cover image GENERAL WASHINGTON'S CHRISTMAS FAREWELL: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783


Stanley Weintraub, . . Free Press, $25 (205pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4654-5

Lord Byron once called George Washington the "Cincinnatus of the West," and Weintraub's compelling account also compares the modern general to the ancient military leader who longed to return to his plow. Washington, weary after eight years of leadership on the battlefield, yearned to return to the life of a farmer at his beloved Mount Vernon, 1,800 acres of land alongside the Potomac River on which his plantation stood, but since he had accepted his commission in 1775, he had returned there only once. By the fall of 1783, after orchestrating the reoccupation of New York—his final act in a distinguished military career—Washington began his long journey back to his wife and home, anxious to arrive in time for Christmas. Drawing on Washington's letters and private papers, Weintraub, who had so much success with another Christmas break in Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, recreates the general's four-week journey home. Along the way, Washington bid farewell to numerous colleagues, was feted in grand style in Philadelphia and Annapolis, and oversaw the transfer of power from the British monarchy to a former colony's republican government. In spite of weather-related delays, Washington arrived at his plantation on Christmas Eve. The general and his wife celebrated the holiday together with numerous guests by burning a Yule log, firing guns and eating heartily. Weintraub's graceful narration brings to life a distant time and place in America, capturing intimately Washington's loyal patriotism and his deep commitment to family. (Nov. 10)

Forecast: This upbeat Christmas story could do as well in holiday sales as Silent Night did, playing also into our current fervor for the founding fathers. It is a History Book Club main selection.