Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Ron Chernow Could Be Reading!
Tonight, I attended a book talk and signing by Ron Chernow, whose biography of Alexander Hamilton has been praised by reviewers as "grand-scale biography at its best--thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written." Mr. Chernow has now written a new, expansive biography of the greatest Founding Father of them all--George Washington.
Mr. Chernow gave a fascinating talk. It was one of those moments that we discussed in class today: he spoke for over half an hour without stopping, so I had to just take notes on whatever I thought was important. At one point, he debunked a few myths about our first president. For example, George Washington did not have wooden teeth. However, he did start losing his teeth when he was in his twenties, he only had one tooth left in his mouth by the time he was president, and he had to use dentures made of ivory.
More importantly, though, George Washington was not some cold, stuffy man. When I asked Mr. Chernow what he thought middle school students should know about the Father of the Country, he said that we should understand Washington's personality. He was "passionate, complex, sensitive," "fierce, demanding, hard-driving," Mr. Chernow said. Washington was so inspiring that he was unanimously chosen as the top revolutionary general, as the president of the Constitutional Convention, and as the President of the United States (twice!). He was a great athlete; some called him the best horseman in America. He held a rag-tag army of patriots together for over eight years--and Mr. Chernow doubts that any other patriot could have led for as long and as well as he did.
Mr. Chernow did his own share of impressive work to write this book. The book is over 900 pages long and he spent over six years researching and writing it. Just to start, he read through more than 130,000 primary source documents known as the George Washington Papers. You might think that that would be exhausting, but Mr. Chernow seems to love his work.
He was happy to hear about your studies, especially given that our school is in Washington Heights. When he signed our book (yes, it's ours, check out the photo below), I gave him our blog address. What if this world-famous historian actually visited our website? What would you want to say to him? What would you want to ask him about George Washington or anything else? Write your questions and comments and--who knows!--maybe we'll hear from him someday.