From Publishers Weekly
Inheriting Mount Vernon in 1754 at the age of 22, George Washington called it home for the remaining 45 years of his life. Even amid the turmoil of the Revolution, he spent most of this time busily expanding and remodeling the house on the Potomac a few miles south of what became the District of Columbia. Here he was neither general nor statesman, but paterfamilias and gentleman planter. Washington left no formal memoir of either his public or private life, but Robert Dalzell and his wife Lee (respectively, a professor of history and a reference librarian at Williams College) find Washington's personal history writ large in the home he loved so much. Rich in detail mined from Washington's personal papers, this beautifully illustrated volume chronicles not only the architectural facts of Mount Vernon (a house that "mixes its classicism with some decidedly nontraditional elements"), but also the human ones, most especially Washington's complicated relationships with his slaves, all of whom he instructed to be freed in his last will and testament, thereby breaking (if posthumously) with "the system that had so long held his own independence hostage to the denial of liberty to other human beings." The Dalzells fail in their attempt to force an unlikely analogy between Washington's evolution as a political thinker and the concurrent architectural evolution of his mansion, but they nevertheless provide a superb history?including ample notes and an appendix on 18th-century house-building techniques?of Mount Vernon as a place and Washington as proprietor. Photos, illustrations and blueprints.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
If the homes of the rich and famous tend to be extensions of their self-perceptions as well as revelations of their flaws, then there is much to be learned by examining the abodes of our Founding Fathers. Certainly, Jefferson's Monticello captured his optimism and questing spirit, and its construction by slave labor indicates the tragic paradox of the man. Robert Dalzell is professor of American history at Williams College, and Lee Dalzell heads the Reference Department of the Williams College Library. In this ambitious and generally engrossing survey, they have attempted to link Washington's family home and plantation with his political evolution from an aristocratic republican to a politician whose vague democratic sentiments allowed him to keep Alexander Hamilton's elitist plans at bay. This is part family history, part biography, and part travelogue. The Dalzells are skillful writers and researchers who fluidly mesh the parts, although some scholars will undoubtedly question a few of their conclusions. Jay Freeman