I had never thought much about Washington, D.C. I understand its importance. I've stood on Pennsylvania Avenue, in awe of the White House. I've seen the reflection pool and pictured Martin Luther King proudly shouting "I have a dream!". I've seen the Washington monument and thought of "the republic for which it stands". But I had never given thought to the blank canvas that existed on the banks of the Potomac River a little more than 200 years ago and the planning and work that had gone into creating it. Until now.
Washington Burning by Les Standiford, is a book that has made me appreciate our nation's capital more than ever.
What starts out as a story of the building of our capital city becomes an excellent account of history and the roller-coaster life of the cities original designer, P. Charles L'Enfant.
L'Enfant is a very curious character, one who in my opinion deserves way more recognition in American history than he's received. His visions of grandeur, as expensive as they may be, eventually do come to fruition under the tutelage of other designers. L'Enfant's life seems to parallel the ebb and flow of the making of the city, it's demise during the War of 1812 and it's eventual resurgence.
Standiford has a knack for helping the reader to visualize the correspondence between the rotating architects commissioned to finish the job L'Enfant started, and each of the founding fathers who had a say in the city's planning. His ability to describe war movements and the "what if's" in history compare to Michael Shaara's account of Gettysburg in The Killer Angels.
Each chapter is a small vignette of the history of the making of Washington D.C.. Standiford often goes into great detail, demonstrating his ability to research and describe only what is most important. Washington Burning brings out great stories of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James & Dolly Madison. The intimacy of these stories and those of some lesser known characters make Washington Burning a great read.
For more information about the author Les Standiford, you can visit his website at
http://www.les-standiford.com/, or read his blog.
Here is a link to the book on Amazon.com if you're interested in purchasing it.
In doing some of my own research on the topic I came across this website, which is a well written account Washington's history by Bob Arnebeck: http://www.geocities.com/bobarnebeck/introduction.html
And if you're super curious, like me, and you're wondering how Washington D.C. got it's name. Then you can check out this link by Arnebeck who describes the christening well: http://www.geocities.com/bobarnebeck/name.html