His Excellency: George Washington Book Cover
National Bestseller

To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
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His Excellency George Washington Reviews

Chandler Jechura
This begins my journey to go through at least one biography per President. I decided to do this after I realized that there were many good things that I did not know about each president, and it would be time that I learned them as quickly as possible. So we begin, appropriately, with George Washington. This is a man who many people can cite for being a general in the American Revolution, and our first president, but little else. This is a somewhat incomplete picture that gives you an idea of th This begins my journey to go through at least one biography per President. I decided to do this after I realized that there were many good things that I did not know about each president, and it would be time that I learned them as quickly as possible. So we begin, appropriately, with George Washington. This is a man who many people can cite for being a general in the American Revolution, and our first president, but little else. This is a somewhat incomplete picture that gives you an idea of the accomplishments, but not the man. Thankfully, Ellis’ book does both very well.

One interesting idea about his character is his journey to learn that he should do what was best for others, and not what was best for himself. This can be seen as a lesson that had to be learned throughout his life. Firstly, there was the blunder at Fort Necessity, where he wanted to gain personal glory against the French no matter what the cost, and ended up paying for it. Then there was his time as the Commander and Chief of the Continental Army. Here, he wished to prove his glory a second time, perhaps to prove that he was better than the British commanders of their day who had more experience, resources, and were better educated than himself. Here, however, is where his views began to change. For example, he could have stayed at New York, with his dream of marching into the city after vanquishing the British to a heroes welcome. Instead, he realized that the better plan would be to travel to Yorktown, to see what he could do with capturing the British. This ultimately proved successful and was a defining moment of his career.

The final evolution of his selflessness can be seen in his presidency. During his first term, Hamilton's infatuation with a national bank was unpopular. Being something that was considered reasonable in an economic sense was viewed with disdain and contempt by those in congress and the public. They saw it as a way to centralize the federal government, and, like many things that are politically charged, then and now, it was blown out of proportion. It was said that this was a way to take power away from the states and that Washington was a man with, dare we say, Kingly ambitions for wanting to let it happen. Yet, this was something that he saw as necessary. Without this federal line of credit, we would have a fluctuating currency, and massive state debt that would make foreign trade a nightmare.

Then there is the small problem of war between the two largest countries in the world: Britain and France. America was asked to choose sides, and Washington choose neutrality, asking John Jay to go to Britain to find a diplomatic solution. What would become to be known as the Jay Treaty was not quite what Washington would have wanted, especially since it was unpopular with the American public. However, he saw that the United States could not afford to go to war with either country, and decided that it was best for the country to remain neutral, whatever the cost. Yet, the best element of Washington’s Presidency is that he was willing to step down after two terms (there was no limit to how long a President could serve, yet). This shows the grace in letting someone else take the helm. I think that this is something that other presidents would not have done had they been first, such as Richard Nixon.
This book is one that accurately details Washington's life fairly well. It looks over many of the interesting points about his career, and manges to show his character in the process. This is a book that, I believe, should be read by those who either are new to Washington, or who do not have the time or physical space to read Ron Chernow’s book on the man. This text manages to tell you the most about Washington in the most expedient amount of time, which is to be commended.

Yet, this book does have a few flaws. One is that, occasionally, the author does have a few leaps in judgement. It isn’t bad, or anything, but noticeable. It is more like the editor said that he went over the word count and had to cut some of the book, and in the process, Ellis left out his evidence for his conclusions. Then there is his writing style. While it is fine, he does become overly wordy at times, leading to a cadence that tends to be drawn out in certain sentences.

Still these points are relatively minor, and I am glad that I read this book. If you haven’t read about Washington in a while, then I would suggest picking this one up. You won’t regret it. I give it a four out of five.
Kim. E.
As I continue on my quest to read at least one book about each president and one for each first lady, I'm glad this president is one of my early choices.

Author Joseph J. Ellis writes a good overall book about the life of George Washington from his childhood through his involvement in the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, his presidency, and life afterwards. Unfortunately, little is known about the relationship between George and Martha because she destroyed all their letter after As I continue on my quest to read at least one book about each president and one for each first lady, I'm glad this president is one of my early choices.

Author Joseph J. Ellis writes a good overall book about the life of George Washington from his childhood through his involvement in the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, his presidency, and life afterwards. Unfortunately, little is known about the relationship between George and Martha because she destroyed all their letter after his death.

This book was a good reminder to me to read more about the American Revolution because there were many references to military actions that a basic understanding would have helped considerably. At times the book was written with the preconceived belief that the reader already knew much of the events that occurred during his lifetime.

I had never really thought about the actual process it took to develop and form a new government. Decisions from where to place the national capitol and build it, how a president should behave and the amount and form of contact between this president and citizens, and how to combine the beliefs of government in such a way to prevent looking like a local version of the British government the citizens went to war to keep from obeying.

Washington also had to deal with losing trust in Jefferson, who led Washington to believe one thing in their correspondence between one another compared with the actions Jefferson was taking behind his back. George Washington did want to free slaves in the United States, but knew that if he tried, there would be a civil war. Instead he took a personal step through his will.

A good book to begin learning about George Washington, but I would recommend referring to other books listed as resources for this one.
Stephan van Velzen
Great quick overview of Washington's life, presidency, and legacy. This was a really interesting read that makes me extremely excited for the biographies of Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton I'll be reading next.
The High Window :: Goldfish :: I Am Not Myself These Days :: Proof :: Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
Guillaume Guy
Very interesting biography. We get a walkthrough of Washington's life put into the historical perspective (of the Virginia planter class). This book also avoid the usual romancing / embellishing that you would expect about the most prominent founding father : in short, fair and balanced.

Recommended for those wanting to quickly discover the life of Washington.
Christian Dibblee
Thoroughly enjoyable book. I appreciate Ellis' conclusion that Washington had insatiable ambition and plenty of self-interest. All of the evidence points to this conclusion but it seems as if collective history shows Washington as a bastion of incorruptible virtue.

