 3.5 stars....but I just didn't feel like rounding up for one main reason. However, before I get there, this biography of George Washington was well researched and well written. He was truly a great man. He was in the right places at the right times and he did what he had to do, a lot of which would not be politically correct today.

His relationship with his mother made me sad. I felt for him. Overall this book was extremely detailed. It has all the info about this man you would want to
Dramatically Bookish (ReviewsMayVary)
I basically read this as an experiment to see if I thought I could get through Chernow's Hamilton book which is twice as long. I don't usually do a lot of biographical reading, but I enjoyed this look at Washington. I learned so many things, which is super not surprising because I knew next to nothing.
Aaron Million
Ron Chernow does not disappoint in this magnificent biography of George Washington. As usual, Chernow's writing is fluid, engaging, thoughtful, and informed. Chernow respects Washington but does not shy away from pointing out the man's flaws, such as owning slaves and wanting to be looked upon as a regal Virginia planter, necessitating the use of a fancy carriage to travel around in. Washington's image does not need any rehabilitation, and that is not Chernow's goal here. Instead, he strives to ...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
“His military triumphs had been neither frequent nor epic in scale. He had lost more battles than he had won, had botched several through strategic blunders, and had won at Yorktown only with the indispensable aid of the French Army and fleet. But he was a different kind of general fighting a different kind of war, and his military prowess cannot be judged by the usual scorecard of battles won and lost. His fortitude in keeping the impoverished Continental Army intact was a major historic accomplishment. It always stood on the brink of dissolution, and Washington was the one figure who kept it together, the spiritual and managerial genius of the whole enterprise: he had been resilient in the face of every setback, courageous in the face of every danger. He was that rare general who was great between battles and not just during them.” 11 likes
“Many mickles make a muckle.” 10 likes
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