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Washington: A Life

George Washington seems simultaneously the most iconic of American presidents, but also most inscrutable. A true hero of the Revolution, Washington’s legacy became one of the first truly American myths.

Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life does not fracture the implacable edifice Washington constitutes today, but the book does a great deal to humanize exactly which virtues this ambitious Virginia planter cultivated on his path to greatness. In a phrase, self-control; it was the trait that ingratiated him to older patricians before and during his early days in the French and Indian War, leading to the military credibility and “known quantity” factor that enabled him to receive such power in the early federal government.

What’s more, at least from the time he received his continental command, Washington seems to have realized his own historic significance; from the attention to his archives to his measured demurral of the Presidency and constant yearning for the pastoral life on Mt. Vernon, he seems a man who stood separate from the whims and fancies of his contemporaries. If only his views on slavery had progressed more quickly it would be hard to litigate a single complaing against this first American President.

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