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Washington: A Life

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  67,130 ratings  ·  2,829 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, 904 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published January 5th 2010)
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Ronen Ben-simon The book does tackle the fact that Washington lost a lot of his battles and highlights the attempts of Horatio Gates and others to depose him as Comma…moreThe book does tackle the fact that Washington lost a lot of his battles and highlights the attempts of Horatio Gates and others to depose him as Commander in Chief due to his military failures.

The book does mention slavery as it was central to Washington's personal life. The book takes a very balanced view in my opinion of at times painting Washington as a person as a victim of circumstances with regards to slavery, but also as one completely oblivious to the harms of slavery and not the nicest slaveholder.

After reading this books treatment of Washington as a slave owner my own opinion is that he was a selfish person who paid lip service to wanting to end slavery but not wanting to do so now because of economic concerns. He could also be very harsh and unfeeling towards the people he enslaved. The book is not a sanitized account of Washingtons life in the slightest and will lead the reader at times to respect him for what he did for the Revolution, but also dislike him greatly for his views on slavery and the people he kept as slaves.(less)

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“[George] Washington had dominated American political life for so long that many Americans could not conceive of life without him. A widespread fear arose that, deprived of his guiding hand, the Republic itself might founder…Perhaps as an antidote to such apprehension, Washington was smothered beneath national piety, and it became difficult for biographers to reclaim the complex human being. The man immediately began to merge with the myth. As the subject of more than four hundred printed oratio ...more
Jerome Otte
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
Jul 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Ron Chernow does a great job uncovering the man from the legend. I now have a firmer understanding of what is accomplishments were, as well as his failures. Chernow also paints a vivid picture of what he was like as a person and what drove him, which was especially challenging given Washington’s quiet stoicism.

What was he like?

Chernow describes his maturity, ambition and self-control, which enabled him to become a militia commander in the French and Indian war when he was just 21 years old. Whil
Paul Bryant
Jul 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a vast life and this is a vast book. You get to feel that every dinner GW ate is itemised and every outfit he ever wore is lovingly described. There are long stretches of GW’s life during which he was a middling-prosperous gentleman farmer. These months and years get just as much attention as the revolution and the eight years of being the first president. Ron Chernow is unhurried. He will get to the various cataclysms in his own good time.

Ron is at pains to tell us how unfair it is th
Dec 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
Diane S ☔
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
3.5 thoughts soon.
Aug 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Magnificent. Simply magnificent.

I spent nearly three months reading this, which is not abnormal for me since I have several books going at any given time, but with these long ones there is often a moment when I face the Swamp of Despair. It's that lull in the middle of a book when the novelty of breaking port has worn off and the destination is still a distant shore. This time the slog never came. Nearly 700 pages in, I read a chapter that felt as fresh as the first—all sense of where I was in
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
#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
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks, usa-usa, 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. ...more
Julie  Durnell
Dec 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
A daunting read for the length of the book, but it was written in an engaging manner that left me with great insight to our Founding Father. Extremely well researched with an extensive bibliography.
Mar 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Chernow here has achieved a masterstroke of a biography in bringing Washington to life so clearly that by the end of this book, I was sad to leave him behind, as though he'd become a close friend. Chernow deftly weaves together the multiple strands of his life: often, biographers specialize in a specific area - the military arena, or the political - but fumble the other portions of a subject's life, most often their emotions. Chernow, though, has done an exquisite job unpacking Washington's emot ...more
Joy D
Extremely detailed cradle-to-grave biography of George Washington that provides an excellent idea of his character and how he was perceived during his lifetime. Chernow is a beautiful writer with a great grasp of language. He captures scenes from Washington’s life in vivid detail. It is told in six parts:

- “The Frontiersman” tells of his ancestry, early life, participation in the British military in the French and Indian War, and introduction to his future wife, Martha Dandridge Custis.
- “The P
Feb 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Well I read it in under two years! 💪😂

This book is NOT boring, but it is VERY long! Not unnecessarily so either, but Washington really was an amazing hero, and a tome of this magnitude is necessary to accurately retell his story.

If you want a story that exalts a man to the level of a god, cleansing every flaw and making him out to be Moses, this isn’t it. His quirks are all here, his obsession with appearances, his very complex and unfortunate relationship with slavery, everything.

If you’re looki
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
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, d
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a BEAST. I'm a fast reader and it took me ages to finish. But to the author's credit I was always engaged and wanting to read further. I especially liked the detail to Washington's life before and after the war. He was a fascinating person who dealt with many personal losses.

I was also caught up in frustration with a bunch of "if onlys."Especially if only Washington had taken a stand against slavery our country would have made a different path. While a reluctant slave owner he was n
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!!!!
Pyramids Ubiquitous
Nov 20, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Washington: A Life is exceptional in its ability to present different perspectives on George Washington, while also carrying us through his entire life and the birth of America. Through opinions for and against, as well as from Washington's own words, the reader is able to form a solid, unbiased picture of who the real George Washington was and what he stood for. I haven't decided whether it is reassuring or not, but it seems that divide and the threat of losing democracy have been cornerstones ...more
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
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography

In this book's introduction the author, tackling "the most famously elusive figure in American history." sets the goal of rendering George Washington as "real" and "credible" - something every biographer aims for - and to his credit, Mr. Chernow succeeds handsomely. Not only does the reader learn that Washington never wore a wig, was "only" six feet tall and in fact did have major dental issues, he was also very sensitive about his lack of education, was slow to make decisions and made
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
Jun 22, 2021 rated it liked it
what a fucking loser lol
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
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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

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“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.” 13 likes
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