Book adventures are always fun. I hopped into Manhattan recently with a very pleasant mission before me: To pick up an autographed copy of Ron Chernow’s new book, Washington: A Life for someone in my family who’s a true history buff. The site of the signing was a grand old building on the West side and the occasion a panel hosted by The New York Historical Society. What an enjoyable event! Not only did I hear Ron chat about George Washington, I also had the chance to see him interviewed by another premier biographer, a Pulitzer Prize winner no less!, Stacy Schiff.
Put two gifted biographers together and you definitely get a lot of buzz and banter. Between Stacy’s brisk questions and Ron’s spirited answers, friendly sparks were flying; the two writers clearly admired each other, which made for a very lively, gracious discussion about the demanding art of biography.
What was on the agenda? First and foremost, Chernow assured the packed audience that Washington was an intriguing subject: Beneath his reserve was a man who was “passionate, complex, sensitive, and moody, with strong, fiery opinions.”
“When you write a biography,” he added, “you fully inhabit the person you’re writing about and see things from their point of view.” After spending six years living with Washington, ultimately Chernow came to see him, not as an ordinary man doing extraordinary things, but as an extraordinary man doing extraordinary things — a world of difference, isn’t there?
Altogether, it was an entertaining evening. I walked away, not just with one signed book, but two. After hearing Stacy Schiff speak, I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of her new biography of Cleopatra. Lots of exciting pages ahead!