Paul Johnson

Man of Stature

Washington: A Life

By

Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 904pp £35 order from our bookshop

A new life of Washington, 900 pages long? One is tempted to adapt the wartime query about journeys: is your biography really necessary? Washington is perhaps the best-documented person of the entire nineteenth century. From the age of fourteen he hoarded virtually every piece of paper about himself, kept diaries, preserved letters and put everything down in writing. His estate records are remarkable. And in due course he was the beneficiary of the admirable rules of American public life that put every transaction on the record. At the same time he was a man who did not easily unburden or betray his feelings. So he was difficult to know truly both then and now. Hence anyone who digs deeply into the mountain of documentation can produce his own theory of Washington’s character. Ron Chernow, who has already written the lives of Alexander Hamilton and John D Rockefeller, believes that Washington was a much more passionate and temperamental man than is commonly supposed. Fiery moods and carryings-on that raised the blood pressure are the linking theme of this book, and give originality to what is otherwise a competent and well-constructed but conventional portrait. It tells you almost as much as any other life, and has the important merit of being in only one volume.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,