cover image Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy

Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy

Nathaniel Philbrick. Viking, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-56217-7

Philbrick (In the Hurricane’s Eye) retraces George Washington’s presidential travels from 1789 to 1791 in this entertaining mix of history, travelogue, and memoir that takes a page from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Accompanied by his wife, Melissa, and their dog, Dora, Philbrick follows Washington’s footsteps in New England, Long Island, and the South. Along the way, he weaves in brisk profiles of Washington’s companions, including his Black manservant, Billy Lee, and offers history lessons on the Boston Post Road, the Culper spy ring, and the creation of Washington, D.C. In Fairfield, Conn., Philbrick stops at the Sun Tavern, where Washington probably stayed in 1789; in Ridgeland, S.C., he talks history with a grocery store owner; at Mount Vernon, he discusses the process of “performing George Washington” with interpreter Dan Malissa (“he looks as much like an aging rock star as the first president”). According to Philbrick, Washington’s travels helped create his vision for a unified America, which involved grappling, though not always successfully, with slavery and racism. By freeing those he’d held in slavery after his death, Philbrick contends, Washington signalled the way forward. Echoing both Steinbeck and Washington, Philbrick finds that even in today’s politically divided times, the “American identity” can unite people across regional and philosophical differences. This poignant account strikes a hopeful chord. (Sept.)