Cunliffe’s aim is to examine Washington objectively, as myth and man, neither debunking nor romanticizing. While tracing salient biographical facts, he also encompasses in broad outline the major incidents and personalities of the French and Indian War, the War of Independence, and the early years of the new republic. Consequently, the book serves as both an evaluative biography and a compressed history text. Written for a general readership, it is of interest to young as well as mature adults because of its lively approach to its subject, its readability, and Cunliffe’s sound scholarship.
The author argues that Washington is entombed in an impersonal legend, in a metaphorical monument designed by many architects through the years. That a figure about whom vast information exists should still remain obscure is an enigma that Cunliffe proceeds to resolve by resurrecting his subject.
Cunliffe discloses Washington’s character by relating the events of his life. It is in his prerevolutionary career that reality can most easily be separated from legend, which is one of its strong appeals to youthful readers. Young Washington, forced to be resourceful and responsible at an early age, is portrayed as he developed from social reticence to poise, from financial insecurity to prosperity. He pursued knowledge beyond his rudimentary education even though he lacked the intellectuality of others whom he encountered in his career. Pursuing military ambitions in his twenties, he demonstrated prowess and courage while also being subject to errors arising from pugnacity. Denied preferment by British officers because of his Colonial status, he disenchantedly resigned the militia. He married a rich young widow,...
(The entire section is 703 words.)