Press Release: Ron Chernow to Give 2010 Annual Leon Levy Biography Lecture

The Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, has announced that Ron Chernow, the award-winning biographer of Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller, will give the 2010 Annual Leon Levy Biography Lecture. Chernow’s latest biography -- the highly anticipated Washington: A Life -- will be published by Penguin on October 5. The lecture will take place on Tuesday, September 28, beginning 7:00 p.m., in Proshansky Auditorium at the Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. It is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.

Established by a generous gift from the Leon Levy Foundation and envisioned as a hub for writers, scholars, students and readers of biography, the Leon Levy Center for Biography seeks to build connections between independent and university-affiliated biographers across the disciplines and to cultivate lively discussions about the art and craft of biography historically and in our time. The Center selects a biographer of note each year to give the annual lecture on the process of researching and writing a biography, with a focus on current work.

Ron Chernow is the acclaimed author of five books. In Washington: A Life he provides a richly nuanced portrait of America’s first president with a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume biography of Washington. He covers Washington’s troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, and his presiding role at the Constitutional Convention. At the same time, he assesses Washington’s performance as president, offering a surprising picture of a canny and inspirational political genius. Not only did Washington gather around him the foremost figures of the age, he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency.

Yet, despite the reverence that Washington’s name inspires, the man himself has remained a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, arousing more respect than affection. Chernow’s groundbreaking work dashes the stereotype of the stolid, unemotional public figure. He brings to vivid life a passionate person of fiery opinions and many moods, probing Washington’s private life, exploring his fraught relationship with his mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. Chernow also provides a detailed portrait of Washington’s marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master.

Chernow’s two previous biographies, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller (1998), which The Times of London called “one of the great American biographies,” and Alexander Hamilton (2004), which won the George Washington Book Prize for early American history, were both nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography. His first work of nonfiction, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance, won the National Book Award, in 1990. His second, The Warburgs, about the German-Jewish banking family, was cited by the American Library Association as one of the year’s 10 best books in 1993. Chernow’s books have been praised as “magisterial” by The Washington Post, “superbly written” by The Wall Street Journal, and “genuinely great” by the biographer and historian David McCullough. The New York Times calls Chernow “as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we’ve seen in decades.”

The Leon Levy Center for Biography

The Center sponsors events such as the Annual Leon Levy Biography Lecture, the annual conference on biography, and a number of public presentations and programs throughout the year to provide a forum for the public to appreciate the breadth and variety of biographical narratives and the intellectual issues fueling them. The Center also offers four resident fellowships annually to fund the research and writing of outstanding biographies and two fellowships to CUNY dissertation students writing biography. The Leon Levy Center is currently under the leadership of author Brenda Wineapple, as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and Director. David Nasaw, the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the Graduate Center, serves as Chair of the Center’s Advisory Board.

The Graduate Center

The Graduate Center is the primary doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY). The school offers more than 30 doctoral programs, as well as a number of master's programs. The Graduate Center is also home to more than 30 interdisciplinary research centers and institutes and offers an extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events. Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

Submitted on: SEP 1, 2010

Category: Leon Levy Center for Biography | Press Room