That said, Ellis focuses on two very salient points that make Washington the best president this country has ever had: his ability to abide fully by the rules of the Constitution and to embody the "spirit of '76" while recognizing his Thoroughly enjoyable book. I appreciate Ellis' conclusion that Washington had insatiable ambition and plenty of self-interest. All of the evidence points to this conclusion but it seems as if collective history shows Washington as a bastion of incorruptible virtue.

That said, Ellis focuses on two very salient points that make Washington the best president this country has ever had: his ability to abide fully by the rules of the Constitution and to embody the "spirit of '76" while recognizing his unique place. I was struck by his ability not to interject his own agenda into that of Congress but also his focus on how the country could only stay together through his singular efforts. Yes, Washington may have had lots of egotistical tendencies, but his ability not only to hide those but also to react aginst them (e.g. Fabian strategy against British) at key points should be admired. Also, his foreign policy impressed me because he not only understood the interests of other nations would drive their policy but also penned treaties that, while publicly reviled, saved the country from a disastrous mistake. The U.S. would've been crushed in a follow-up war with Britain.

It's easy to make a judgment on Washington as a man. At times he looks arrogant and overly grave, but his ability to acknowledge his special place not only to the public as president but as general to the Continental Army was the glue that held many things together as the country launched its ship.

The reason this book doesn't have 5 stars is twofold: first, while the style is at times very elegant, it's a little flowery for my taste. Also, I would say while this was meant as a manageable biography, I think a longer book would be very helpful from an informed reader's perspective.
David Schwan
This as a concise book about the life and accomplishments of George Washington. What made this book interesting were a number of points. 1) Washington's experiences both before and during the the revolutionary war brought him to the conclusion that and future nation coming out the the American colonies needed to have a strong federal government in order for it's future to be assured. 2) That untrained militia were not of much value to the continental army. The real battles were won by regular tr This as a concise book about the life and accomplishments of George Washington. What made this book interesting were a number of points. 1) Washington's experiences both before and during the the revolutionary war brought him to the conclusion that and future nation coming out the the American colonies needed to have a strong federal government in order for it's future to be assured. 2) That untrained militia were not of much value to the continental army. The real battles were won by regular troops. (in a sense dispelling the modern notion of a militia overturning a federal government). 3) The revolutionary war was expensive (roughly $77 million), Washington implicitly understood a weak federal government could never pay those kind of bills. 4) Washington wished to come up with a long term plan to protect some Indian lands and give sovereignty within, while knowing that over the long term the Indian's would be assimilated into the the culture of the US. 6) That slavery needed to be abolished yet understanding that the time to do so was not in his lifetime. 7) That the plantation system dominant in the the southern states created a pseudo aristocratic class, the plantations were not based on good economics and farming practices.

After reading this book I feel that the arguments of the current Tea Party movement are even more out of touch with the real world. They reach into the past and grab myths to justify a viewpoint that factually did not exist.
Brian
I really enjoyed this biography of the "Father of the Nation" up until now all that I knew of Washington were half-truths, fables and myths. This book really helped to flesh out the man that became the Most Important Man in our history.
We would not be the country we are if it were not for George Washington. Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Franklin, Henry and Hamilton were all important men that did help shape the landscape of the New World, but it was "His Excellency" that made the choices and to take I really enjoyed this biography of the "Father of the Nation" up until now all that I knew of Washington were half-truths, fables and myths. This book really helped to flesh out the man that became the Most Important Man in our history.
We would not be the country we are if it were not for George Washington. Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Franklin, Henry and Hamilton were all important men that did help shape the landscape of the New World, but it was "His Excellency" that made the choices and to take the stand needed to insure that American Revolution would not only succeed but that, afterwards, it Nation would continue.
He stands tall in the history books, and it's well deserved.
There have been revolutions since 1776. Stalin, Mao, Neapolitan, Castro...they all came to power thru revolutions...but they were not Leaders. They did not do what was 'the greater good'
This book has helped me to realizes just how important George Washington was to this country, and how important he still is.
Now, onto John Adams~!
Marilyn
When I read about the Revolutionary War, my chest is tight with emotion--hoping and pulling for the underdogs even though they don't have a chance at winning against the world power (and this of course while I live everyday in the fallout of the war's outcome). I love George Washington. His role in making the only republic to last as long as this one cannot be overstated. I appreciate Ellis' writing though I find myself thinking on occasion that he writes motives into George's thoughts and actio When I read about the Revolutionary War, my chest is tight with emotion--hoping and pulling for the underdogs even though they don't have a chance at winning against the world power (and this of course while I live everyday in the fallout of the war's outcome). I love George Washington. His role in making the only republic to last as long as this one cannot be overstated. I appreciate Ellis' writing though I find myself thinking on occasion that he writes motives into George's thoughts and actions that aren't supported in his text. The hope is that his proposed telling of the story comes from the themes he sees as he researches, but there are times when he doesn't acknowledge that the way he tells the story is one possibility based on specific evidence (a letter or speech or journal entry) and I would prefer it.
Katherine
This was a good biography of Washington. It was very well balanced, taking a not too worshipful tone, nor overly critical. It managed to steer a middle path, highlighting Washington's importance as the first President as well as the Commander in Chief, while exposing his weaknesses in his second term and with his struggles over freeing his slaves.

The one drawback of the audio edition was that the microphone was too sensitive during recording, allowing a lot of external verbal noise to come throu This was a good biography of Washington. It was very well balanced, taking a not too worshipful tone, nor overly critical. It managed to steer a middle path, highlighting Washington's importance as the first President as well as the Commander in Chief, while exposing his weaknesses in his second term and with his struggles over freeing his slaves.

