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Washington: A Life

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  31,118 Ratings  ·  1,459 Reviews
In Washington: A Life biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth & depth matched by no other one-volume life, this crisply paced narrative carries readers thru his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French & Indian War, his creation of Mt Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his ...more
Hardcover, 927 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Penguin Press (NYC et al.) (first published January 5th 2010)
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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
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
Jan 31, 2017 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
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
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
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
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, 2016, usa-usa
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ii's difficult to write a review of Ron Chernow's masterpiece and then I should not.
This book should be studied. Ron Chernow describes the life not only of George Washington from the cradle to when he died but the reader can grasp everything that went on during this time February 22, 1732 to December 14, 1799. His great-great-grandfather was Lawrence Washington with a history as an Anglican Minister, hounded from his parish in the Puritan cleansing.
Lawrence's son, John, was into tobacco trade an
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
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
BJ Schall
Jan 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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 Stoewe
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
A very good and dense biography of Washington and his times.
Jake Danishevsky
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
There are many wonderful books on one of America's founding fathers, America's first President, General and a Virginia farmer, George Washington. There are many historical details, facts and analysis on who George Washington was, what he believed in, what he stood for and how he lived his life. This book stands out from the rest in several areas. Here the author dwells into the politics of George Washington. Even though everywhere you look or read, even in this book at first, Washington didn't l ...more
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book about a remarkable man. As silly as it sounds, after pouring over this book for so long, I find myself missing him. :-P

I love American history, and so much of its beginnings involve Washington. Chernow did a phenomenal job telling the story of his life; I never once got bored. I learned a ton about him as a man as well as our country in its early days. I highly, highly recommend reading this.
Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, Americans, citizens
“Instead of glorying in his might, he feared its terrible weight’s potential misuse.”

An encyclopedic survey of the life of George Washington. Well done, but Chernow was so heavily engaged in selling his theories of Washington’s personality and style that parts felt like the 2016 election campaign. “The most interior of the founders.” Pages of pithy epigrams by and about Washington. At 900 pages, it’s hardly “crisply paced”

“Things seldom happened accidently to George Washington, but he managed t
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
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The History Book ...: * WEEK TEN - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - November 28th - December 4th - Chapters FIFTY-FOUR through Chapters SIXTY - 656 - 739 - No Spoilers, Please 10 48 Aug 27, 2017 06:38PM  
The History Book ...: * WEEK SIX - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - October 31st - November 6th - Chapters THIRTY through Chapters THIRTY-FOUR - 358 - 423 - No Spoilers, Please 13 67 May 20, 2017 04:20PM  
The History Book ...: SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - December 12th - December 18th -- BOOK AS A WHOLE - Spoiler Thread 6 56 Mar 25, 2017 09:36PM  
The History Book ...: * WEEK ELEVEN - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - December 5th - December 11th - Chapters SIXTY-ONE through Chapters SIXTY-SEVEN - 740 - 817 - No Spoilers, Please 10 45 Mar 25, 2017 11:59AM  
The History Book ...: * WEEK NINE - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - November 21st - November 27th - Chapters FORTY-SEVEN through Chapters FIFTY-THREE - 574 - 655 - No Spoilers, Please 12 41 Mar 01, 2017 09:27AM  
The History Book ...: * WEEK EIGHT - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - November 14th - November 20th - Chapters FORTY-ONE through Chapters FORTY-SIX - 497 - 573 - No Spoilers, Please 16 47 Feb 27, 2017 11:16AM  
The History Book ...: * WEEK SEVEN - SPOTLIGHT - Presidential Series - WASHINGTON, A LIFE - November 7th - November 13th - Chapters THIRTY-FIVE through Chapters FORTY - 424 - 496 - No Spoilers, Please 9 81 Feb 26, 2017 12:00PM  
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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...
“Many mickles make a muckle.” 8 likes
“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.” 5 likes
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