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Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington (published in five volumes in 1856–59) was the product of his last years and remains his most personal work. Christened with the name of the great general, Irving was blessed by Washington while still a boy of seven, and later came to know many of the prominent figures of the Revolution. In these pages he describes them using f Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington (published in five volumes in 1856–59) was the product of his last years and remains his most personal work. Christened with the name of the great general, Irving was blessed by Washington while still a boy of seven, and later came to know many of the prominent figures of the Revolution. In these pages he describes them using firsthand source material and observation. The result is a book which is fascinating not only for its subject (the American Revolution), but also for how it reveals in illuminating detail the personality and humanity of a now remote, towering icon. Here is an intimate portrait of Washington the man, from Virginia youth to colonial commander to commander-in-chief of the patriot army to first president and great guiding force of the American federation. But one cannot read Irving’s Life without marveling at the supreme art behind it, for his biography is foremost a work of literature. Charles Neider’s abridgment and editing of Irving’s long out-of-print classic has created a literary work comparable in importance and elegance to the original. George Washington, A Biography, Neider’s title for his edition of Irving’s Life, makes the work accessible to modern audiences. The extensive introduction provides a detailed analysis of Irving’s life and times, and the difficulties he faced as he worked against his own failing health to finish what he felt was his masterpiece. This new edition of the superb biography of America’s first citizen by America’s first literary artist remains as fresh and unique today as when it was penned.


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Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington (published in five volumes in 1856–59) was the product of his last years and remains his most personal work. Christened with the name of the great general, Irving was blessed by Washington while still a boy of seven, and later came to know many of the prominent figures of the Revolution. In these pages he describes them using f Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington (published in five volumes in 1856–59) was the product of his last years and remains his most personal work. Christened with the name of the great general, Irving was blessed by Washington while still a boy of seven, and later came to know many of the prominent figures of the Revolution. In these pages he describes them using firsthand source material and observation. The result is a book which is fascinating not only for its subject (the American Revolution), but also for how it reveals in illuminating detail the personality and humanity of a now remote, towering icon. Here is an intimate portrait of Washington the man, from Virginia youth to colonial commander to commander-in-chief of the patriot army to first president and great guiding force of the American federation. But one cannot read Irving’s Life without marveling at the supreme art behind it, for his biography is foremost a work of literature. Charles Neider’s abridgment and editing of Irving’s long out-of-print classic has created a literary work comparable in importance and elegance to the original. George Washington, A Biography, Neider’s title for his edition of Irving’s Life, makes the work accessible to modern audiences. The extensive introduction provides a detailed analysis of Irving’s life and times, and the difficulties he faced as he worked against his own failing health to finish what he felt was his masterpiece. This new edition of the superb biography of America’s first citizen by America’s first literary artist remains as fresh and unique today as when it was penned.

30 review for George Washington: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lowe

    After just reading this 5-volume Washington Irving biography on George Washington, I regret not having read this years ago. Wow. For a biography published 100 years before I was born, the research was extensive and extremely detailed. I love detail. The more the detail, the deeper one can dig into the soul. Not just "well written," this masterpiece by Irving was history written by a novelist, and history with prose is literature at its best, for this old historian. It was a treat to read, and a After just reading this 5-volume Washington Irving biography on George Washington, I regret not having read this years ago. Wow. For a biography published 100 years before I was born, the research was extensive and extremely detailed. I love detail. The more the detail, the deeper one can dig into the soul. Not just "well written," this masterpiece by Irving was history written by a novelist, and history with prose is literature at its best, for this old historian. It was a treat to read, and a pleasure to learn new facts that 4 other Washington biographies I read didn't match. Reading this was fun, and enjoyable... and very educational.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Spencer