The one drawback of the audio edition was that the microphone was too sensitive during recording, allowing a lot of external verbal noise to come through from the narrator. I didn't like hearing lip smacking and swallowing, although this may not be as much of a problem if you're not using headphones.
Scott Lee
Re-read this as part of an active study of the Revolutionary era and Washington/Adams/Jefferson in particular.

I liked Chernow's George Washington: A Life better, and generally, where the he and Ellis differed in their takes was more convinced by him, but this is a solid work, backed by serious scholarship. If Ellis didn't cover any one period in quite the detail or depth that Chernow did (it seems to me that you couldn't spend much more detail than Chernow without drowning the reader in Washing Re-read this as part of an active study of the Revolutionary era and Washington/Adams/Jefferson in particular.

I liked Chernow's George Washington: A Life better, and generally, where the he and Ellis differed in their takes was more convinced by him, but this is a solid work, backed by serious scholarship. If Ellis didn't cover any one period in quite the detail or depth that Chernow did (it seems to me that you couldn't spend much more detail than Chernow without drowning the reader in Washington minutia), he still delivers a convincing retelling of Washington's story that clearly communicates his importance and unique character.
Brenda
It probably deserves 5 stars, it's that good, but I gave it 4 because I really had to plow through a lot of it. Because of this book, I have a much greater understanding and respect for the beginnings of our nation and the men who devoted their lives to principles and ideals and a cause they believed in. Ellis irritated me just a little with his determination to expose Washington's true personality and character, which come off as less than perfect, darn it. However, I'm determined to finish 'Fo It probably deserves 5 stars, it's that good, but I gave it 4 because I really had to plow through a lot of it. Because of this book, I have a much greater understanding and respect for the beginnings of our nation and the men who devoted their lives to principles and ideals and a cause they believed in. Ellis irritated me just a little with his determination to expose Washington's true personality and character, which come off as less than perfect, darn it. However, I'm determined to finish 'Founding Brothers' now.
Wyatt
Before I read this book, I was used to seeing Washington held in the highest regard, as a truly almost perfect man. This book gave a more analytical approach to Washington, not downplaying his weaknesses, and it is refreshing at times. Sometimes it comes across as though the author is just trying to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. This book gave great depth to figuring out the complicated mind of Washington. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about Washington in a Before I read this book, I was used to seeing Washington held in the highest regard, as a truly almost perfect man. This book gave a more analytical approach to Washington, not downplaying his weaknesses, and it is refreshing at times. Sometimes it comes across as though the author is just trying to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. This book gave great depth to figuring out the complicated mind of Washington. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about Washington in a short amount of time.
Jessica
I feel like I learned a lot about Washington that I didn't in school. I only wish that he wasn't so concerned with preserving his legacy. Changing journal entries and having letters and things burned after his death prevent us from knowing the "real" Washington. At least with Lincoln I can appreciate his genius and see his personality. Washington still seems like a blank slate, which is I guess what he wanted.
Scott
Not only a great biography, but it was a fairly quick read, too. Great insight into a truly great man who understood his place in history, and, according to National Treasure 2, had some sweet tunnels on his property. ;)
Jennifer Gibson-Johnson
Really well written and thorough biography of Washington.
Brian
Tempting to give a 5 because of its readability and subject (Washington definitely gets a 5/5), but ultimately I didn't feel that 5 feel for the book itself.
Susi
Good, concise, biography of our first President. Very enjoyable, well written, with some nice insights from an author who has covered a lot of our Founding Fathers. Recommend :)
Welles Bristol
No reason to be surprised that he was a regular person. But wonderful to hear the details and find many reasons to admire GW. Things could have disintegrated without his maturity at the end.
April Haugen
A little dry but historically accurate and a great way to kick off my year of Presidential reading.
Jon
Very good read. Like most Ellis' books, he leaves you wanting more.
Michael Ellis
Parson Weems tale about Washington chopping down a cherry tree is a complete fabrication. We know virtually nothing about his relationship with his father.

Born February 22, 1732, Westmoreland, Virginia.

After Washington married Martha Custis he was considered amongst the Virginian elite. He had a voracious desire to acquire land and did so freely. During the French and Indian war, he had a sour taste in his mouth when a lower ranking officer forcibly took charge over Washington because he was Bri Parson Weems tale about Washington chopping down a cherry tree is a complete fabrication. We know virtually nothing about his relationship with his father.

Born February 22, 1732, Westmoreland, Virginia.

After Washington married Martha Custis he was considered amongst the Virginian elite. He had a voracious desire to acquire land and did so freely. During the French and Indian war, he had a sour taste in his mouth when a lower ranking officer forcibly took charge over Washington because he was British and Washington was merely American. After the French Indian war, he framed Tabaco which he sold to Great Britain. He felt the strain of being subject to their prices and often times felt mistreated and cheated. Washington also thought the west was the future and acquired land in western PA and Eastern Ohio only to hear that great Britain declare the western land unable to settle and belonging to the native Americans. This too discouraged Washington's personal view of America's dependency on the British. While some based their disapproval of English policy on historical factors and infringement of the law, Washington based his on his own personal experiences.

In 1769 he began to use the language of prospective revolutionary: "At a time when our Lordly Masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something shou'd be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our Ancestors."

Washington commanded the continental army from age 43 to 51. Think you're over the hill at 40? Washington was just getting started.

Even Washington considered the weight on his shoulders while in a leadership role when he said, "I have often thought how much happier I should have been if instead of accepting of a command under such circumstances I had taken my musket upon my shoulder and entered the ranks, ... or had retir'd to the backcountry and lived in a wig-wam.

When Washington wrote his Will in 1798 he estimated his net worth at $530,000 which didn't include the land and slaves at Mount Vernon. The land in the Ohio Valley that he acquired during the French & Indian war accounted for over half of his wealth.

