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Washington Irving: The Definitive Biography of America's First Bestselling Author

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The definitive biography of the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Brian Jay Jones crafts a deft biography of the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle”: quintessential New Yorker, presidential confidant, diplomat, lawyer, and fascinating charmer. The first American writer to make his pen his primary means of support, Washington The definitive biography of the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Brian Jay Jones crafts a deft biography of the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle”: quintessential New Yorker, presidential confidant, diplomat, lawyer, and fascinating charmer. The first American writer to make his pen his primary means of support, Washington Irving rocketed to fame at the age of twenty-six. In 1809 he published A History of New York under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, to great acclaim. The public’s appetite for all things Irving was insatiable; his name alone guaranteed sales. At the time, he was one of the most famous men in the world, a friend of Dickens, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, as well as Astor, van Buren, and Madison. But his sparkling public persona was only one side of this gentleman author. In brilliant, meticulous strokes, Brian Jay Jones renders Washington Irving in all his flawed splendor—someone who fretted about money and employment, suffered from writer’s block, and doggedly cultivated his reputation. Jones offers a very human portrait of the often contrasting public and private lives of this true American original.


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The definitive biography of the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Brian Jay Jones crafts a deft biography of the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle”: quintessential New Yorker, presidential confidant, diplomat, lawyer, and fascinating charmer. The first American writer to make his pen his primary means of support, Washington The definitive biography of the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Brian Jay Jones crafts a deft biography of the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle”: quintessential New Yorker, presidential confidant, diplomat, lawyer, and fascinating charmer. The first American writer to make his pen his primary means of support, Washington Irving rocketed to fame at the age of twenty-six. In 1809 he published A History of New York under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, to great acclaim. The public’s appetite for all things Irving was insatiable; his name alone guaranteed sales. At the time, he was one of the most famous men in the world, a friend of Dickens, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, as well as Astor, van Buren, and Madison. But his sparkling public persona was only one side of this gentleman author. In brilliant, meticulous strokes, Brian Jay Jones renders Washington Irving in all his flawed splendor—someone who fretted about money and employment, suffered from writer’s block, and doggedly cultivated his reputation. Jones offers a very human portrait of the often contrasting public and private lives of this true American original.

30 review for Washington Irving: The Definitive Biography of America's First Bestselling Author

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Tull

    This biography gave me a whole new perspective on past history and its heroes. It was slow reading at first, but I gradually found myself drawn to Washington Irving and his life. Along with his story came the history that was unfolding inthe United States and our leaders. Some of my thoughts- Fame is fleeting. I remember Washington Irving stories from my grade school days. I think of him as Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. However, for his time and our time he is This biography gave me a whole new perspective on past history and its heroes. It was slow reading at first, but I gradually found myself drawn to Washington Irving and his life. Along with his story came the history that was unfolding inthe United States and our leaders. Some of my thoughts- Fame is fleeting. I remember Washington Irving stories from my grade school days. I think of him as Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. However, for his time and our time he is so much more that these two stories. I wonder if other people remember him only because of them. Notes from the book: "Washington Irving was the first American writer to live by his pen and the first to have an international reputation." He paved the way for authors such as: James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe. Their main source of income was not their writing. Irving was constantly trying to find a way to make money. He was educated as a lawyer, but it didn't really suit him. At first he wrote under pseudonyms because he was afraid people wouldn't like what he wrote. His first book, 'A History of New York', was written by Diedrich Knickerbocker. (The New York Knicks owe him their name.) He always had a wanderlust and headed for England where he found himself running the family trading company. He was helping his brother Peter who was sickly most of his life. He didn't return to the United State until fourteen years later. While there he wrote 'The Sketch Book' and 'Tales of a Traveller' under the name of Geoffrey Crayon. 'The Life and Voyage of Christopher Columbus' was the first publication that carried his name as the author. He spent several years as a Minister from the United States to the Spanish Court. Finally, he returned home to stay. His crowning achievement was his five volume set, 'The Life of George Washington'. When he was five, he had met and was blessed by George Washington. He had always felt that it was his destiny to do write about his life. Irving was born in 1783 and died at the age of 76 in 1859. Over his lifetime "Politicians, writers, actors, artists, and wannabes of every type clamored to be associated with him. A friend to six presidents, he had danced with Dolley Madison in the White House, consoled Martin Van Buren in London, flattered a young Queen Isabella in Madrid as John Tyler's minister to Spain. John Jacob Astor tapped him to be his personal biographer, Mary Shelley had a crush on him. Edgar Allen Poe flattered him. Sir Walter Scott loved him. Dickens, Longfellow, and Haw throne adored him. Even those like James Fenimore Cooper who loathed him gave his work their grudging respect." (found on page 408) Washington Irving was the 'Rock Star' of his time. It took me several months to read this book. There was so much to absorb that I couldn't do it straight through. It was slow reading and it took me a while to warm up to Washington Irving. However, when he died and was laid to rest at Sleepy Hollow I had tears running down my face. I highly recommend this biography it will give you a real appreciation for Irving and the times in which he lived. Thank you Mr. Jones for such a wonderful tribute.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Schuyler Wallace

