George Washington: The Crossing by Jack E. Levin

Why I Read It:
The Crossing caught my eye at the library where it was faced out in the new history book display case. It is a slim volume and I thought it would be a good start to kick off my reading for The American Revolution reading challenge hosted by War Through The Generations.

About The Book:
The book is written by Jack E. Levin, self-taught historian and the father of radio personality Mark R. Levin. It is a brief, 64-page overview of the the Battle of Trenton. It’s filled with color reproductions of paintings, drawings, and two detailed maps that outline the action.

Do you remember the Battle of Trenton from history class? Do you remember that painting of Washington perched majestically near the bow of a small boat? That was from this battle. See the book’s cover for a cropped version or click the following link to see the full glory of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1816-1868.

Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River under cover of darkness and through ice-flows on the night of December 25-26, 1776 to spring a surprise attack on the British and Hessian forces. The crossing itself was a monumental feat and the battle changed the course of the Revolutionary War.

Prior to this Washington and his troops had withstood a string of losses and morale was low. Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan were lost and Washington was in retreat. He guessed that the British would attack Philadelphia next, the capitol of the revolution. To prevent this the Delaware was crossed, followed by a 9 mile march to Trenton. The revolutionary forces crushed the British in this battle and the revolutionary spirit and momentum were revived.

A Good Gift Book:
I imagine the publishers were thinking this book would make a nice father’s day gift as it came out on June 4th. It probably would not be an appropriate gift book for someone who is already into this time period or Washington (unless they’re collectors who want everything printed). However, do keep it in mind for the next holiday gift-giving season. Independence Day is this week. If Neil Gaiman can start All Hallow’s Read, maybe someone out there can get an Independence Day book giving tradition going?

On Mark Levine’s Preface to His Dad’s Book:
Once upon a time when I worked for Borders we hosted the author’s son, Mark Levine, for a book signing. He was fine, but some of his fans were big slobs. They left more trash behind than any other audience I’d dealt with: food ground into the carpet, drinks spilled, etc. (Ted Nugent’s fans, on the other hand, were tidy and polite, even if we did have to tell them that they could not bring their guns or bows & arrows into the store). Anyway, I bring up Mark because he wrote the preface to his dad’s book. He wraps up his preface saying this,

“As this book, George Washington: The Crossing, attests, my father has a truly unique ability to let history speak for itself through his careful use of prose and painstaking selection of illustrations and photographs. There is fresh simplicity yet bracing depth in every page of this book. And unlike too many authors, my father is not interested in exploiting the human imperfections and frailties of the Founders but, instead, presents a straightforward account of these mostly selfless, heroic American figures, who were willing to die for the cause of freedom and self-government, and among whom Washington was arguably the most significant.”

This paragraph worried me about the content I was about to read. For one, history never speaks for itself. It is always constructed by a historian (as Levine unwittingly admits above, noting his father’s “careful use of prose and painstaking selection”) and then interpreted by readers. And what is his issue with other authors? What is wrong with trying to present a well-rounded understanding of a historic figure? And by this I mean human: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What unnamed foe is he taking a pot shot at with this swipe? Surely not Ron Chernow (brilliant book, read it!) Maybe A.J.Jacobs? Did I miss a Washington bashing book?

Putting the Founding Fathers on pedestals annoys me. Glorifying the Founding Fathers as demigods does a huge disservice not only to history, but to our understanding of and ability to cope with our current political quagmire. Those guys were not perfect and neither are our current politicians. There was political argument back then and let’s hope there will be 200 years from now. However, let’s have more true debate and compromise and less party posturing and ideological whoring. Has Levine not seen the musical 1776?

Words of Washington in Red
And then I was worried when, on the next page after the conclusion of Levine Jr.’s preface, I was informed that the words of Washington would be printed in RED. Hmmm, where have I seen that before? Oh, yeah, the Bible. The words of Jesus in red edition. From pedestal to deity. Uh-oh. George would not be happy about that.

Interspersed throughout the book is Washington’s letter to the Continental Congress about the battle. Lines from this letter are printed in red and it works well, both for the reader and for the design harmony of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but could have done without Mark Levin’s rah-rah commentary in the preface. Jack Levin presents an engaging account of the battle and the design of the book is pleasant for both older kids and adults.

George Washington: The Crossing
Jack E. Levin
Threshold Editions, June 4, 2013
Source: library copy
Rating 3/5 stars

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