Outside correspondent Peter Stark considers George Washington's early days as a brash young soldier for the British Empire in the wild Ohio Valley before and during the French and Indian War, formative experiences that Stark argues molded the less-than-heroic character of the first President of the United States.
Mr. Stark presents these stormy events with rare narrative skill that engages all the reader’s senses, as in his rendition of the Battle of Fort Necessity ... Mr. Stark’s work is supremely entertaining: the pacing superb, the descriptions of conflict and wilderness travails rousing ... a worthy addition to the shelf of Washington biographies.
The main strength of Young Washington derives from how often its author is willing to wander away from young Washington. The years of Washington's young manhood – spent as a lower-rung member of Virginia's landed gentry and trekking in the Ohio Valley wilderness – coincided with (and in their own way exacerbated) the rising tensions between the great powers of England and France. Stark captures those rising tensions with a dramatic tension that strengthens from chapter to chapter, helped along by generous helpings of colorful scene-setting ... the whole performance is further elevated by the more-or-less even-handed way he deals with his title character. George Washington in his twenties and early thirties was a moody, morose prig who towered over his men but did not inspire them, a tirelessly loyal and hard-working officer who perfectly served his superiors but never pleased them, and those realities, plainly visible in dispatches and letters and memoirs, is often unpalatable to historians and biographers intent on presenting a marble hero to their readers. Stark doesn't seem to have that intent, or at least not much of it; rather, he concentrates on how transforming the experiences of these decades would be on Washington.
It's not your father's Father of His Country at the forefront of Peter Stark's Young Washington. Think more along the lines of a rash nephew ... Stark, at one point using 11 uncomplimentary adjectives in one sentence, doesn't sugar-coat his subject. The young colonel is vain and frequently threatens to resign his commission, and he isn't above bending the facts in letters to authorities. He also unapologetically hangs two deserters 'for example's sake' ... But that's just a sidelight in Young Washington. In the crucible of war, he learned to control his passion in more ways than one.