    Washington Irving was, in the early 1800s, the country’s foremost writer and famous throughout the world. Brian Jay Jones has adeptly caught the esoteric image of a man both driven and haunted by a personality that has defied scrutiny. In “Washington Irving,” Jones puts the bright light on a flawed man with intense inner feelings and countless outer weaknesses that were always a challenge throughout his existence. Irving, along with being a skillful writer, was a diplomat, lawyer, loyal advisor Washington Irving was, in the early 1800s, the country’s foremost writer and famous throughout the world. Brian Jay Jones has adeptly caught the esoteric image of a man both driven and haunted by a personality that has defied scrutiny. In “Washington Irving,” Jones puts the bright light on a flawed man with intense inner feelings and countless outer weaknesses that were always a challenge throughout his existence. Irving, along with being a skillful writer, was a diplomat, lawyer, loyal advisor to Presidents with a somewhat provocative lifestyle. He had political acumen and his conversation ability and clever wit was particularly charming with the ladies. But he was always in financial difficulty, struggled with indolence, suffered long stretches of writer’s block, and had bouts of crippling depression. Fortunately his writing was widely received and praised, and brought intermittent influxes of funds to finance his lavish lifestyle. Jones has previously written well-received biographies of puppeteer Jim Henson and producer George Lucas. Although not a show business icon, Washington Irving gets the same immaculate treatment Jones gave to pop idols. His biography reveals some of their same personal characteristics, mainly Irving’s insistence that the public was where his effort to please should be centered, not with the critics. Although he was strongly affected by criticism, he never changed his approach. I also see some of that in the biographer’s writing. Jones appears to have his readers in mind as he writes the accounting of Irving, giving emphasis to information that interests the reader and being less centered on esoteric musings. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” continues to be one of my favorite stories. It’s vivid imagery and understated humor has always amused me. So, in Irving, we have an author who can be both a diplomat and statesman garnering immense respect, and a fun-loving, rollicking interpreter of folk legends and human frailties. It might appear that his words rolled easily off his pen, but just the opposite was true. He struggled mightily with inspiration, lassitude, and a writer’s inability to find words. And always, cluttering his mind, was his struggle with finances, providing care for relatives, creating a comfortable abode, and maintaining solid legal arrangements with his publishers. This is a great book, carefully researched, and exhibiting great linguistic skills by its author. The book notes, always my measure of great research, are well presented and a joy to read. I highly recommend it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Neumann