    This book shared a lot of details about George Washington's life that I did not know, so I learned a lot. It pretty lengthy = 717 pages long, which meant it took me many months of reading, since it was just a lunch-time read at work. He died at the young age of 67 after taking a horse ride on his estate in the month of December. He did not wear a hat, nor did he change out of his somewhat wet clothes in the evening, so he developed a cough and a cold, which eventually took his life. From account This book shared a lot of details about George Washington's life that I did not know, so I learned a lot. It pretty lengthy = 717 pages long, which meant it took me many months of reading, since it was just a lunch-time read at work. He died at the young age of 67 after taking a horse ride on his estate in the month of December. He did not wear a hat, nor did he change out of his somewhat wet clothes in the evening, so he developed a cough and a cold, which eventually took his life. From accounts of people who knew him, they thought he was in the best health of his life, but Irving makes it sound like Washington felt his life was to end soon. In fact, Washington states that he knew from the beginning of the cold/cough/flu that it would take his life. He had made detailed plans and completed his will not many months previously. Washington Irving was named after General Washington, and it sounds that he actually met him once in a bookstore in New York (if I remember correctly). Irving is a good writer, but if you are looking for a quick read that tells you about the exciting things in Washington's life, this may not be the biography you want. He quotes from many letters and documents and tells about Washington's life, including many details about the Revolutionary War, so many of those sections are quite exciting, but it is 19th-century writing that tries to be elevated and erudite, which can be taxing at times for the modern reader. Yes, there's so little I knew about the Revolutionary War that this book really was helpful in putting together pieces and painting a more complete picture of what actually happened. Irving never says anything negative about General Washington and paints him as nearly perfect and yet he also details some of the intense pains that he suffered during the war trying to keep soldiers, fighting against a better-trained army, and working with Congress which rarely gave him the money or resources required. Our first president surely was an incredible man who sacrificed much so that our country could gain its independence and get started on the right foot. I'm glad he remained neutral and ratified the treaty with England in the late 1790s. I didn't know that the year he died they were asking him to be in charge of the army should France continue hostilities against them. He could not say "No" when his country needed him.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    (See also update from 1-16, below.) 1/18/09- Finished vol. 3 After taking a break from reading over November-January, I finished it today and found it a very satisfying, read except for the anxious state of affairs at the end. Washington Irving properly portrays General Washington as a steady, amiable, Godly man who did not let his feelings take control of him. He was truly a mighty patriot and loving general who felt both paternally and politically responsible for the army under his care. I was de (See also update from 1-16, below.) 1/18/09- Finished vol. 3 After taking a break from reading over November-January, I finished it today and found it a very satisfying, read except for the anxious state of affairs at the end. Washington Irving properly portrays General Washington as a steady, amiable, Godly man who did not let his feelings take control of him. He was truly a mighty patriot and loving general who felt both paternally and politically responsible for the army under his care. I was deeply impressed by his dignified silence when others attempted to divest him of his position as Chief Commander of the Armies of the United States, naming him in undisguised terms, in letters that reached him in roundabout ways, a "weak general" who needed to be replaced by the celebrated General Charles Lee, whom more avid historians will remember doomed his career when he disobeyed Washington's orders at the Battle of Monmouth. Through all the rumors, spiteful comments, and intrigues, Washington did not once defend himself publicly, until induced to respond; and even then, did not boast himself as being a General the American people should be proud of. On the contrary, he actually agreed with some of the accusations of indecision and failures in some campaigns. But at length the opposition died away, and his truly patriot character was once more realized by the people. Nearly everything he undertook was blessed, and he almost always seemed to divine the enemy's plan which I sincerely believe was God's Hand on him. Needless to say, I eagerly anticipate reading the concluding volumes about this great and good man. 1/16/09 According to Wikipedia, a draft for British operations against the Americans, drawn up in General Charles Lee’s hand, was found in the Howe (Sir William Howe) family archives in 1857. This may have been the reason for his retreating at Monmouth when he should have attacked the British rear column according to General Washington’s orders. (story found in Chapter 34 in the Life of Washington.) 9-3-08 Am reading the 3rd Vol. along with the Diaries. There ARE five volumes, just not as many on the Robinson list. Irving said in the forward to the 3rd Vol. that he had told his publishers that he'd PROBABLY do it in 3 volumes, and they advertised it that way. But he soon found that "his theme unexpectedly expanded under his pen"... so the third wasn't the last.:) That's fine with me. After graduation I'd love to read the last two. Right now, I'll just finish what I have to! ~~~~~ Hoping to read Vol. 3 while reading Vol. 3 of the Diaries, but not sure b/c our printer doesn't want to print correctly and I already read Vol. 2 all off the computer (shouldn't do that on a reg. basis...).:/ ~~~~~ Reading vol. 2 now. However, I'm not sure why the title says there are five volumes-- the Robinson list says there are only 3... ~~~~~ Finished Vol. 1. Well written, very interesting! I still need to read off the computer or get a printed copy of vols 2-5.