Although Washington struggled with emancipating his slaves, which he accounted or 317 and owned 124 outright, he included a statement of freedom and kindness in his will. "Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will & desire that all the slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom... I do hereby expressly forbid the sale, or transportation of the said Commonwealth of any slave I may die possessed of, under any pretense whatsoever." All the old and inform slaves "shall be comfortably clothed and fed by my heirs while they live." All the young slaves should be taught to read and be "brought up to some useful occupation." Billy Lee was to be freed right at Washington's death and provided with a small annuity along with room and board, "as a testimony to my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War."

Washington died of Epiglottitis which was a bacterial infection of the epiglottis, a plum-sized flexible cartilage at the entry of the larynx. It closes off your windpipe, making breathing and swallowing difficult, and eventually impossible.

Washington measured 6'3-1/2" tall when calculations were taken for his coffin.
Christine Garner
Finally! I don’t think I’ve ever taken so long to read a book I really enjoyed before. It was slow going because every sentence had value and lent something to the overall theme....no skimming paragraphs describing Meadows and flowers here. It took time to read and digest every bit of information, and consider it in the context of what I “knew” already about George Washington (or thought I did).

It was both heartening and a tad depressing to see just how long vicious partisan political attacks h Finally! I don’t think I’ve ever taken so long to read a book I really enjoyed before. It was slow going because every sentence had value and lent something to the overall theme....no skimming paragraphs describing Meadows and flowers here. It took time to read and digest every bit of information, and consider it in the context of what I “knew” already about George Washington (or thought I did).

It was both heartening and a tad depressing to see just how long vicious partisan political attacks have been happening in this country...basically, since it’s inception. Seeing Washington depicted as someone who almost from the beginning believed that a strong central government was necessary to corral the separate factions/states into something approaching cohesion, was new to me. And that he came to it based on interests rather than ideals - he couldn’t get his soldiers paid if a federal government couldn’t collect taxes from the states, and the states were certainly not voluntarily paying even for their own men. He began his adulthood bristling at what he saw as unfair treatment by the British from afar (mainly how much it was costing him to do business over there). He chafed at the thought of heavy handed rule...except when he realized that something like it was necessary in order to actually build a nation.

This was #1 on my list of presidential bios to read. At this rate it’ll take me 10 years to finish!
Russ K
An easy and compelling read. At less than 300 pages, Joseph Ellis doesn't get bogged down by too many details. He uses broad brushstrokes to select key instances that support his interpretation of George Washington, using direct quotes from primary sources like letters and newspapers. Ellis makes a lot of inferences into into what Washington's true mindset was. He paints Washington as an unreliable narrator of his own life - someone overly concerned with his public image and his personal financi An easy and compelling read. At less than 300 pages, Joseph Ellis doesn't get bogged down by too many details. He uses broad brushstrokes to select key instances that support his interpretation of George Washington, using direct quotes from primary sources like letters and newspapers. Ellis makes a lot of inferences into into what Washington's true mindset was. He paints Washington as an unreliable narrator of his own life - someone overly concerned with his public image and his personal financial interest, someone who edited his diaries and letters, who hid his passion and ambition behind a mask of humility and maturity. So, he relies on the people around Washington, and what they thought and said about him.

Ellis also assumes the audience has familiarity with Washington - the stories around his teeth, the cherry tree, his will, his slaves, etc. He also brushes over some key events, like the Battle of Yorktown and Lexington and Concord. He'd rather go over Washington's role than review what should be familiar to people who have taken a High School class on American History.

All that's fine. This isn't an in-depth look at everything Washington said and did, and it isn't History 101. It's an in-between book, for history fans who like to look at historical heroes without the veil of the mythology that's arisen around them.
James Christensen
Well written, cerebral, unvarnished look at Washington. Had his weaknesses (financial security paramount, slavery - this changed during his life, temper, preserving his legacy & reputation) and his strengths (patient inspite of temper, believed strongly in the new founded Republic, principled and lived within those principles, insightful, saw the bigger picture and made decisions to end of achieving those objectives, respected authority, dignified, iron-cast self-discipline).

Goes out of his Well written, cerebral, unvarnished look at Washington. Had his weaknesses (financial security paramount, slavery - this changed during his life, temper, preserving his legacy & reputation) and his strengths (patient inspite of temper, believed strongly in the new founded Republic, principled and lived within those principles, insightful, saw the bigger picture and made decisions to end of achieving those objectives, respected authority, dignified, iron-cast self-discipline).

Goes out of his way to take Washington off the diefied pedestal he has been placed on (notes for instance that no truth to the cherry tree incident) but does fine job of establishing why America, the revolution and the constitution and the establishment of the government as an enduring entity depended so very much upon Washington's personality, character, deeds, and sense of history.

Very good read. Need to read more about the era to get different perspective.

Satisfied that Ellis' presentation is well balanced.

Ellis is a joy to read, however he easily loses me because he is so cerebral. Other books: Founding Brothers, American Sphinx, Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, After the Revolution, School for Soldiers, The New England Mind.
Robin
I learned SO much! I never really knew much about THE MAN himself, just some of the things history teaches and the events that took place. I always wanted to know what kind of man I was really holding up to such high esteem. I felt the book was fairly objective and that I got to learn a lot of his character traits. He may have been a little full of himself but I think he was a good man, stubborn, but then to be a general wouldn't you kind of need to be? Not everything always went his way but his I learned SO much! I never really knew much about THE MAN himself, just some of the things history teaches and the events that took place. I always wanted to know what kind of man I was really holding up to such high esteem. I felt the book was fairly objective and that I got to learn a lot of his character traits. He may have been a little full of himself but I think he was a good man, stubborn, but then to be a general wouldn't you kind of need to be? Not everything always went his way but his consistency and some of that stubbornness paid off. I had no idea that he didn't even want to be the President, I mean I knew he was elected without running but I didn't know he was retired and just wanted a quiet life at Mt Vernon. I had no idea by the time his second term as President came along, he was pretty much upset that he was again nominated without running. I also didn't know how much trouble Thomas Jefferson was and quite an obnoxious brat, what a pot stirrer! Anyway I could go on, the point is I got out of this book what I wanted and I do feel I know a lot more about the man, rather than all the myth.
Bill Ibelle
Fascinating time to read this book. We think of the founding years as a time of heroism, genius, and high-minded debate, which is was—sort of. Far more polarization and political scheming that I imagined. Never knew, for example, how much Jefferson grew to hate and distrust Washington and the political rumor-mill he fueled to paint President Washington as an old many who was growing senile and ineffective.

