Friday, January 5, 2024

Bacon Presidential Library Vol. 10: The Life of George Washington

The Life of George Washington - John Marshall
Franklin Classics
394 Pages

In the course of a huge reading project like the Presidential one I’m undertaking, two things happen. First, it’s more difficult than I thought to stay interested in a single subject for that long. Maybe my tendency to be a bit obsessive has made this list longer than it really needs to be. It’s definitely taking longer than I thought. Second, sometimes you run into books that are just boring. This book, The Life of George Washington by John Marshall, is one of those. It’s just the time period of publication that is the main culprit. People speak so differently in 2023 than they did in 1804. That change is fully evident in this book.

John Marshall was Secretary of State under John Adams for nine months before being named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He served as Chief Justice longer than any other in Supreme Court history. Marshall began a biography shortly after his appointment to the court. Originally, it was five volumes with over one thousand pages. This book is a 400-page abridgement of that work. The five volume series was the first biography ever written of a president.

By far, this book took me the longest to get through. It took even longer to read than it took me to read the entire, multi-volume biography by James Flexner. The language is dry and repetitive. Since Marshall is writing so soon after the events described, he sometimes glosses over certain events because of his familiarity with them. This results in a loss to the modern reader unless they’ve been well versed in more history.

There is a lot of good information in this biography despite the tedium. I would not suggest this book as a start into biographies of George Washington. It’s not for the faint of heart. Before reading this book, I considered trying to find a copy of the complete, five volume set to read. After struggling with this book, I’m quite happy that I did not. While I learned a lot reading the abridged version of The Life of George Washington by John Marshall, but I would tell the casual reader to steer clear of it unless they’re a bit obsessive like me.

Craig Bacon is still chipping away at the list of presidential biographies. He’s actually read a lot more Washington books. He’s just behind on the reviews.

NEXT UP: Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington - Peter R. Henriques