  4. 4 out of 5

    M

    Insightful book on Washington’s life and campaigns written by a near contemporary. Some vivid and beautiful language. Especially interesting to read about Washington’s early campaigns fighting the French-Indian wars as a very young man. He was given huge responsibilities even in his twenties to lead a large number of men through the wilderness to fight the French. This book fleshes out Washington’s life beyond the rather one-dimensional story we’re taught in high school. Quite interesting to see Insightful book on Washington’s life and campaigns written by a near contemporary. Some vivid and beautiful language. Especially interesting to read about Washington’s early campaigns fighting the French-Indian wars as a very young man. He was given huge responsibilities even in his twenties to lead a large number of men through the wilderness to fight the French. This book fleshes out Washington’s life beyond the rather one-dimensional story we’re taught in high school. Quite interesting to see Washington’s unflinching courage but also his young prideful ways, attention to dress and manners and protocol, and his capacity as a businessman. The best biographical writing I’ve encounter on Washington.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    (I read part 1 of 5 volumes of this work. It seems that the other 4 volumes are difficult to acquire. In fact, you can't get them at all on Kindle. This is a crime against humanity that needs to be remedied. So this review is only referring to Volume 1. I will try to get to the other ones eventually.) I don't usually read very much non-fiction, and I don't think I have read a proper Biography since Elementary school. But I do like to learn more about historical figures. George Washington, as the f (I read part 1 of 5 volumes of this work. It seems that the other 4 volumes are difficult to acquire. In fact, you can't get them at all on Kindle. This is a crime against humanity that needs to be remedied. So this review is only referring to Volume 1. I will try to get to the other ones eventually.) I don't usually read very much non-fiction, and I don't think I have read a proper Biography since Elementary school. But I do like to learn more about historical figures. George Washington, as the first President of the United States, is a person whose life and words seem to be oft thrown around by people making partisan political arguments. Along with all the other 'Founding Fathers', it is often asserted that Washington would be either appalled by or proud of all sorts of various political causes. But I suspect that most people don't actually know hardly anything at all about George Washington any more. All I really knew before reading this book was that he was the first President. He was the commanding general of our side in the Revolutionary war. And...uh...that's about it. I found this book to be fairly straight-forward, but still fascinating. The book was written more than 150 years ago by Washington Irving, who had personally met George Washington in his life. So some readers may find the older style of writing to be more difficult to read, or complain that it is boring. But on the plus side, it is also written in a more pure, journalistic fashion than a lot of modern non-fiction. It didn't seem to strive to dramatize or spin the story of Washington's life. It simply gave you the facts of George Washington's early years leading up to the beginning of the American Revolution. And that was plenty of information in and of itself. Particularly I enjoyed the parts of the book describing Washington's earlier years growing up, and the years that he served in the British military. I found it very informative on how he developed to eventually become the man and the leader that we would need. It was very detailed, I felt in reading this book that I could understand the type of person that he was. It was clearly very well researched, and my favorite parts were reading letters written by Washington himself about various events in the book. I believe that a lot of the propaganda we learned about George Washington in school, or from politicians, and modern writers, has done him, and us, a great disservice. The real human being behind the legend is far more admirable than the mythical version. This book does not seem to pander to any particular political persuasion. George Washington is the one president we can all admire equally. I'm glad I read this book because now I can admire him on his actual merits, and not just because he didn't tell a lie after chopping down his father's cherry tree (a story which is not referenced at all in this book). This book simply describes a person who was uniquely positioned to rise to the challenges of his times, and in spite of great adversity was always willing to give everything he had in service to his fellow man. He gave far more than was ever asked of him only for the reason that he felt it was the right thing to do, and at great personal cost to himself. And that's just the first volume. **sidenote: as a liberal, I have to note that this book did not paint a very religious picture. I'm sure Washington was religious as was everyone at the time. But nothing in his personal writings, or writings of others, or the writing of this book, implied him to be the christian crusader that the modern political right is always talking about. If he was constantly getting down off his horse to pray in the snow, as in all those famous paintings, then he seems to have kept it well to himself.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    This book is a treasure trove of anecdotes about the American Revolution. Some of the facts may be questionable, but the stories are told by the master, Washington Irving, who was born in 1783 and interviewed veterans. Did you know Benedict Arnold was a hero in the battle of Saratoga? Credit for that victory went to General Gates of Massachusetts, but the battle was really led by an elderly dutchman. What's the true story behind Uncle Sam? Irving makes the battle of Breeds Hill unforgettable, and This book is a treasure trove of anecdotes about the American Revolution. Some of the facts may be questionable, but the stories are told by the master, Washington Irving, who was born in 1783 and interviewed veterans. Did you know Benedict Arnold was a hero in the battle of Saratoga? Credit for that victory went to General Gates of Massachusetts, but the battle was really led by an elderly dutchman. What's the true story behind Uncle Sam? Irving makes the battle of Breeds Hill unforgettable, and describes the role played by people we have almost forgotten, such as Josiah Warren and Israel Putnam. I found a moldy copy in my local library.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    There is much to be learned and appreciated in this volume. On the second to the last page, there is this prescient quotation from Washington, from a letter written in 1797: "I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State [Virginia] could see the policy of a gradual abolition of slavery. It might prevent much future mischief."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Hardin

    I read George Washington Biography by Washington Irving. I rated it four out of five stars because it was really personal. The book was mostly about the background of George Washington and his family and what he did for war and as a president. I liked this book very well. The category was nonfiction. The genre was biography.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Russell

    Didn't finish this book-& I never don't finish a book. I love biographies but this was the "hardest read" I've attempted in a very long time. I know it's a classic but I just can't do it right now. Read about 300 pgs of 782. Sad commentary on me, or the book, not sure which. Didn't finish this book-& I never don't finish a book. I love biographies but this was the "hardest read" I've attempted in a very long time. I know it's a classic but I just can't do it right now. Read about 300 pgs of 782. Sad commentary on me, or the book, not sure which.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Beautiful writing. Lost a star because the book was 95% Revolutionary War. I was hoping for a more well-rounded biography. Washington's Presidency and retirement were just touched on. Still an excellent book, especially if you're looking for a refresher on the war.

  11. 5 out of 5

    James

  12. 5 out of 5

    Roger

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ric Christensen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Don McNay

  15. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Evans-small

  16. 4 out of 5

    Roderick Brunt

  17. 4 out of 5

    Philip Jensen

    This is one of the greatest set of books I have ever read in regards to George Washington.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Rotella

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joel Allan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jaynie Zakibe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kat

  24. 5 out of 5

    Doug Marshall

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Bobbitt

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carl

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Bardan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Frank Collier

  30. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Chase

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