Before George Was George: Adventure Writer Peter Stark On the Perils That Formed George Washington

Great leaders rarely emerge fully formed. They get there through hard trial and disheartening error. They have to be forged. 

Before he became encrusted in our national mythology  — before he even got himself on the path to becoming Father of our Country — George Washington was a prickly young man: ambitious, temperamental, vain. Those last three adjectives are Peter Stark’s, whose Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father was published earlier this year. Stark will be reading from and discussing the book at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library on Tuesday, November 13 at 6 pm.

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His book details how Washington in his 20s set out to win the respect of the Colonial elite and a military commission from the king (which somehow eluded him). It casts an unsparing eye on the discomforts of 18th-century conflict: “an untamed frontier, violent Indians, chigger attacks, torrential rains, lack of food and arms, dysentery, and deserters,” as Kirkus Reviews put it — not to mention the freezing winters that would eventually figure in Washington’s Revolutionary career. The book is equally harrowing in its portrayal of what became known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, which you could put down either as the opening battle in the French and Indian War or its cause, and in which Washington played a key, if less-than-glory-filled, role.

Stark, a Dartmouth College grad, has a gift for detail and fine-grained, evocative description, which were also on full display in his earlier books: the bestselling Astoria, Last Breath, The Last Empty Places, At the Mercy of the River, and Driving to Greenland. The Yankee Bookshop will be selling copies of Young Washington at the reading and sharing proceeds with the Norman Williams Public Library.


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