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Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision for Our Nation's Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 6, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Facing the profusion of histories on the founding of Washington, D.C., Standiford pitches this narrative as a fresh appreciation of the capital’s first 25 years. Standiford is a novelist, and this background serves him well in developing the characters involved in platting, building, and burning Washington, and central to the narrative is Pierre Charles L’Enfant. To him goes the glory of the street plan, but L’Enfant’s talents in design and construction were not matched by political acumen. He was fired in 1792, and his grievances attract Standiford’s sympathy as well as his perception that unbending pride was the source of L’Enfant’s undoing. Standiford then turns to the tangled details of constructing buildings for the president and Congress, which, in the course of fiscal and physical challenges and further firings of personnel, were ready for incineration by the British in 1814. Closing with the city’s recovery from the War of 1812 and the recognition belatedly accorded to L’Enfant a century later by burial in Arlington National Cemetery, Standiford’s dramatized synthesis is a solid choice for the history set. --Gilbert Taylor

About the Author

LES STANDIFORD is the author of the critically acclaimed Last Train to Paradise and Meet You in Hell, as well as ten novels. Recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, he is director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University in Miami, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Visit his website at www.Les-Standiford.com.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307346447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307346445
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,127,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Q. Publius VINE VOICE on June 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Les Standiford is a successful novelist and a great story teller. His story of the selection of Washington DC, the building of the public buildings, their burning during the War of 1812, and the rebuilding afterwards reads like a novel and is well worth reading. There are a few errors but not fatal ones. I'm not a historian, but James Madison was not a senator (page 67); Patrick Henry became his political enemy in Virginia after losing the state ratification vote on the Constitution, and the opposition of Henry's followers resulted in Madison serving in the House rather than the Senate. On page 267 Madison at Bladensburg is described as the only president to be on a battlefield, but Lincoln was shot at in July 1864 at Fort Stevens in DC during Jubal Early's attack. The author says the burning of Washington was a kind of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 of its day, with citizens so outraged that their largely indifferent attitude to the new Potomac location was tranformed into a determination to rebuild on the site. But the vote in Congress to keep the capital in DC and rebuild only passed by nine votes, so this comparison may be a bit overblown. Also, the roles and characters of Andrew Ellicot and Benjamin Banneker could have been developed more. Despite these comments this book is well worth the read, especially for it's portrayal of George Washington, L'Enfant, Adams, and the Madisons, with tribute to the courageous role of Dolley Madison in saving many valuables from the White House. This is a very interesting story most Americans aren't aware of, and they'd profit from the well told tale of the founding of our nation's capital and the personalities of the real characters involved in the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Shakespeare VINE VOICE on January 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Les Standiford's entertaining and eloquent "Washington Burning" tells the story of the difficult breach birth of our nation's capital, presenting the political, diplomatic, military and technical factors that shaped it -- especially its architects.

Mr. Standiford, the director of the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University, writes gracefully, and the story he weaves around the building of Federal City offers fresh perspectives, despite the vast literature on the founding fathers that has gone before.

The author addresses some less familiar issues of the history of our federal buildings, throwing light upon their rain soaked nooks and crumbling crannies.

Mr. Standiford has done his homework, and rests his views on the study of several primary sources. He has profitably mined the letters of architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant and George Washington in the Library of Congress. His detailed narrative is in part composed painstakingly from the French-born L'Enfant's poorly worded, confusing correspondence.

A little over two centuries ago, Washington D.C. occupied an insignificant place in the world; today, things are very different. He tells us its story with sympathy, humor and a rubbish pile of fascinating detail.

Mr. Standiford's central point is simple: "The efforts of Washington, L'Enfant, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Hamilton to build, defend, and rebuild Washington D.C., in its fledgling years is a microcosm for the building of the nation itself, the first in a never-ending series of internal struggles to preserve our nation and its way of government...that plagues and inspires us to this day.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By The Junior Clerk on May 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Les Standiford's Washington Burning focuses on an often ignored, but highly significant event in our nation's history--the British invasion of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. With a historian's meticulous eye and a novelist's flair for drama, Standiford recounts the efforts of the brilliant, eccentric architect, Peter L'Enfant, whose vision for the nation's capitol ultimately prevailed in the face of political resistance, rampant corruption, and the devastation of war. At the same time, Washington Burning describes how a terrorist attack on U.S. soil galvanized a nation. This well-written book is highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By HB on June 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I would have enjoyed the book more had the author not try to make the analogy of the "War of 1812" and the British Invasion and the Burning of Washington synonymous with the attack on our homeland that took place by maniacal and fanatical Islamic Fascists during 9/11-but that is the way modern day historians see things.

Having said that, the story is very compelling and L'Enfant an amazing character worth reading. While the writer has taken some liberty in portraying the personal frustrations of Washington in dealing with this artsy fartsy character, he also does an extraordinary job of making what most likely occurred behind the scenes come to life. Jefferson as usual is portrayed as a slick politician whose behind the scene maneuvering would have been very welcome in today's political climate. This seems to be a theme that all authors adhere to.

What is best about this book is to see a prescient dream come to life despite all the hostilities and power struggles.

In the long run who won in the famous trade? Hamilton with Assumption and the establishment of a National Bank or Jefferson/Madison with the Washington being the Capital?

Very worthwhile reading if you like history that is palpable. The only reason I took one star away, and that is a personal preference not a criticism, is because for me too many characters are introduced that had a minimal impact on the historical fact that, in my opinion, would have been better left out to allow for smoother reading of this compelling story.
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