A Portrait On Paper: Chernow's 'Washington, A Life' Abigail Adams said that "simple truth" was George Washington's "greatest eulogy," and Ron Chernow proves it in his captivating new biography. Chernow keeps his distance from the founding father's mythology, and instead examines his foibles and triumphs.
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A Portrait On Paper: Chernow's 'Washington, A Life'

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A Portrait On Paper: Chernow's 'Washington, A Life'

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Book Reviews

A Portrait On Paper: Chernow's 'Washington, A Life'

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: Reviewer Ralph Eubanks reports that Chernow's book is a bold and nuanced new biography, one that's worth the time it will take you to read the 900-plus pages.

RALPH EUBANKS: While painting one of his famous portraits, Gilbert Stuart discovered that George Washington was a different man from the cool, calm and composed figure of his public persona. Stuart believed that he was by nature a man of fierce and irritable disposition. Never one to let his guard down, Washington resisted Stuart's attempts to get him to open up. He believed a man should be courteous to all but intimate with few.

W: What helped Chernow write a biography that captures Washington's essence is the close reading he did of 60 volumes of letters and diaries published as part of the George Washington Papers project, as well as numerous other works of scholarship.

EUBANKS: Readers also get a sense of Washington's ambivalence about slavery. Chernow explains how Washington struggled with the idea of slavery but fell back on the self-serving fantasy that it would fall away.

A L: A Life" keeps its distance from Washington mythology, and its narrative informs as much as it entertains. Starting with the book's epigraph - Simple truth is his greatest eulogy, a quote from Abigail Adams - Chernow lets the reader know he wants to give an accurate portrayal of an enigmatic historical figure. In this book's pages, he does it in a way that not even the most gifted portrait artist of George Washington ever could.

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: And you can read an excerpt about that first portrait session with Gilbert Stuart and George Washington at our website, npr.org.

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