    This biography of Washington Irving was well researched and well written. I discovered a lot about America's first great author. My impressions of Irving were incorrect in many areas. I discovered he was rather a slackard as a younger man, much more likely to go drinking and going to plays with his close circle of male friends than to work, either as a lawyer - his profession though he did very little work - or as a writer. His early work was more like writing for Saturday Night Live than the gr This biography of Washington Irving was well researched and well written. I discovered a lot about America's first great author. My impressions of Irving were incorrect in many areas. I discovered he was rather a slackard as a younger man, much more likely to go drinking and going to plays with his close circle of male friends than to work, either as a lawyer - his profession though he did very little work - or as a writer. His early work was more like writing for Saturday Night Live than the great American novel. I also was surprised he spent so many years in Europe. He mainly wrote to earn money, even though his older brothers paid for his European tour - which lasted 17 years. While Irving made a lot of money from his writings, he was often near debt due to bad investments he or his brothers made. Irving never married, rumors he may have been a homosexual are discussed. I kind of doubt it, but he was very close to his youthful friends. In later years, most of them married and while Irving never did he came very close. One fiancé died, another young lady turned him down. I do wish the author covered his works a little more, but the author made it plain his purpose was to cover the man and not his works I also felt the book covered some aspects of his life in too much detail, especially his early years in Europe. However, overall I found the book an excellent biography and recommend it to all interested in American history and American literature.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Washington Irving: The Definitive Biography of America's First Best-Selling Author is exactly what it purports to be - an extensive, in-depth, and engaging biography of the marvelous storyteller and writer. Jones digs into Irving's family life, his riotous younger years, his extensive friendships with the great in politics, society, art, literature, and publishing, his business and administrative skills (I had no idea that Irving was the first to suggest means of curtailing copyright infringemen Washington Irving: The Definitive Biography of America's First Best-Selling Author is exactly what it purports to be - an extensive, in-depth, and engaging biography of the marvelous storyteller and writer. Jones digs into Irving's family life, his riotous younger years, his extensive friendships with the great in politics, society, art, literature, and publishing, his business and administrative skills (I had no idea that Irving was the first to suggest means of curtailing copyright infringement between countries or that he was instrumental in setting the borders between Canada and the United States!), and, of course, his extensive writing. Lovely prose, easily accessible to the reader, and wonderfully informative.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K. Counihan

    Comprehensive Biography Fascinating The scope of the writing from fiction to history, diplomatic papers,etc, all hand written before being published. He was the first American to make a living by writing. He mingled with Presidents, diplomats, kings, queens, indians, and frontiersmen.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Washington Irving was not only a writer but a traveler,diplomat and friend to many,which the author brings to life.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Martin Bakner

    With exhaustive attention to detail, Jones gets to the heart and soul of the "Sleepy Hollow" creator, showing us a man of great talents and delicate personality.

  8. 4 out of 5

    J.R.

    I looked forward to reading this biography of Irving. His Sketchbook was among the first “serious books” from my father’s collection to attract my attention and I still have occasion to return to it. Jones provides much of interest on Irving’s life but, like others, I found him at times careless with terminology and a little too quick to make assertions—particularly about Irving’s sexuality—with little evidence to back them up. That said, I did enjoy the book and am happy to see a boyhood hero ge I looked forward to reading this biography of Irving. His Sketchbook was among the first “serious books” from my father’s collection to attract my attention and I still have occasion to return to it. Jones provides much of interest on Irving’s life but, like others, I found him at times careless with terminology and a little too quick to make assertions—particularly about Irving’s sexuality—with little evidence to back them up. That said, I did enjoy the book and am happy to see a boyhood hero get some attention which may attract readers who know little of his work beyond The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle—not that there’s anything wrong with either story. But more people should know Irving was not only our first man of letters, that his reputation did not come easy and he was an inspiration to many others, including Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. I thought it appropriate his final work would be a biography of George Washington, his namesake, who gave the 5-year-old his blessing on the night of the president’s inauguration.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Lively narrative of the first American man of letters who took longer to find himself than many a wandering soul of our time. He lost piles of money in ill-fated speculations and generous attempts to help his equally inept businessman brother. But eventually his deals with Sir Walter Scott's powerhouse British publisher helped him earn the moolah his entertaining historical tales deserved. His Columbus portrait was the source of most Columbus mythology for the 100 years, although there was plent Lively narrative of the first American man of letters who took longer to find himself than many a wandering soul of our time. He lost piles of money in ill-fated speculations and generous attempts to help his equally inept businessman brother. But eventually his deals with Sir Walter Scott's powerhouse British publisher helped him earn the moolah his entertaining historical tales deserved. His Columbus portrait was the source of most Columbus mythology for the 100 years, although there was plenty of wry material that debunkers could have used to season the heroism. Irving immensely enjoyed his researches in Moorish Spain, writing an account of the Alhambra that fixed an image of Romantic Latin culture that long gripped the American imagination. His travels on the Rhine helped him see the Hudson Valley as a rich source of Gothic imagery. translating German romanticism to an American idiom.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    It's widely believed that Washington Irving was America's first great writer. Born in 1783 in New York City, Irving lived to age 76 at time when America grew from an upstart young republic to a respected nation around the world. Brian Jay Jones biography is very detailed and covers Irving's entire life, focusing as much on his incredible number of famous friends and colleagues as on his writings. Best known for his early short stories such as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", W It's widely believed that Washington Irving was America's first great writer. Born in 1783 in New York City, Irving lived to age 76 at time when America grew from an upstart young republic to a respected nation around the world. Brian Jay Jones biography is very detailed and covers Irving's entire life, focusing as much on his incredible number of famous friends and colleagues as on his writings. Best known for his early short stories such as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", Washington Irving was as much a renown essayist, historian and biographer. In addition, Irving played a significant role in helping to advance the newly formed U. S. Government, serving as adviser to several Presidents as well as Ambassador to Spain. All in all, this is great book, both as a complete portrait of the man as well as a great history of early American society.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Peggie Ross

