Chernow writes riveting portrait of Washington

"Washington: A Life" (Penguin Press, $40), by Ron Chernow: Daunting in both size and scope, this biography by National Book Award winner Ron Chernow examines the life and influence of the first president of the United States.

Despite the many volumes written about George Washington, the legend still somehow supersedes the facts. More of an icon than an actual human being, Washington seems almost like a religious figure (witness the painting in the Capitol rotunda, for example). With so many preconceived notions in the reader's mind before the first page of "Washington: A Life" is turned, Chernow has a seemingly insurmountable task before him.

The complete life of Washington is covered here, from his participation in the French and Indian War to his love of his best friend's wife. Torn, he began the courtship of a rich widow who would soon become his wife. Throughout his early life, it's clear that he is destined for greatness.

As Washington grows older and becomes the general of the Revolutionary Army and later the first president of the new country of 13 colonies, a riveting portrait emerges. The result is a flesh-and-blood man with conflicting emotions and sheer magnetism that others respected, whether he was a soldier or a politician.

Chernow has written award-winning biographies before tackling the "Father of our Country," but this is his best book to date. It will now be considered the definitive biography of George Washington, and awards and accolades are sure to follow.


Jeff Ayers is the author of "Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion" (Pocket Books, 2006).

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