Valley Forge by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

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Valley Forge. Now that’s a subject worthy of its own book. If nothing else, there’s George Washington. Washington attracts great writers you know. Ron Chernow was compelled to give us a life of Washington while David McCullough gave us 1776, so it’s no surprise to me that the bestselling author team of Bob Drury and Tom Clavin were pulled to Valley Forge. Valley Forge made for one of the greatest chapters of Washington’s celebrated life and contributed immensely to his mystique. Drury and Clavin give it the treatment it deserves in this fine book.

The authors struck the right balance in setting up the famous winter in Valley Forge, telling its story, and describing what followed along with its significance. Part 1 tells us of a series of failures that led into the dismal winter. Wait till you read of Brandywine. That this book ends in great victory makes the whole story something of a microcosm of Washington’s amazing life. He had more losses than most any famous general, yet he always preserved to ultimate victory. Defeat never crushed him, the odds never defied him, and he is the poster child of fearlessness in battle. He could rally men that seemed beyond it. All in all, he makes for thrilling reading as this book turns out to be.

It would be unfair, though, to call this only a biography of an episode of Washington’s life. There are all kinds of heroes and villains to be found. For example, you will despise Charles Lee by book’s end. There’s plenty more across the field among the Redcoats too.

The famous winter is great drama as well. The suffering was real—so real that the victories in the following spring seemed unreal. My only complaint with this book is that the authors were perhaps more skeptical of some of the Christian elements than seemed necessary. I know legends always have a potential of growing, but the evidence of Washington’s genuine Christianity is greater than what’s found here.

If you love either Washington or the Revolutionary War, or for that matter any well-written slice of history, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255. 

Founding Father by Richard Brookhiser (Presidential Bio Series)

This volume makes the perfect primer on why we should care about Washington. It is not a biography per se, but it seeks to rescue Washington from the caricature that he has too often been presented as. I actually read this when I was in my late twenties, but I still recall the impact it made. I had read a biography of Washington in High School, though I have since forgotten the author, that I enjoyed. Too often, however, I reduced Washington to the Parson Weems recreation as cherry-tree chopper instead of the vibrant man he was. Washington is anything but cardboard and cold!

Brookhiser holds conservative principles that some will dislike, but only made the book better for me. He drew a good parallel between Washington and today and illustrated where we ought to return to the wisdom he showed. The 20 years that have passed since he wrote this book only make it more so.

It was this book that taught me that reading about presidents beyond textbooks could be both enjoyable and rewarding.  I can’t imagine how you could not enjoy this book.

Find others in the series here.

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Washington by Chernow (Presidential Bio Series)


This volume by Ron Chernow is the best historical biography I have ever read. It is a combination of writing skill, historical accuracy, penetrating insight, and the subject himself. Perhaps a disclaimer is in order: I love George Washington. To my mind, he is far and away the brightest star in the annals of the history of our nation. You might even say that Washington deserved this exceptional, Pulitzer Prize-winning treatment. A tad long for some at 817 pages of text, but the subject demands it.

Here in the hands of a master storyteller Washington is rescued from historical revisionism as well as the caricature of the legend he has become. What is left is a man worthy of admiration. He lived up the legend as much as flesh and blood ever could.

That is not to say that he had no character flaws. Chernow hid nothing. Washington always struggled with being a little vain even if he rarely failed in public expression. He was ambitious, at least until he became weary of his incredible success that went beyond his wildest dreams. He was horrible managing money and though he had vast land holdings, he had cash flow struggles until he died. He wrestled in his conscience over slavery, but could never take the steps his conscience suggested.The politics of his home state of Virginia made it too explosive and he could never figure out how to balance his struggling books since if he set his slaves free he would lose financially since slaves were valuable. He was a product of his times, did nothing to hamper their later release, and at least struggled where Jefferson and Madison never did. Chernow suspects he had an infatuation with a married women when he was younger, but there is no evidence of adultery. He was good to Martha and her children. He was zealous in dealing with any cases of insubordination, even too extreme for some folks. And there was Jummonville. The beauty of this volume is that even after learning of his flaws, your respect remained high.

He was the hero of the Revolution and deservedly so. He was not a tactical genius like, say, a Robert E. Lee, but he had his moments. His success came from persistence, recovering from losses, molding a motley crew, making something out of nothing, and never giving up. Chernow handled this with aplomb.

Chernow also showed what a man’s man he was. Despite his love of fine clothes, he never dodged hardship. Chernow’s recounting of Washington’s horsemanship in crossing the Ohio River is one never to be forgotten. Washington was also fearless. In fact, he has no equal in fearlessness. Bullets never scared him. He always believed God would protect him till his time was done. In that every Washington family member except his mother died young, he never expected to live long anyway. He faced life-threatening health crisis several times in his life. He faced his actual death with his fearlessness in tact.

He had hardship. Chernow traces his relationship with his wretched mother. What mother what not have been thrilled to have had as revered a son as Washington? His self-absorbed mother did not and was a carping critic throughout his life.

Chernow did not hide Washington’s Christian faith. Perhaps he did not see it as strong as I did in a few spots, but he did not obscure a vital component to who Washington was as a person.

Chernow also summarized Washington’s life in a fair way. He did succeed as a President. Perhaps he did not think he had succeeded with all the bickering of his cabinet as he presided before the official start of political parties, but he was visionary in a way that no other leader we have had has done. He truly put his country first and blessed succeeding generations beyond measure.I wish today some politicians could bury their ambition, which is a human struggle for all, and put the nation first.

This is the first volume I would purchase in creating a presidential biography series. It is a treasure.

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