“Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy” by Nathaniel Philbrick, Viking, 375 pages, $30.
The premise of Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest book, “Travels with George,” allows the acclaimed writer to juxtapose long-forgotten aspects of our nation’s childhood with insightful observations of today’s society. The reader lucky enough to open this book will be wowed by the author’s lively and incisive commentary on George Washington’s impact on our country’s distant past and more recent headlines as well.
The title of the book is a tribute to John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, a long road trip Steinbeck took with his dog to “rediscover America” in 1960. It was mentioned in a review in this space on 22 November 2020.
Philbrick, his wife, and a Nova Scotia retriever named Dora took a similar trip more recently, following President Washington’s trips to the original 13 states during the early years of his presidency between 1789 and 1792. Readers unfamiliar with Duck Toll or Nova Scotia Retrievers should visit YouTube or read this book to educate themselves.
People also read…
Author Philbrick, who resides on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, has previously written books linking his own life experiences to real historical events. “In the heart of the sea”, also adapted for the cinema, deals with the sinking of a whaler in the South Pacific by a vengeful whale. “The Last Stand” is a detailed account of General Custer’s final battle. Both books take up space in the reviewer’s library. This book deserves its place next to it.
The book jacket illustration skilfully introduces this well-documented travelogue. In addition to maps of Washington and Philbrick’s voyages, the book contains appropriate photos of historical and recent subjects of interest, including one of the original markers placed by surveyors around Washington, DC, in 1791.
Although Philbrick makes a compelling case for the United States to look very different without the constant influence of President Washington, the book is not a hagiography. George Washington’s flaws, particularly his relationship with slavery, are not minimized. Readers can draw their own conclusions about Washington’s lasting effect on our nation after reading the book.
Regardless of readers’ preconceptions about our first president, enough new facts are being revealed and old myths dispelled to keep the pages turning quickly. Many people know that George’s dentures were not made of wood, but fewer know that they were made from horse teeth and hippopotamus ivory. Few people still know that he first attempted the transplantation of his missing teeth by purchasing nine healthy slave teeth and having them placed in his own mouth. All transplants failed.
Philbrick’s own travels were spiced up by the unique and interesting characters he encountered along the way. He slept in at least two of the original beds George had used and nearly drowned in a waterspout near Cape Cod. Dora encountered a large black snake but no lasting harm ensued. Readers who choose to accompany Philbrick, Washington, Dora and their traveling companions will be glad they did.
J. Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who was thrilled to discover that Dora had been named after a character from “David Copperfield,” the first “big boy” novel he attempted in his youth, which still remains his favorite work. by Charles Dickens.