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FOUNDING FATHER by Richard Brookhiser

FOUNDING FATHER

Rediscovering George Washington

By Richard Brookhiser

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-82291-1
Publisher: Free Press

 An elegant overview of the life of this nation's founding father. Brookhiser (The Way of the WASP, 1990), a senior editor at the National Review, examines George Washington's career as military man, politician, and citizen. Brookhiser notes that Washington became something of a myth in his own time (in 1776, a town in western Massachusetts renamed itself in his honor, and post-revolutionary babies throughout the US were christened after him) and that this mythic status has made it difficult for us to appreciate the man. It doesn't help matters, Brookhiser continues, that Washington was extraordinarily reserved; the author cannot help taking digs at ``kinder, gentler presidents who feel our pain'' in the light of the first president's careful modesty. Other biographers have painted fuller pictures of George Washington, but this slender book is a worthy appreciation in its own right. The author runs freely with small details that, on examination, tell us much about Washington's greatness; he sidestepped, for instance, the call to become king of the new nation in the face of widespread popular appeal for a homegrown monarch, and against much resistance in the Constitutional Convention he held out for federal authority to veto state laws that were unconstitutional. Of special interest is Brookhiser's analysis of the two chief crises of Washington's presidential career, namely the Whiskey Rebellion and the struggle to ratify Jay's Treaty with England; the former illustrates Washington's wise exercise of both restraint and force as necessary, and the latter shows his understanding of the role of a small, new nation in international politics. Brookhiser's only missteps, and they are rare indeed, are in the direction of psychobiography; to understand Washington, it does not help much to remark that ``a sense of latent anger, of suppressed force, can be an aspect of courage.'' A well-placed attempt to put George Washington once again ``first in the hearts of his countrymen.''