Also interesting to see Washingtons evolution as a leader. Not all that remarkable at firs Fascinating time to read this book. We think of the founding years as a time of heroism, genius, and high-minded debate, which is was—sort of. Far more polarization and political scheming that I imagined. Never knew, for example, how much Jefferson grew to hate and distrust Washington and the political rumor-mill he fueled to paint President Washington as an old many who was growing senile and ineffective.

Also interesting to see Washingtons evolution as a leader. Not all that remarkable at first, except in his ambition. Made lots of poor judgements as a military leader and the two biggest victories of the Revolution—Saratoga and Yorktown—were engineered other generals.

Yet, in spite of his shortcomings, it becomes clear why he was the right many, and possibly the only man who could have led the warring factions within the revolutionary movement not only to win an impossible war, but also establish and enduring nation out of tightly divided factions.
Jenny.p
Accessible and intellectually cohesive look into the life of George Washington and his rise to be the first President of the United States. He certainly wasn't perfect--it was surprising to realize some of his selfish motivations behind founding the Republic, his reliance on slave labor, squabbles over land, what a cheapskate he was, etc. But, reading this now, post-2016 election and looking at how POTUS 45 approaches the presidency, it is striking to contrast the Founders basic intentions of th Accessible and intellectually cohesive look into the life of George Washington and his rise to be the first President of the United States. He certainly wasn't perfect--it was surprising to realize some of his selfish motivations behind founding the Republic, his reliance on slave labor, squabbles over land, what a cheapskate he was, etc. But, reading this now, post-2016 election and looking at how POTUS 45 approaches the presidency, it is striking to contrast the Founders basic intentions of the office and reframe leadership through the lens of the man who took this responsibility so seriously and moved forward with a tremendous love of country. A much-needed reminder of what we are all about.
Andrew Chapman
George Washington is a figure known more for the apocryphal legends than the story of the real man. Ellis spent what must have been years scouring first-hand accounts to reveal a man who was mired in everyday human worries and subject to the same temptations of power and wealth as anyone in his position might be. The details are interesting as Ellis fills in the picture around the legends. Be prepared going in that the author writes more by topic than chronologically leaving it occasionally diff George Washington is a figure known more for the apocryphal legends than the story of the real man. Ellis spent what must have been years scouring first-hand accounts to reveal a man who was mired in everyday human worries and subject to the same temptations of power and wealth as anyone in his position might be. The details are interesting as Ellis fills in the picture around the legends. Be prepared going in that the author writes more by topic than chronologically leaving it occasionally difficult to follow what happened in what order without referencing what you’ve already read. Overall, I really enjoyed learning the myriad of new things Ellis covered in this book.
Melanie Hirschberg
Very good biography of George Washington. First book I've ever read by Joseph J. Ellis, but it won't be the last. I learned more about Washington's early adult years than I think I ever did in school. It was interesting to note that Washington had slaves, but he did not want to sell them because it would break up the families. He also seemed to understand that slavery would be an issue for Americans in the near future. The information about his days in the French and Indian War was interesting, Very good biography of George Washington. First book I've ever read by Joseph J. Ellis, but it won't be the last. I learned more about Washington's early adult years than I think I ever did in school. It was interesting to note that Washington had slaves, but he did not want to sell them because it would break up the families. He also seemed to understand that slavery would be an issue for Americans in the near future. The information about his days in the French and Indian War was interesting, I don't remember hearing too much about that before. Most of the Pennsylvania and Virginia-area names will be familiar to anyone who has been to either areas.
Joe Walker
There are scores of GW related books out there - Everything from brilliantly written to just a collection of his speeches thrown together. When I was looking for a good "starter" biography of Washington, I plowed through what seemed like an endless list on the store. I happened to locate Joseph Ellis' book at my local bookstore and knew within minutes this was the book on Washington I was searching for. It provides readers not familiar with the intimacies of Washington's life a fine view of our fou There are scores of GW related books out there - Everything from brilliantly written to just a collection of his speeches thrown together. When I was looking for a good "starter" biography of Washington, I plowed through what seemed like an endless list on the store. I happened to locate Joseph Ellis' book at my local bookstore and knew within minutes this was the book on Washington I was searching for. It provides readers not familiar with the intimacies of Washington's life a fine view of our founding father. I would highly recommend this book.
Anne
As far a Presidential biographies go, this one is relatively brief (275 pages), which I appreciate. From reading it, I was able to grasp a vague sense of who Washington was, what he valued,
and how his values influenced the general trajectory of his career. If you like a highly detailed, Robert A. Caro/Ron Chernow-type biography, this book is not for you. If you’re looking for a snapshot of Washington, this book is perfect.
Maddie Bruning
Joseph Ellis, as always, is masterful. He has created an eloquent account of a man whose mythology is comparable to that of Zeus. George Washington has and always will hold his distinct position at the head of the American pantheon, as the penultimate American hero, as our Founding Father. This book illuminates the more private facets of that persona. Not quite at the level that Founding Brothers was, but still easily the best biography I've read (so far).
Niki Estes
While an enjoyable biography about George Washington, it just did not bring Washington to life like Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life. It was just a little too concise. However, it was a good read and it was nice to read another author's opinions about Washington's character and personality. I really enjoyed reading both books and may have to expand my personal challenge to reading two biographies about each President just to get some differing opinions.
Dennis Stephan
This is another great book by one of my favorite non fiction writers. I'm usually turned off by non-fiction that deals with history because so many authors of historical events and people write like they are writing history texts. Joseph Ellis though has the ability to write a non-fiction novel that reads like a work of fiction. Very well written and while not his best (I loved Founding Brothers for example) it's surely a good book.
Anne
This was a good, quick read on George Washington. I don’t agree with some of Mr. Ellie’s analysis or conclusions and I think he skipped some major ideologies of Mr. Washington that we’re likely important in his decision making, nevertheless the book is good and I would recommend it. Just don’t read it as the decisive rendering of George Washington’s life and actions.
Jeremiah Tesch
An insightful introduction to Washington the man and his journey in becoming a symbol and founder his country. I like how Ellis narrates the progression of Washington's personality and worldview which in turn determine how he conducts himself throughout future events and conflicts. Having read this, I plan to also read the more extensive biographies at some point.
Ryan Silve
Terrific. Ellis tears down the mythology that often surrounds America’s greatest hero and helps showcase the formative characteristics and temperaments that drove him forward without lapsing into iconography.

