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The grand idea : George Washington's Potomac and the race to the west /
Joel Achenbach.
New York : Simon & Schuster, c2004.
367 p.
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New York : Simon & Schuster, c2004.
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-04-19:
A snappy book about a river and horseback trip more than two centuries ago? Hard to pull off, but Achenbach (Captured by Aliens, etc.) has done so with enough authority to satisfy historians and in a lively style sure to please general readers. His tale is about George Washington's fixation with the West not today's Far West but the lands inland of the Appalachians and about what that single-minded interest came to mean for the nation. One wouldn't think that chapters devoted to a single horseback trip that Washington, the nation's first great westerner, took inland in 1784 could be of much interest. But the author uses that trip to unroll a large canvas of subjects, chief among them how a single man's "personal issues had a way of becoming national ones." Fleshing out a day-to-day itinerary with lively excursions into the land's geography, politics, farmers and backwoodsmen, Indians and slaves, Achenbach also unwraps Washington's personality, at once magisterial and rough, obsessive yet realistic, accepting of the people but disdainful of those who got in his way. The Potomac, whose successful development as grand route to the interior would greatly benefit Washington, also plays a central role. Achenbach explains how the river's intractable geography kept the nation's capital from becoming the great metropolis of Washington's dreams. Toward the end, the book wanders off into the Civil War and such subjects as today's Potomac and its landscape. Achenbach ought to have stuck close to his opening intent. The story of Washington's fixity on a dream impossible to realize is a good enough tale on its own. 6 maps. Agent, Michael Congdon. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Appeared in Library Journal on 2004-08-01:
After retiring from the army in 1783, George Washington boldly proposed transforming the Potomac River into a key east-west commercial thoroughfare to the Ohio River, hoping that the Potomac would make Virginia, Maryland, and himself prosperous and unite the young nation's Atlantic states with its trans-Appalachian territories. In 1784, Washington traveled into backcountry (now West) Virginia and Pennsylvania to gather information for his grand idea. Achenbach (Captured by Aliens), a Washington Post staff writer, describes the journey Washington undertook, giving glimpses of his observations of the area's natural features and the frontier life of white, black, and Native Americans. Achenbach successfully weaves Washington and early America with the Potomac and carries the narrative of the river to the present. Though Warren Hofstra's George Washington and the Virginian Backcountry and Charles Royster's The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company offer scholarly, analytical presentations of Washington as a land-speculating businessman, landlord, outdoorsman, and slaveholder, Achenbach makes such knowledge accessible to lay readers. Recommended for all public libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State Coll. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2005-03-01:
Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington renders him as stiff and unapproachable, and that is how most Americans envision their hero. Yet there was another Washington--the revolutionary hero who wanted to retire from public life; the adventurer who braved weather and Indian adversaries to inspect his western properties and collect unpaid rents; the visionary who wanted to transform the Potomac River into a great commercial artery that would connect the burgeoning western frontier to the exhausted Atlantic seaboard. Using Washington's 1784 western tour, journalist Achenbach combines the three Washingtons to provide another view of the adventurer, entrepreneur, and farmer. After a 34-day trip into the interior, Washington concluded that the country's future lay to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, and he worked until his December 1799 death to promote the Potomac River as the transportation artery to those lands. Ultimately, Washington's hopes for the Potomac River never materialized. Instead, technology--roads, canals, and railroads--replaced dependence on Washington's uncertain and treacherous river. This book will not replace John Lauritz Larson's fine Internal Improvement CH, Jul'01), but it should appeal to general readers seeking insight into a complex historical figure and topic. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Public and general collections. G. A. Smith Texas Christian University
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, April 2004
Booklist, May 2004
Washington Post, July 2004
Boston Globe, August 2004
Library Journal, August 2004
Choice, March 2005
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
The Surveyor
The Race to the West
Up the River
Ridge and Valley
A Darker Wood
Skirting the Falls
Trial and Tribulation
A Capital Idea
The Final Measurement
The Second American Revolution
The Progress of Man
A Heroic Age
The Border
The River Today
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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