Numero uno

George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall
Despite having a general (ha! get the hideous pun?) positive regard for our first president, I’ve darn near ignored him all these years. At least ever since I read all of those presidential biographies (the 64-page jobs) in 3rd grade.
I think I’ve been freaked out by the slaveholder aspect, so I’ve kept him far distant. I remain freaked out by that part, but I’ve gone in and read this here book anyway.
At first, I was a little bit worried that I’d waded in too deep. Meaning: there was an awful lot of detail about Washington’s younger years, and I was getting a little bit weary of all of that French and Indian War stuff.
But—every now and again, one of the author’s sentences would make me smile. So I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did. Randall makes Washington seem human. Thank goodness for that.
Here’s some of the stuff a person can learn about Washington:
– When he was a young soldier, he was not very successful At All.
– All that stuff about him being in love with his best friend’s wife: True. (But it seems to have been one of those unrequited situations, which earns him some points in my book. I’m an odd one that way.)
Once we got to the part when the Revolutionary War was in progress, (for me) this book really got cooking. Especially when Benedict Arnold did that traitor thing—gripping, I tell you!
(Quick aside: Am I the only one out there who first learned about Benedict Arnold from The Brady Bunch, when one of the boys [Bobby?] referred that way to someone who betrayed him? OK. Back to the book…)
Here is a wonderful sentence that captures a lot, both about Washington and about the American Revolution: “How George Washington brought the United States to victory in its war for independence was a mystery to the British, a wonder to the French, and a surprise to most Americans.” (p. 397) Indeed.
As I mentioned, this book brings Washington to life, and it largely brings him to life as a hero. Not that his slaveholding is ignored, but it’s not harshly criticized. But we know it’s there, lurking in the background, and it casts a shadow.
Overall, I’ve decided this approach to biography works for me: give me the grand narrative, but also tell me about the warts, and then I’ll get a sense of the person.
And… in other GW news, National Geographic put together a video that’s pretty interesting, and it’s free right here on the interweb:

And, in reading challenge news, this is my 19th presidential biography! I’m inching my way to the halfway point…

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