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Washington: A Life

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  54,245 ratings  ·  2,320 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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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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Federalists, Republicans (the 18th century kind), slave owners
Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton was the basis for Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, Hamilton. I have not read Alexander Hamilton yet, but after reading Robert Caro's magnificent multivolume biography of LBJ, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, I decided to embark upon a personal "bucket list," which is to read (preferably in sequence) biographies of every one of America's Presidents, and see what it's like to examine the history of the country through a presidential lens. Chernow's biography ...more
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
11811 (Eleven)
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read more Chernow.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have had this book on my shelf for at least 8 years and kept putting it off because it looks daunting. This is the only biography on Washington that you will ever need to read. Chernow is thorough and objective. He discusses Washington’s military career, his heroism, his flaws, and what I found to be a deeply conflicted nature about how he was perceived by others, particularly his friends.

Some things I learned: Washington had a plan to flee to his land in Ohio if he lost the Revolution; Washin
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
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
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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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