Monday, January 17, 2022

Travels with George (Nathaniel Philbrick)

Nathaniel Philbrick recreates the 1789-1791 journeys of George Washington through America’s original 13 states in Travels with George. Washington’s journeys through America were done as part of a discovery tour into learning the different customs and insights of the newly constituted republic but also to help unite the residents of these states into one country. 

Travels with George is a play on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which was written in the 1960’s about Steinbeck’s travels with his dog. Philbrick brings his wife and dog along for these trips with the intent of seeing what America has become 230 years after Washington’s travels, but he also addresses Washington’s legacy then vs. now.  Philbrick stops at various places Washington slept, dined, or spoke at and discusses the changing interpretations of history over time and how historians and tour guides have changed narratives based on new evidence, views, and perceptions.

I felt at times that some themes were drilled in and beat upon much harder by the author than necessary. Additionally, the one theme I wish Philbrick had spent more time on is the idea of the President as unifier, especially in today’s era when candidates of both parties have disparaged large chunks of the population while campaigning. Many of the divisions that have plagued us throughout our nation’s history were themes in the 1790’s, and whether it be based on race, geography, economic class, or philosophy on government, Washington felt it his obligation as president to bring the country together. Unfortunately, that ship has long sailed.