Throughout this, he maintains a swift pace and his 275 pages are likely to sweep his readers to further historical exploration.
Jonny Gomez
A well "worth it" read. Educational and in depth. My only issue is that I feel that Ellis takes an effort to stay balanced in the legend of Washington too far at times, painting him as selfish and unlikeable while praising the supposed selflessness that made him immortal. It can be a bit confusing at times. However, you didn't have to squint too hard to see the humanity in the narrative.

4/5.
Mike Bender
A good introduction to Washington if, like me, you spent your time learning about other Founding Fathers. A well-written, concise discussion of the man who really does deserve the moniker The Father of our Country.
John Brackbill
Really enjoyed the authors penetrating feeling with why Washington made decisions as a leader and the style of his leadership. The discussion about his evolving view on slavery was fascinating and exposes the sinful tenancy to only do what is right when it profits us.
Paul Miller
So wordy, that it was hard for me to understand. Spent too much time on slavery. I wish more time was spent on other topics. Overall, I have a much better picture of who Washington was and how his experiences shaped him.
Josh
An excellent biography - well-written and researched, yet not overly long. At times I thought Ellis was overly psychologizing Washington, but the more I read the more I was convinced that he simply has a deep understanding of Washington's character.
Derrick
I picked this up after finishing David McCullough's 1776 and wanting to know more about Washington and especially his years as president . " His Excellency " reminded me of some of the Harper Collin's " Eminent Lives " series ...I feel like I have a better sense of the man adorning my money now for sure . I also visited Mt Vernon last week on my birthday for my first visit and seeing his home shortly after reading Mr Ellis's book made my trip even more special ..I stood on the backyard overlooki I picked this up after finishing David McCullough's 1776 and wanting to know more about Washington and especially his years as president . " His Excellency " reminded me of some of the Harper Collin's " Eminent Lives " series ...I feel like I have a better sense of the man adorning my money now for sure . I also visited Mt Vernon last week on my birthday for my first visit and seeing his home shortly after reading Mr Ellis's book made my trip even more special ..I stood on the backyard overlooking the Potomac and it gave me chills knowing I might have been standing on the same spot ..looking out over the water like Gatsby and reaching arms out for a green light ..or just wondering where does the river flow to. ..how big is this country and how big are its dreams ? Highly recommended
Lanae
I really enjoyed this glimpse into the life of our first president. I learned quite a bit about his life before the presidency, his involvement with the early United States, and how reluctant he was as a president.
Renn Daniels
Joseph Ellis is one of the premier writers and thinkers of our time concerning historical events and people attached to them. His clarity and research are amazing and anyone wanting to know the man George Washington should read this book, it's fast paced and a fun read.
Brian
A good read. He casts Washington in a very bright light. Sometimes too bright based on his own impression but this didn't detract from the story. I came away with much more appreciation for our founding father.
Recommended
Austin
Like all of Ellis's biographies, this one is extraordinarily simple, insightful, and accessible. It gives you the feeling of being comprehensive, which is a rare skill among historians. Ellis is extremely familiar with the topic and period, but more than that he has combed the literature to understand the historiography of Washington well, a huge benefit to the reader attempting to understand who Washington really was.

What I liked most about this book are the plain insights into Washington's ch Like all of Ellis's biographies, this one is extraordinarily simple, insightful, and accessible. It gives you the feeling of being comprehensive, which is a rare skill among historians. Ellis is extremely familiar with the topic and period, but more than that he has combed the literature to understand the historiography of Washington well, a huge benefit to the reader attempting to understand who Washington really was.

What I liked most about this book are the plain insights into Washington's character, psychology, and place in history. These are expertly distilled from the voluminous literature on Washington. Like any good biography, I walked away feeling that I understand my own context significantly better. You might understand why from the excerpts I share below.

Favorite Quotes:

- On the Fairfax family in early Virginia: "The patriarch of the clan was Lord Thomas Fairfax, an eccentric member of the English peerage whose disdain for women and love for horses and hounds soon carried him across the Blue Ridge to pursue his passion for foxhunting undisturbed by the nettlesome duties of managing his estates. His cousin William Fairfax assumed that responsibility, which was a truly daunting task. The much-disputed Fairfax claim, only recently validated by the Privy Council in London, gave Lord Fairfax proprietary rights to more than five million acres, including the huge Northern Neck region between the Potomac and Rappahannock. The Fairfaxes, in short, were a living remnant of European feudalism and English-style aristocracy . . . [and] though Washington was destined to lead a revolution that eventually toppled this whole constellation of aristocratic beliefs and presumptions, he was initially a beneficiary of its powers of patronage."

- On Washington's psychology: " . . . an utter loathing for any form of dependency, a sense of his own significance, and a deep distrust of any authority beyond his direct control."

