HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Leader by Destiny: George Washington, Man and Patriot
Author: Jeanette Eaton
Illustrator: Jack Manley Rosé
Publisher: Harcourt Brace, 1938
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Eaton, Jeanette. Leader by Destiny: George Washington, Man and Patriot (published in 1938 by Harcourt Brace and Company Inc., New York City, NY). Nearly every set of biographies for young people contains a volume on George Washington. This biography of George Washington for young people by Jeanette Eaton, author of a previous biography of Madame Roland entitled Daughter of the Seine, is said to make “him a compelling and charming person as well as a great man.” I wasn’t sure if any book about Washington could provide information about him that I didn’t already know, but this one certainly does. Eaton obviously thinks well of our first President but does not omit his flaws, pointing out that he was a slaveholder, made mistakes in judgment, lost more military battles than he won, and was beset by personal trials and exhaustion. One reviewer noted, “Washington came off as a fallible human being who made an important contribution in the early nationhood of the United States.”
The first half of this very, very thorough account of nearly 400 pages (plus full index), which was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1939, is devoted to Washington’s childhood, youth, and early life up to the time of the American War for Independence. His years as President are covered in the last two chapters. While Washington was not known as a drinker, there are a number of references to drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages, as well as to using tobacco and dancing, all of which are probably historically accurate. The “d” word is found a few times, and the term “God” is occasionally used as an exclamation, both primarily in conversation. And Eaton doesn’t hesitate to express some very candid and often unflattering opinions of various Revolutionary War heroes.
Because Leader by Destiny, like many other nonfiction works, is somewhat novelized, much of the historical circumstance is explained in fictionalized dialogue. Another reviewer noted that while it must be difficult to fill in the blanks where no written records exist, that didn’t stop the author from imagining all sorts of interesting subtext in the relationship between George Washington and (Mrs.) Sally Fairfax, the wife of his good friend and neighbor George Fairfax. Although some of his letters might suggest that he was, or had earlier been, in love with her, this book is loaded with meaningful glances and romantic tension between the two of them that may or may not have actually happened. So some of such details could be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, the book is impressive as it introduces notable figures of the time and makes known their perspective on the situations at hand.