Monday, July 12, 2021

The Bacon Presidential Library vol. 6: Washington

Washington - Douglas Southall Freeman

(edited by Richard Harwell)

Simon & Schuster

754 Pages

I know it’s been awhile since I last posted about the Presidential reading project that I’ve embarked upon. Part of that was because of the length of this particular book and how utterly, mind-numbingly boring it was. The other part was that I got behind on other things around the house and that book and subsequent review got put on the back burner. I’m still behind on the project, but the next few books will be much quicker and easier to read. 

This particular version of Washington is the well known abridgement of Freeman’s critically acclaimed seven-volume biography of our first president. The unabridged work has been widely considered the best biography of George Washington. At one point I was considering reading the whole seven book series. However, after one hundred pages of Harwell’s abridgment, I quickly changed my mind. Maybe the original work is an easier read, but this was not a very fun book to trudge through.

At the beginning of the book, I was quite impressed by Harwell’s introduction. I thought that if the rest of the book read like the intro, I would simply love the book. This book quickly fell into a mundane reading of George Washington’s life without much regard for events that shaped the decisions that he made. Almost two-thirds of the book dealt with the American Revolution, although much of the environmental factors around Washington’s decision process were lacking. 

Much of Washington’s early life is broadly overlooked, just as most of his second term as president and post-presidential life. Far too much of the focus was on his time during the Revolution but without the backstory to enrich the leader on Washington’s life during that time period. What we are left with is, frankly, dry and lifeless. While Freeman’s opus is considered one of the greatest, I cannot fathom how Harwell’s abridgement can be judged to be on par.

If I ever get through this whole reading project and decide to revisit some of the Presidents again, Freeman’s complete, seven-volume series may make an appearance on that list, along with Washington Irving’s biography. For now, I’m ready to move on and finish my Washington books. I’m already behind schedule. It’s time to get reading.

Craig Bacon may have finally found a book that almost defeated him.

Next Up: His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis