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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Inventing George Washington

 From time to time I'll be posting book reviews. 
This review was first published in the Historical Novel Society magazine early 2011.

Thought it might be time for this one, as I've learned that one of our over-privileged media blow-hards has recently added another book to the "inventions" column on the subject of George Washington--our famous citizen/general who would NOT be King. If you happen to read that one, this book should be taken immediately as an antidote.

by  Edward C. Lengel
 HarperCollins, $ 17.15, 2011, 272 pp,
ISBN 978-0-06-166258-4

George Washington, hailed by a modern biographer as “indispensible,” was once a man, but he has become a kind of inkblot, a projection of the times in which we live, a projection of the causes dear to our hearts. This book, written by the editor-in-chief of The Washington Papers project, has grown from the author's professional life of study of this subject. 

When Washington died, in 1799, Americans felt as if they’d lost a father. His death deprived the country of the grand old man a mere decade after the Founding of the Republic, at a time when both political divisions and external threats were running high.  After all, he’d been our first president, our greatest general, and a public person for much of his life. By the turn of the 19th century, a fantastic image had already begun to separate from the real, human Washington, and his early death certtainly accelerated the process.

With a razor wit and a wealth of source at his fingertips, Mr. Lengel dissects the growth and proliferation of every Washington story you ever heard--and some you might not have--from the holy treacle dispensed by “Parson” Weems to the accusations of angry revisionists and the outright fabrications of tea party politicians. Creating a multiplicity of Washingtons, as Americans attempt to find the person behind the symbol, continues to be both a profitable and politically useful enterprise.

--Juliet Waldron  

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