Reviews

Reviews and praise for Flora Fraser’s recent publication,
‘The Washingtons: George and Martha, Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love’.

  • Mail on Sunday

    “Without the leadership of George Washington there might never have been an independent America, but it’s equally true to say that without the support of his wealthy wife Martha, Washington would never have made his mark. Flora Fraser paints a revealing portrait of a power couple who weren’t as much passionate lovers as dedicated companions.”

    – The Mail on Sunday, January 2017

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  • The Daily Mail

    “George Washington once wrote, ‘I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life — the foundation of happiness or misery’. His own marriage was based on foundations both of practicality and affection. In 1758, Washington was a 26-year-old Colonel of the Virginia militia when he met a wealthy young widow with two children.

    Martha Dandridge Custis was also 26, with brown hair, hazel eyes and a fondness for fashionable clothes. Theirs was not necessarily a love match — just before their wedding, George wrote a clumsy but heartfelt love letter to a different lady — but he described his wife as ‘an agreeable Consort for Life’, and she was to prove a stalwart and devoted companion for four decades.

    Flora Fraser’s biography provides a fascinating glimpse into the private life of the first President of the United States, and the first ‘First Lady’.”

    – Jane Shilling, The Daily Mail, 3 November 2016

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  • The Daily Telegraph

    “In the century after George Washington’s death, a cult grew around the Father of the Nation: he appeared on stamps and dollar bills; cities and buildings were given his name. His wife, Martha, surplus to the myth’s requirements, faded from view. In this careful and unshowy biography, Fraser restores her to the American story.”

    – The Daily Telegraph, 29 October 2016

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  • McEnearney

    The Washingtons was published in 2015 to the tune of critics and scholars alike singing its praises in unison. Covering our first president’s public life and accomplishments is common, and has been presented in many literary pieces throughout history, but the thoroughness with which Fraser examined the marriage bonds between Washington and his Mrs. is unrivaled.

    – McEnearney, 23 July 2016

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  • American Spirit Magazine

    “To the everlasting dismay of historians and biographers, when George Washington died, his devoted wife of 40 years burned their correspondence.  What we know of their life together comes mostly from other sources, including tantalizingly brief comments in letters from Martha and George to others.

    Despite such an obstacle, biographer Flora Fraser has constructed a well-rounded, insightful portrait of their relationship in her new book, The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Joined by Friendship, Crown’d by Love” (Alfred A Knopf, 2015).”

    American Spirit, March / April 2016

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  • The Times Literary Supplement

    “In ‘George & Martha Washington: A revolutionary marriage’, the noted historical biographer Flora Fraser aims to tell the story that Martha did not want told.  The author acknowledges that, thanks to the destruction of key evidence, she must approach her subject from an “oblique” angle, relying on letters the Washingtons wrote to others and on surviving contemporary accounts that mentioned their marriage.  This assiduous research succeeds in furnishing readers with a welter of fascinating details about the couple’s daily lives…”

    – Virginia DeJohn Anderson, The Times Literary Supplement, 3 February 2016

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  • The Missourian

    “In this impressive and highly readable dual biography, historian Flora Fraser has added an absorbing portrayal of George and Martha Washington and their extended family to the catalog of books on early American icons. Despite the limited documentation still in existence about their private lives, through extensive research, Fraser has garnered enough information to compose a consequential story of their relationship.”

    – Bill Schwab, The Missourian, February 2016

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  • Here’s To You, Mrs Washington

    “In this scrupulously researched book, [Flora Fraser] argues that while George may indeed have been the making of America, Martha was the making of George.  She didn’t just provide the money that enabled him to dedicate himself to the the revolutionary struggle, she was with him every step of the way.”

    – Kathryn Hughes, The Mail on Sunday, January 2016

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  • Literary Review

    “In her elegant account of their relationship, ‘George and Martha Washington: A Revolutionary Marriage’, Flora Fraser shows how false is the idea that, as she puts it, ‘men of destiny customarily bestride the world alone’. During the Washingtons’ lifetime, she comments no one ‘would have thought of ignoring Martha’.”