- Washington's view of foreign policy: "Men are very apt to run into extremes; hatred to England may carry some into excessive Confidence in France . . . ; I am heartily disposed to entertain the most favourable sentiments of our new ally and to cherish them in others to a reasonable degree; but it is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interest; and no prudent statesman or politician will venture to depart from it."

- Washington's view of America: "The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast Tract of Continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the World, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life, are now by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independency; They are, from this period, to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity."

- The difference between the partisan political climate of today vs. that of Washington's presidency: "What makes then so different from now was the aristocratic assumption that any explicit projection of self-interest in the political arena betrayed a lack of control over one's own passions, which did not bode well for the public interest."

- On Washington's monikers: "Vice President Adams, trying to be helpful, ignited a fiery debate in the Senate by suggesting such regal titles as 'His Elective Majesty' or 'His Mightiness,' which provoked a lethal combination of shock and laughter, as well as the observation that Adams himself should be called 'His Rotundity.'"

- On what could have destroyed the nation in its infancy: "Two huge subjects, slavery and Indian policy, are conspicuously missing from the Farewell Address, primary because Washington wanted to sound a unifying note, and these topics had proved resistant to compromise or even conversation. By insisting that the federal government was the legitimate expression of America's revolutionary intentions, he implicitly recognized that both forbidden subjects should be addressed at the federal rather than the state level."

- Washington's realism and view of power: "[Washington] was incapable of illusion, fully attuned to the specter of evil in the world. All of which inoculated him against the grand illusion of the age, the presumption that there was a natural order in human affairs that would generate perfect harmony once, in Diderot's phrase, the last king was strangled with the entrails of the last priest. For Washington, the American Revolution was not about destroying political power, as it was for Jefferson, but rather seizing it and using it wisely. Ultimately, his life was all about power: facing it, taming it, channeling it, projecting it. His remarkably reliable judgment derived from his elemental understanding of how power worked in the world."

- On Washington's profound emotion: "Two of Washington's abiding characteristics--his aloofness and his capacity for remaining silent--were in all likelihood protective tactics developed to prevent detection of the combustible materials simmering inside."
Nicholas Stanley
Washington was kind of a scumbag. But the book was great
Heather Welsh
i didn't like it I read2 page's n had to stop
Elyzabeth Schneider
This was my first biography of the famed George Washington and I found it very captivating! It was interesting and kept me into the story of his life!
Chris
A strikingly honest look at the father of the United States. Washington as well as the rest of the founding fathers are shown to be just as human as the rest of us.
Nicholas Bobbitt
Ellis continues to impress me with his short but well-researched books.
Glenn Bellamy
Well written. Balanced detail, moved at a good pace for a historical biography.
Kathy Klinge
Much better than I expected, and makes me want to read more American history.
Penny
Successful in personalizing Washington and a readable style while also examining his place in history and in the Revolutionary Way. Having recently read First Daughter helped also.
Kathleen
Decided to read biographies of our Presidents. I'm sure I had never read a biography of George Washington except when I was in grade school. I've read the author, Joseph J. Ellis, so decided to read his biography on George. First impressions - well, the country was divided by politics in the early days of our government - Federalist (think Alexander Hamilton ) versus Republicans (think Thomas Jefferson).
Jodi
Incredibly interesting look into the life of an icon. Some times it felt a little surface with details, and other times it didn't. Overall, great read.
Brian
Enjoyable and brief biography of Washington. Ellis gets beyond the legends and myths that have grown around Washington to discuss his character through incidents in his life. Ellis insightfully points out that it is Washington's relinquishing of power that is the foundation of his place in history. Twice - at the end of the revolution, and again after two terms as President, he walked away from power (and his acts as President defined the role as non-autocratic).

I found it a concise and fair vie Enjoyable and brief biography of Washington. Ellis gets beyond the legends and myths that have grown around Washington to discuss his character through incidents in his life. Ellis insightfully points out that it is Washington's relinquishing of power that is the foundation of his place in history. Twice - at the end of the revolution, and again after two terms as President, he walked away from power (and his acts as President defined the role as non-autocratic).

I found it a concise and fair view of GW. Some readers felt it was negative - I didn't sense that - I thought it was balanced and factual.

There are deeper dives - Ron Chernow's acclaimed Washington A Life by Ron Chernow Washington: A Life is 900 pages. I found Ellis' level more to my needs.
Jean Marie Angelo
There's a song in Hamilton in which Washington warns Alexander about chasing glory. He sings about his first battle in which he "led the troops straight into a massacre, and witnessed their deaths first hand." History Has its eyes on You, he warns. His flawed command during the French and Indian War shaped Washington, as did the Revolution, lost love, and politics. This is an incredibly easy read. Worth the time to learn more about our first president. This is one of several great history books There's a song in Hamilton in which Washington warns Alexander about chasing glory. He sings about his first battle in which he "led the troops straight into a massacre, and witnessed their deaths first hand." History Has its eyes on You, he warns. His flawed command during the French and Indian War shaped Washington, as did the Revolution, lost love, and politics. This is an incredibly easy read. Worth the time to learn more about our first president. This is one of several great history books by Jospeh Ellis.
Steven
In the past, I attempted to read several biographies of George Washington, and failed to finish them because, frankly, they were boringly academic. Finally, there is a biography about perhaps the greatest of all Americans that is both readable and informative. Thanks to Joseph Ellis for writing it! In only 275 pages, Ellis provides most of Washington's achievements, but also portrays him as a real human being, who was sensitive to criticism, aware of his flaws, and learned from his mistakes. As In the past, I attempted to read several biographies of George Washington, and failed to finish them because, frankly, they were boringly academic. Finally, there is a biography about perhaps the greatest of all Americans that is both readable and informative. Thanks to Joseph Ellis for writing it! In only 275 pages, Ellis provides most of Washington's achievements, but also portrays him as a real human being, who was sensitive to criticism, aware of his flaws, and learned from his mistakes. As in his biographies of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the author succeeds in painting a character study of a founding father, but unlike the other men, Washington was incredibly successful in two domains—as the commander of the Continental Army and as President. Ellis gives us an appreciation of the options that Washington had in both positions, and the choices he made (most of which seem excellent).

