#69 – Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (My 100 Favorite Books)


This was a fascinating biography of the founder of our country.  Beyond being one of the founding fathers, he was also a pretty great man.  What I appreciated most in this detailed biography though, was that Chernow does not seek to ignore Washington’s flaws.  Washington was a slave owner who was both uncomfortable with slave owning yet he sought to recover his slaves when they ran away.  His discomfort with slavery came more from economic reasons than moral ones.  By the end of his life, as he was already witnessing the coming break between north and south, he was more comfortable with northerners who opposed slavery than with his fellow southern slaveowners.

I enjoy reading biographies like this because it reminds me that people are complex.  It would be easy to simply condemn everyone in the past who didn’t live up to our morals, but if we did that honestly there would be no one who met such standards.  Every human is a person of their time and even those who rise above their time in some areas are still lodged in their time in others.  The cautionary tale is that if we judge our forebears, it is inevitable that in a few centuries (or decades) we too will be judged by our descendants for our own moral flaws and shortcomings.

Finally, I hope to read Chernow’s books on Alexander Hamilton and Ulysses Grant soon (as well as seeing the musical Hamilton!).

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