Wednesday, October 6, 2010
His first book, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance (800+ pages) was published in 1990 and won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book traced the history of four generations of the J.P. Morgan financial empire. In 1998 Chernow published his biography of John D. Rockefeller, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (also 800+ pages). The book reflected Chernow's continued interest in financial history. Titan was selected by Time magazine and The New York Times as one of the year's ten best books.
In 2004, Chernow published his 832-page biography, Alexander Hamilton, which won the inaugural George Washington Book Prize for early American history. The George Washington Book Prize is sponsored by a partnership of three institutions devoted to furthering scholarship on America’s founding era: Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and George Washington's Mount Vernon. The $50,000 prize is the nation’s largest literary award for early American history, and one of the largest prizes of any kind.
And what an interesting twist of fate that was, because now, six years later, Chernow has produced another doorstopping master work, this time a richly nuanced portrait of the very same George Washington, clocking in at about 900 pages. Washington: A Life, published by The Penguin Press, just went on sale yesterday. I wonder if he'll win the George Washington prize for Washington too?
The author's stated goal in writing this latest historical portrait is to present a cradle-to-grave narrative that will create a fresh portrait of Washington that will make him "real, credible, and charismatic in the same way that he was perceived by his contemporaries." "The upshot, I hope, will be that readers, instead of having a frosty respect for Washington, will experience a visceral appreciation of this foremost American who scaled the highest peak of political greatness."
Ron Chernow calls Washington “the most famously elusive figure in American history, a remote, enigmatic personage more revered than truly loved.” Despite Washington's elusivity, Chernow definitely found something to write about: Chernow’s is the longest single-volume biography of Washington ever published. I love thoughtful, meaty biographies -- I can't wait to dig into this one!
You can listen to a brief review of this new book on NPR's "All Things Considered" by clicking on this link.
In the video below, Chernow takes us on a walking tour of George Washington related sites in New York City.