- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (November 16, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802717489
- ISBN-13: 978-0802717481
- Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 1.3 x 13.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,095,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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George Washington's America: A Biography Through His Maps 1st Edition
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*Starred Review* From the dispersal of George Washington’s papers after his death, an intriguing item survived that today reposes in Yale University’s library. It’s a collection of 40 or so maps that Washington collected or personally drew and bound into an atlas. Historian Schecter (The Battle for New York, 2002) capitalizes on it to trace both Washington’s travels through colonial, revolutionary, and early republican America, and military and political events that Washington followed through cartographic study. Arranged by Washington’s biographical arc, starting with his expeditions of the French and Indian War and ending with his will’s disposition of his land and slaves, reproductions of each whole map accompany magnifications of the particular areas where Washington journeyed in person or in mind. Due to map references embedded in the text, the narrative oscillates between image and word, inducing avid readers to flip pages back and forth to follow the action. Augmented by portraits of Washington and his contemporaries and scenes of places and episodes of the times, Schecter’s conception of converting Washington’s atlas into a full-scale illustrated biography results in smashing success. Conveying how Washington visualized North America from the minute to the continental scale, it will fascinate history buffs now and should be durably library-useful. --Gilbert Taylor
Crunching historical time into familiar space, Schecter uses New York as a 'fixed point, a compass for orienting oneself amid the many disparate theaters and battles of the long, complex war.' Marching us through battle where today we bank and shop, learn and live, reinforces the lessons that our freedoms had to be earned, and were not guaranteed. New York Times Book Review on The Battle for New York Barnet Schecter tells the extraordinary story of how Central Park and Fifth Avenue were battlefields in the struggle for American independence. John Keegan on Thr Battle for New York Schecter's riveting narrative places the violence, dramatized by Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York, in a national context, as a microcosm of forces that deferred integration for a century. USA Today on The Devil's Own Work
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Washington had over ninety maps and atlases at Mount Vernon, many of which he had used over the years. Since Washington's life, Schecter writes, "was from his early years until his death intimately bound up with the land, the maps tell a great deal about the man and his times." There are many elaborate maps, but one of the most charming is one far simpler. It shows a compass rose in which is an irregular quadrilateral, labeled with latitude and longitude. It bears the heading, handwritten, "A Plan of Major Lawr. Washington's Turnip Field as Surveyed by me, This 27 Day of February 1747. GW." (Lawrence Washington was George's half brother.) Much of Schecter's book is devoted to military maps and the use to which Washington put them. There is Washington's own surveyed map of his perilous journey in 1753 up the Ohio River to help British colonists defend against the French, but most of the maps here are the ones he was studying as he made his plans against the French, and eventually against the British. The importance of such study is the subject of many of Washington's remarks quoted here. He does not seem to have made the mistake of thinking the map is the territory. In 1777 he wrote to General Philip Schuyler who was on a campaign on the Mohawk River about securing a particular area to prevent Indians intercepting logistical supplies. "With his usual courtesy," writes Schecter, "Washington offered this as merely a suggestion, saying Schuyler was `much better acquainted with that country than I.'" After the war, Washington was interested in expansion to the west; it is clear that he was interested in this upon his own behalf as well as upon that of his new nation. He had thought originally of the west as a scene of refuge if the Revolution failed, but knew that it was a region to provide sustenance to the new, growing America. He was particularly interested in mapping the possibilities of making an east / west waterway, especially if it expanded the Potomac westward, which would have immeasurably increased the value of his western holdings and of Mount Vernon. He made a constant study of maps for the best Potomac to Ohio linkage, and got information from frontiersmen and settlers.
Schecter's last chapter sees Washington finally in the contentment he had famously wanted for himself as a gentleman farmer, but which he had sacrificed for service to his nation. Washington was still surveying, and his maps of his Mount Vernon properties are here, the fitting last illustrations in a handsome, large-format volume whose map reproductions are gorgeous. The book will interest anyone who likes to see charming old maps; there are plenty here, including curiosities such as the layout of agricultural fields in Manhattan. Best of all, the book traces Washington's military movements using the maps he himself would have used. We cannot see the America which Washington saw, but we can see it at least as he saw it through the maps he had at hand.
George Washington's America is really remarkable. It is an in-depth biography, and at the same time a treasure trove of 18th century maps. Some show huge expanses of the eastern portions of North America, and others are much more local, showing 18th century Boston, for example, and New York, the Potomac region and Savannah. Many provide a remarkable amount of detail and offer the researcher a whole set of valuable tools.
I was interested in looking at the site of future Washington D.C. on Joshua Fry's and Peter Jefferson's Map of the Most Inhabited Part of Virginia (early versions from the 1750's). The D.C. site is easy to find because Alexandria is clearly seen across the river. On the northern shore I expected to find Georgetown, but didn't. However, Rock Creek, Magee's Ferry and Watson are all depicted. Why Watson and not Georgetown? The latter settlement must have been too tiny to warrant notice.
The information about lower Manhattan's topography is fascinating. The terrain of 1776 must have been similar to the terrain of 2011. Yet how many present-day Manhattanites know about Lispenard Hill, Bayard Hill and Jones Hill, which seem to be located in a swath that roughly corresponds to Delancey St and Broome St? In 1776 these three hills provided a natural defense for the city of New York, then limited to the very tip of Manhattan, and Schecter points out that they were fortified by Washington in 1776 with redoubts and trenches to form a defensive line right across the island. For the history lover, this book is a endless source of fascination. Highly recommended!
The degree of detail is really astounding.
This is a truly beautiful and scholarly book.
The combination of elegant, glossy pages, clearly written materials, and handsome illustrations makes this a book I often give as a gift to historians and guest lecturers.