[Chernow's] ability to master the secondary sources as well as the primary materials is the secret of his remarkable success as a biographer ... Because he also has a feel for the contentious historical issues in the lives of his characters, his book ought to satisfy academic historians as well as the general readers who may be unaware of these issues ... One comes away from the book feeling that Washington has finally become comprehensible ... Although there is nothing really original in this characterization, no one before has ever put together between two covers such a convincing depiction of the great man. It is Chernow’s well-paced and readable prose and the smooth organization of his story together with the sensible and impartial nature of his judgments that make the book so persuasive ... Chernow has written his biography with sympathetic detachment, keenly aware of the limitations of life. He has no ax to grind; his only object seems to be to render his subject as fully and as roundly as possible. His understanding of human nature is extraordinary and that is what makes his biography so powerful.
While there have been numerous books written about [George Washington], few of them have given as complete a picture of our first president as Ron Chernow's compelling new biography, Washington: A Life ... a biography of Washington for the 21st century, one that examines his conflicts and foibles as well as his triumphs. It is a psychological as well as a historical portrait. Chernow makes sure the reader sees the tempestuous side of Washington that many knew lay under his calm demeanor but was revealed to only a few ... keeps its distance from Washington mythology, and its narrative informs as much as it entertains.
... magnificently written, richly detailed and always compelling ... Chernow’s nuanced portrait shows that Washington generally was a realist and problem solver as well as a shrewd and subtle reader of other people ... This magisterial volume covers the father of our country in all aspects, from his difficult relationship with his mother to his inability to live frugally, his obsession with Mount Vernon, his exemplary leadership in war and peace, and much more. Chernow’s latest accomplishment is historical biography at its best.
... this book brings a lost world to light and skilfully places Washington – statesman, general, family man, lover – firmly in it. The dates and appointments of Washington’s career are well known, but Chernow presents a fresh analysis at every stage ...
If anyone wants to read about Washington, this book, rich in detail, meticulous in its research, sensible in its judgments, is the one to read.
... Chernow is no ordinary writer...his Washington while long, is vivid and well paced. If Chernow’s sense of historical context is sometimes superficial, his understanding of psychology is acute and his portraits of individuals memorable. Most readers will finish this book feeling as if they have actually spent time with human beings ... because [Chernow] tends to slide into the biographer’s quicksand of identifying too closely with his subject, his particular contribution is to argue for the critical role Washington himself played in becoming George Washington.
George Washington did not have wooden teeth. He had human teeth, which he bought from slaves, who pulled them from their own mouths...Here we see the strengths of this biography: the interweaving of the inner and outer man; a sensitivity to the impact of a seemingly minor matter; the juxtaposition of a civic saint with the trade in human flesh (or calcium, in this case). But the very intimacy of the story hints at this book's limitations. Like Washington's teeth, his life as told here is less than fully rooted in its surroundings ... Washington is a true achievement. A reader might agree with my criticisms yet thoroughly enjoy the book. That speaks to the triumph of Chernow's narrative structure, the depth of his research and how alive he is to the emotional content of dry material. In organically unifying Washington's private and public lives, he accomplishes a feat that eludes many biographers. And he propels readers forward. There were moments on my march to the end of his story on Page 817 when I thought he could have shortened the trip, yet I still felt that the writing was purposeful, not merely encyclopedic. He attains this despite an uneven prose style. At times, cliches and dead phrases rustle noisily on the path. Chernow pumps up descriptions as if he were Stan Lee writing about Spider-Man ... Chernow's goal is to humanize Washington. He succeeds handsomely, depicting an irreducibly complicated figure ... Unfortunately, Chernow doesn't really engage with the scholarship of Bernard Bailyn, Pauline Maier, Edward Countryman or the many other historians who have revealed so much about 18th-century America.
In even the most impressive biographies, a curious bifurcation can appear when the author's source notes are compared with his acknowledgments. In Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow emphasizes his reliance on primary sources. According to his notes, however, other biographers—notably Douglas Southall Freeman and James Thomas Flexner, authors of justifiably renowned multivolume lives of Washington—provided a good deal of the narrative fuel. It does Mr. Chernow no disservice to regard his biography as a culmination of a long biographical tradition that has divested Washington of his marmoreal armor ... Flexner's 1974 redaction has been the standard, but it cannot compete with the vivacity of Ron Chernow's new narrative, even if the two arrive at many of the same conclusions. For those who want their Washington in even greater detail than Mr. Chernow supplies, Flexner's multivolume work remains the most readable and authoritative source ... n his author's note, Mr. Chernow announces that he has changed his subject's grammar, fixing commas to smooth older texts. This is no minor matter, but it works well in a biography that wants most of all to create a living George Washington.
Chernow’s aim is to make of Washington something other than a 'lifeless waxwork,' an 'impossibly stiff and wooden figure, composed of too much marble to be quite human.' That has been the aim of every Washington biographer, and none of them have achieved it.
... purists may wonder whether we really need another Washington biography. Strictly speaking, the answer has to be: not this one ... The author brings no new evidence to bear and advances no fundamentally new interpretation. The justification for Chernow’s book lies elsewhere: in the fluency of the argument, the wisdom of the author’s judgments, and – despite its length – the tautness of the narrative, which keeps the reader engrossed from the first to the last page. Some stylistic slips and a tendency towards the homespun aside, the author writes well, and has a remarkable eye for telling anecdotes and quotations ... Wisely, Chernow does not explicitly set out to write a biography 'for our times’. All the same, his account bears an obvious message for American readers: big government, far from being a betrayal of the Founding Fathers, is as American as pecan pie.
Chernow makes familiar scenes fresh (like the crossing of the Delaware) and expertly brings the provisional revolutionary and early Republican eras to life ... while he never hides Washington's less than saintly moments or shirks the vexed question of slavery, he often seems to ignore the data he's collected. Examples of shady dealing are quickly followed by tales of Washington's unimpeachable ethics or impeccable political savvy. At times it feels as if Chernow, for all his careful research and talent for synthesis, is in the grip of a full-scale crush. The result is a good book that would have been great if better edited, and if Chernow had trusted that Washington's many merits, even when accompanied by his faults, would speak for themselves.