Response to Two Star Review: The Education of George Washington

Austin Washington

I found a blogger’s review the other day which justified giving my book a 2 star review on Goodreads for these reasons. My response, below.


Personal Reading:

What I liked about the book is that I learned new information about George Washington. However, the reason for such a low rating is this: at one point the author talked about the cherry tree myth, and I didn’t appreciate that he used the words “non-Americans” which sounded kind of contemptuous and angry. (Perhaps he might have mentioned, for those that aren’t familiar with the story instead of non-Americans.) And the book itself read like a textbook rather than something fun and entertaining. Here’s another thing: towards the very end, the book that made George Washington great is published. But the author neglects to mention how to read the book, and I doubt many people knew that back then, the f could also mean s.

Response

I appreciate the time you took to write such a careful review. On the whole, coming from your particular perspective, it seems you were being fair.

First, I understand it if you thought it was “too much like a textbook.” The point, I think, was to have better arguments, facts, and research, than almost any popular history book while making it vastly more readable. Dr. Theodore Crackel, Emeritus Editor of the George Washington Papers Project at Mount Vernon, told me the other day he was reading it for a second time. Someone else told me the other day he had once read John Marshal’s notorious (for being so long) seven volume biography of George Washington, and yet even after that he got something worthwhile – and new – out of reading The Education of George Washington.

Also, it was a pleasure, not a pain, he said. So, in this sense – it appears the book is successful in its goal.

You say it’s not “fun” enough for you. I accept that. It upsets me, though, that that comment might discourage people for whom it might be perfectly suited from reading it.

Here’s the thing:

It’s not trying to compete with a Disney film. “Fun” I think of, as what three year olds have when they eat a lollipop. I like lollipops. However, The Education of George Washington is not a lollipop. Instead it is, to quote someone else, a book that combines “the wit of Wilde with the depth of Gibbon.” It’s better than a lollipop, for some people, at least.

But it’s not a lollipop, you’re right.

Unfortunately, you cannot find Oscar Wilde amusing without at least some background. It’s not for everyone. The Education of George Washington was intended for educated people, although you are right to an extent – not necessarily history hobbyists. You half-way got the goal. A broader audience, but, as Bill Cosby once said, if you try to please everyone, you please no one.

I tried – and apparently succeeded – in pleasing people who would not normally automatically go for a history book. Those with high standards for scholarship who also want to be amused, but not necessarily by biography. Maybe they just want to be inspired. Some people have laughed out loud, and yet still got the point of the book.

I’ve been told it’s unique, that way.

Also, another reviewer who has an interest in the history of our country called it “the best book ever written about the Father of our Country”, and then wrote to tell me he thought his review didn’t go far enough (I wasn’t sure how it could have gone further!)

However…

I think your last two criticisms, to the extent they were co-equal components with the first in giving it a low star rating, seem bizarre, to say the least. For one, the font for S was different back then due to technical limitations – it was still an S. I think it would insult most readers’ intelligence to explain something like that. But maybe you’re right, who knows? Anyway, though, that would be an editor who would think of something like that, not an author. No one at my publisher thought little enough of their readership to imagine that.

Even so, you list that as one of three reasons to give the book a low star rating. Like finding a snow flake fluttering on Snow White’s eyelid, and saying that made her ugly.

A bit disproportionate, perhaps?

Far more important – you have the first new information about George Washington in over two hundred years, which is a landmark discovery, along with almost half a decade of research and scholarship, compressed into three hundred and fifty pages designed to entertain as they enlighten, and inspire as they inform. You then list the final of three reasons you gave the book a low star rating as one compound word – “non-Americans” – in a sentence that implied that non-Americans would probably never heard of the cherry tree story. Even if this weren’t self-evidently true, I’ve know people at Oxford – not the most uneducated dunces on earth – who were not even sure George Washington was a president. It is certainly empirically the case that non-Americans often know nothing about George Washington.

For reasons unfathomable to me you take umbrage with a truism.

But, okay…

Then, you take this as one of three reasons to give the book a low star rating. This would seem to take disproportionality to mammoth extremes. It would be as if I told your new acquaintance not to be your friend because you forgot a comma in a sentence you wrote last Tuesday before your morning cup of coffee. Your entire life, your soul, your spirit, your passions, your joy, your education, your hopes, your dreams – no, she forgot a comma. F*** her.

Would you think that was fair? Not only to you, but to your potential friend?

A mountain is closer to the size of a molehill than that self-evident assumption (that non-Americans know very little about George Washington), expressed in one compound word, can be said to be close to being a good reason to discourage people from reading an entire book, which is, to repeat the opinion of a reviewer who has a particular interest in this area, “the best book about the Father of Our Country ever written.”

And also the only truly original one in over two hundred years.

It’s true The Education of George Washington is not for everyone, and I can even see a three star rating because it was too scholarly for you – not entirely fair, but not entirely unfair, either – but two stars for the reasons you list seems like killing a mosquito with the destructive power all the thermonuclear devices on earth.

A bit of overkill. Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to consider things in their totality, and revise it upwards.
Thank you.

AW

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