INVENTING GEORGE WASHINGTON: America’s Founder, in Myth & Memory by Edward G. Lengel
Harper (January 18, 2011), 272 pages
After reading Ron Chernow’s massive biography on George Washington it seemed appropriate to pick up and read this informative gem on The Father of Our Country. Inventing George Washington is not a biography, but rather a chronicle of his image and memory – as the title suggests – and the books is fascinating.
After dispelling such myths and legends concerning the chopping down of the cherry tree – young George didn’t - and Washington’s wooden dentures – his dental problems were numerous as were his dentures, but none were wooden; the author walks us through the rise, fall and then rise again of Washington’s image in our country’s history. Historians and particularly pseudo-historians, have taken bits and pieces from Washington’s life and molded the man into whatever image suited their purposes. (This phenomenon is very reminiscent of what has happened in modern times with both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.) Without being snide or condescending the author presents what we do know of Washington, weighs this against what has been written – and in many cases accepted as the “truth” – and separates fact from fiction. This “setting of the record straight” is what makes this book truly valuable.
The irony here is that Washington was obsessed with his legacy, but this book shows that even with the best intentions, a public persona, in the wrong hands, can be manipulated for political, ideological and even financial reasons. The author has the credentials and the experience to navigate through these well traveled, but at times not so well charted, Washington waters. And although something more than a superficial knowledge of Washington’s life and times helps when reading this book, I would still recommend it to both “novice” and “expert” alike.
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