cover image George Washington

George Washington

Willard Sterne Randall / Author Henry Holt & Company $35 (708p

By the time John Adams exclaims, on July 4, 1776, ""The revolution is now complete: all that remains is a war,"" Randall's lively life of Washington is more than half over. In keeping his biography to a single volume, Randall appears to have excised dozens of manuscript pages on the Father of His Country during the fateful years most written about in other accounts of the first president. But this is no loss, for the book covers the formative 44 years of its subject's life in fresh and stylish fashion. Chronicling less the adaptive leader of the struggling rebellion or the persuasive conciliator of the infant republic, Randall (Benedict Arnold) portrays instead the vain, restless, ambitious provincial who got ""tremendously lucky."" Washington, an untrained Virginia militia colonel in his early 20s who was unready for his role but effective at self-promotion, ""escaped blame for most of the fiascoes in which he [was] involved."" Despite the magic of his name and the majesty in his six-foot-four frame, in Randall's narrative he is also dominated by a formidable mother, timid with women, embarrassed by military failures, victimized by disloyal associates and overly idealistic as a politician. Altogether human, Randall's demythologized Washington comes vividly to life. (Nov.)