    – Lucy Moore, Literary Review, December 2015

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  • The Spectator

    “It’s a thrilling story, which Fraser begins in 1758, with Washington aged 26, built like Hercules, fighting off dysentery, and flirting with another man’s wife. A colonel in the Virginia regiment, he had, as he put it himself, ‘no prospect of preferment’ and no evident ambition. Enter Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two young children. She would, thought Washington, make ‘an agreeable partner’, which is not as dry an estimate as it sounds: having ‘good sense’, a ‘good disposition’ and the ‘means of supporting [him]’, Martha ticked Washington’s three main boxes. Her plainness, noted by everyone, counted among her virtues. She, on the other hand, fancied Washington straight away (‘an entire chapter,’ writes Fraser, ‘could be dedicated to the susceptibility of Eve… to Adam in military attire’). He was six foot two and straight as a rod. She was five foot nothing and round as a tub.”

    – Frances Wilson, The Spectator, December 2015

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  • The New York Times

    “Fraser, an accomplished biographer who writes with great ease and wit, quickly alerts us to her predicament, confessing that her book “is necessarily an oblique look at the Washingtons’ marriage.” Can we, from this perspective, really tell whether George and Martha were, as Fraser’s subtitle insists, “join’d by friendship, crown’d by love”? She supports the truth of this phrase, taken from an inscription on the back of a miniature portrait of Martha, “through the medium of their correspondence with others, and through contemporaries’ descriptions of their relationship.” The Washington family account books offer additional insights. To provide a context for the Washingtons’ marriage — and, quite frankly, to fill pages — Fraser also includes descriptions of the social and political life of the colonies. Fortunately, these passages are interesting, and are likely to keep readers engaged while they wait for more snippets of information about George and Martha’s partnership.”

    – Annette Gordon-Reed, The New York Times, 4th December 2015

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  • The Telegraph

    “A Revolutionary Marriage tells the story of a couple, a family, and a country with sympathy and huge skill; it is also beautifully illustrated. Fraser is a respectful biographer, scholarly, unshowy and unsensational. She does not attempt to fill the archival gaps with speculation, and is explicit about the things that remain unknowable.

    Fraser’s telling restores Martha Washington to the historical narrative, both as Mother of the Nation and a woman in her own right. Her complex portrait of Washington, meanwhile, frees him from the cult of hero-worship.  Rather, the general and president feels most alive not on the battlefield but as an attentive ( if slightly alarming) host, appearing in the middle of the night at the bedside of a cold-stricken and surprised visitor with a “bowl of hot tea”.”

    – Daisy Hay, The Telegraph, 30th November 2015

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  • The Lady

    “An intimate portrait of America’s original power couple.  As a wealthy 26-year-old widow, Martha Dandridge Custis attracted many suitors.  She chose the ambitious soldier George Washington.  Her fortune paved the way to his career in politics and she proved an ideal politician’s wife.  Although not especially passionate (a newlywed Washington described Martha as ‘an agreeable consort for life’), the marriage seems to have been happy.  Impeccably researched and entertaining.”

    The Lady, November 2015

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  • The Boston Globe

    “The publication of two works by accomplished biographers — “The Washingtons’’ by Flora Fraser and “Lady Bird and Lyndon’’ by Betty Boyd Caroli — do much to fill in these blank pages of presidential history.

    Together these books, equally smartly written and devoid of gossip and cant, remind us that, as another presidential couple, Woodrow and Edith, proved in the last years of the Wilson administration nearly a full century ago, national leadership is a joint appointment — two for the price of one, in the unfortunate phrase that Clinton used in 1992 when defending the large role he contemplated for Hillary.”

    – David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe, 21st November 2015

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  • The Sunday Times

    “Would George Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States, if he had not married the rich widow of Mr Custis?” wondered John Adams in 1816. As Flora Fraser observes in her portrait of the Washingtons, it was a fair question.”

    – Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times, 26th November 2015

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  • Time

    “It’s a self-evident truth that George Washington set precedents. In her new book The Washingtons, a biography of America’s founding marriage, Flora Fraser makes the less evident point that Martha Washington set some too and that together they paved the way for First Couples to follow.”

    – Lily Rothman, Time, 23 November, 2015

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  • Wall Street Journal

    “In “The Washingtons,” an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.”

    – Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Jounal, November 13th, 2015

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  • Library Journal

    “Without editorializing, Fraser presents a moving portrayal of the first couple’s devoted relationship, their domestic concerns, and a valuable depiction of upper-class 18th-century life that will appeal to readers of popular history.”

    – Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY

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  • Spotlight: Supporting Roles in History

    “Flora Fraser’s new biography, The Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love”, is a dense but fascinating account of the nation’s first “first couple.” Using letters, journals, dispatches and a variety of authoritative texts, the British author documents George and Martha’s comings and goings as they managed his Mount Vernon estate and dealt with a host of relatives, friends and politicians.”

    –Alice Cary, BookPage

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  • Top 10 history titles for this autumn

    Flora’s book ‘The Washingtons: George and Martha, ‘Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love’ was featured by Bryan Appleyard as one of the top 10 history titles for this autumn in his article ‘About face’, published in the London Sunday Times Culture section on 6th September 2015.

  • Barbara Hoagland, The King’s English

    “Much has been written about George Washington, but Fraser’s examination of the marriage between George and Martha is unique. Their decade’s long marriage was punctuated by revolution, the creation of a new country and personal tragedy. Through the years their love and admiration for each other was apparent to all who knew them and Fraser has done a commendable job of revealing how they leaned on each other. Whether it was domestic issues or a recalcitrant Continental Congress, George and Martha looked to each other for advice and sustenance. Fraser’s book is a revealing look at both the Mother and Father and the Nation.”

    – Barbara Hoagland, The King’s English, Salt Lake City, UT

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  • H. W. Brands, author of Reagan

    “In this charmingly insightful dual biography, Flora Fraser makes a compelling case that America’s first First Couple was its first power couple. Martha Washington here emerges from her husband’s historical shadow to reclaim the place she occupied in life as his indispensable collaborator in war and peace. An important story delightfully told.”

    – H. W. Brands, author of Reagan

  • Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

    “Flora Fraser’s The Washingtons is a vivid and intimate history of America’s first First Family. For those who have ever wondered what George would have been without Martha, and how Martha would have fared without George, this book provides the answer and much else besides. With her usual flair and grace, Fraser proves the old adage that no man is an island, particularly when it comes to achieving great success.”

    – Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

  • Robert Middlekauff, author The Glorious Cause

    “In The Washingtons, Flora Fraser has provided an insightful portrait in elegant prose with a dash of wit. The book is based on a mastery of the original sources and brings to life, with much imagination, a wonderful marriage in a period of revolution and war. It is written with a light touch, but is a serious account in every respect. This is a book worthy of its subject.”

    – Robert Middlekauff, author of The Glorious Cause

  • Booklist Online, June 2005

    Ron Chernow’s magisterial Washington (Penguin, 2010) gave us an extremely well rounded portrait of our greatest national icon. A member of a highly regarded British family of biographers and historians now treats us to a more specific aspect of Washington’s life in a fresh and highly informative view of Washington the husband. Along with Mary Todd Lincoln, Martha Washington is the most familiar of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century First Ladies, and Fraser’s graceful, incisive portrait extends our knowledge of her. The author sees husband and wife as halves of a highly workable partnership that brought great emotional sustenance and security to them both. Martha was a wealthy widow when she married George, but any notion of opportunism on his part quickly dissolves in the face of Fraser’s affirming depiction of Martha’s unceasing care for George’s well-being and his abiding interest in the welfare of her children and grandchildren from her previous marriage. The adage that says behind every strong man stands a strong woman is validated here.

    Brad Hooper

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  • Publishing News, New York City

    Flora Fraser approaches Washington’s time as a soldier from another perspective in The Washingtons: George & Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love” (Knopf, Nov.). Fraser, author of a well-received biography of a sister of Napoleon, Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire (Knopf, 2009), follows up on John Adams’s question of two centuries ago: “Would Washington ever have been commander of the revolutionary army, or president of the United States, if he had not married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?”

    Her answer is no, and, in a narrative that draws extensively on the couple’s correspondence, she looks at Washington’s waging of war, and how the lessons he learned carried over into the presidency. Fraser says that she was surprised to learn that “Martha went to Washington every winter of the long war, when the fighting season was over, sharing with him the various privations—scant food, blizzards, and the dearth of hope—that existed at those camps.”

    – Lenny Picker, author in New York City

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  • Historical Readings & Reviews

    “A major, and vastly appealing, contribution to the literature of our founding fathers…and founding mother.”

    – Blogger, Historical Readings & Reviews

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