    I decided to read this biography because Conner Prairie uses the Headless Horseman as it's signature October night time event. Growing up I knew about Rip Van Winkle and Icabod Crane but nothing of Irving's life. I am now in awe of the man and his incredible life. From his birth and the reason for his first name through to the incredible list of famous men who eulogized him, he lived a life of one unusual event after another. It would be cruel of me to ruin another reader's experience by telling I decided to read this biography because Conner Prairie uses the Headless Horseman as it's signature October night time event. Growing up I knew about Rip Van Winkle and Icabod Crane but nothing of Irving's life. I am now in awe of the man and his incredible life. From his birth and the reason for his first name through to the incredible list of famous men who eulogized him, he lived a life of one unusual event after another. It would be cruel of me to ruin another reader's experience by telling even one of the staggering number of positions he held. In chapter after chapter I learned more information about Washington Irving than I will ever be able to fully comprehend. I am in awe of the man who died over 150 years ago and now will find, read and appreciate many more of his writings than just the few presented to me in elementary school.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Buddy Don

    What fun! I had no idea how interesting Irving's life was. I'd enjoyed some of his early work, items such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the story of Rip Van Winkle, but I had no idea how much more he'd written, no idea how much he'd lived. He spent a large portion of his life in Europe, even serving as minister to Spain during the administrations of Van Buren and Polk. He seems to have met most of the major writers of his day -- Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, Edgar What fun! I had no idea how interesting Irving's life was. I'd enjoyed some of his early work, items such as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the story of Rip Van Winkle, but I had no idea how much more he'd written, no idea how much he'd lived. He spent a large portion of his life in Europe, even serving as minister to Spain during the administrations of Van Buren and Polk. He seems to have met most of the major writers of his day -- Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathanael Hawthorne, William Makepeace Thackery, Mary Shelley and many others who don't come to mind at the moment -- and knew six presidents personally. It's also a very fun read, moves along quickly, and gives one a new appreciation for a writer whose place in history was much more interesting than I'd ever imagined.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bob Gustafson

    I read "Sketch Book", "A History of New York" and "The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus" and I wanted to find out about the person who wrote them. This book satisfied that need. The writing is pleasant. There is no ax to grind, nor does the author want to nominate his subject for sainthood. It is facts, but not a boring play by play. It was exactly what I wanted. I recommend this book highly.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    A very readable biography. Sometimes a bit repetitive, but overall a very good introduction to an important American author. This account is great for non-specialists who want to know more about the man who made New York City's self image much of what it is. Further comments may be found here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World. A very readable biography. Sometimes a bit repetitive, but overall a very good introduction to an important American author. This account is great for non-specialists who want to know more about the man who made New York City's self image much of what it is. Further comments may be found here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lonnie

    Interesting account of the life of America's first famous author illustrating the joys and rewards of being a talented author and bon vivant while coping with the drudgery of paying bills having to produce an income.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Very enjoyable This was well written and very interesting. Not a real "page-turner", hence the length it took for me to finish it! But, well worth the effort.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yan

    Delightfully entertaining.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    the internationalism of Washington Irving was unexpected. I assumed he was so American.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Bradley

    feh. Had to cover all the bases, but it was pretty thin gruel.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    Hands down one of the best biographies I have ever read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pedro Trujillo

    Incredible, a hard work with a very literary scent. It has been the first time that I have been moved by a biography. It has been my faithful guide in my investigation on Irving

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nyanor

  23. 5 out of 5

    CHRIS RYAN

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tlgjones

  25. 5 out of 5

    Penny Eve Toan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tawnie

  28. 5 out of 5

    K.B.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carole Corkran

  30. 4 out of 5

    Linka

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