We also get a good idea of his major relationships—particularly with Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The first one was very close for most of Washington's life, culminating perhaps in their work on his "Farewell Address." The latter one deteriorated, with Washington furious with Jefferson for condemning his leadership and even his mental faculties. One relationship that is not explored much by Ellis is the one with Washington's wife, Martha. This may be because she destroyed their correspondence after he died.

However, we do learn a lot about Washington's ideas and actions about slavery. Not only did he believe it to be morally wrong, but he did not even think it was a good idea economically. According to Ellis, Washington changed his views after leading an integrated army for eight years, favoring emancipation afterwards. However, Ellis speculates, it was Martha (who owned most of the slaves), who kept him from freeing any of them until her death. I liked the author's analysis here. He views Washington's actions in the context of eighteenth-century Virginia, not by today's standards: "He was, in fact, the only prominent member of the Virginia dynasty to act on Jefferson's famous words in the Declaration of Independence by freeing his slaves." In addition, Ellis shows Washington to be enlightened, overall, in his attitudes and policies about Indians. He fought with them and against them during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. As president, he met with many chiefs and enacted policies designed to protect their tribes.

Although Ellis tells us about Washington's mistakes as a military leader, we also find out that he was a very good judge of men generally whom he selected to advise him and delegated authority well (which he also did as president). Somehow his underfunded army of indentured servants, free blacks, immigrants, and the landless defeated the greatest military power in the world. His soldiers ultimately were victorious because of Washington's decision, against all his aggressive instincts and notions about "honor," to employ a defensive stategy with some hit-and-run attacks, because von Steuben trained them well, and because the British generals made some errors at crucial times. Ellis does not provide details about all the battles, but we get a good sense of Washington's wartime leadership.

Similarly, Ellis does not detail everything that happened during Washington's two terms as president. Rather he hits the principal challenges and achievements, and emphasizes (as did Washington) the need for a strong national government, with a viable economic policy, a realistic and neutral foreign policy, and with the federal union's authority paramount. Ellis finds Washington's decisions (on the Jay Treaty, the National Bank, and Shay's Rebellion, to name three) to be good ones, based on later developments.

It took me only a few days to read this very well-written and insightful biography. Joseph Ellis has given us a flesh-and-blood portrait of a great man, who was pragmatic, thoughtful, ambitious, and knew how to lead. Somehow Ellis did so in one volume—and a thin one at that!
Matt Schmidt
I bought this book at Mount Vernon in 2009 and didn't get around to reading it until now. Boy what a mistake. This book was extremely facinating, more so than I thought it would be. I learned a ton about our first President and the revolutionary era. The author provided meticulous details and research to provide a very objective account of history that dispels many myths and tales. The best takeaway was not just the greatness of Washington but also his major flaws. Almost single handedly losing I bought this book at Mount Vernon in 2009 and didn't get around to reading it until now. Boy what a mistake. This book was extremely facinating, more so than I thought it would be. I learned a ton about our first President and the revolutionary era. The author provided meticulous details and research to provide a very objective account of history that dispels many myths and tales. The best takeaway was not just the greatness of Washington but also his major flaws. Almost single handedly losing the revolutionary war as soon as it had begun. The fact that his subordinate generals won the most important and decisive battles and campaigns of the war. That he almost allowed Hamilton to ruin the new democracy that he crafted and nurtured from the cradle. Not to take anything away from his good judgment in most matters, his stoic and meticulous demeanor, or political impact on mankind, but he was just a man. One that is very interesting and influential on our country and the modern world. The lesson being, don't worship men for their appointment as an idol or in his case the American Cincinnatus, but instead just learn from them and about them. Make your real idols someone you actually know intimately whose influence can truly benefit your life.
Tiffany
I enjoyed this book so much. I'd like to read Chernov's book on Washington but at the moment it is way too large to even think about. This book was an ideal length and gave me a better idea about Washington and who he really was than I'd ever had before. What follows are things that fascinated me.

Washington was born in 1732 and was a fourth-generation Virginian. Kind of amazing to think that he was fourth generation at the time of birth.

He received the modern equivalent of a grade school educa I enjoyed this book so much. I'd like to read Chernov's book on Washington but at the moment it is way too large to even think about. This book was an ideal length and gave me a better idea about Washington and who he really was than I'd ever had before. What follows are things that fascinated me.

Washington was born in 1732 and was a fourth-generation Virginian. Kind of amazing to think that he was fourth generation at the time of birth.

He received the modern equivalent of a grade school education. Wow.

He was incredibly tall. 6'2" to 6'3". He was said to be imposing physically.

He was 43 when he led the Continental Army. "His unanimous elevation to the position as commander in chief actually preceded the creation of a national military force that he could command."

His Circular Letter to the States, in June 1783... "The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as Sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast tract of Continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the World, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independency; They are, from this period, to be considered as Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designed by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity." Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, indeed.

It is hard to imagine Washington from the point of view of a new nation. Ellis says, "We must recognize that there was not such thing as a viable American nation when he took office as president, that the opening words of the Constitution ("We the people of the United States") expressed a fervent but fragile hope rather than a social reality."

He was 57 when he was elected our first President.

Fascinating to think how our infant nation struggled with the idea of a President. We'd just thrown off a King and they didn't want that sort of feeling, yet the nation loved Washington so deeply they often called him His Excellency.

His foreign policy was all about America. He believed nations were driven by interests and not ideals and that these were changeable. "Those interests, he was convinced, did not lie across the Atlantic but across the Alleghenies, in those forests and fields he had explored as a young man."

Ellis tells that Washington felt policy, executive attention and diplomatic relationships were more vital with Native Americans. He did not view Native Americans as exotic savages, but as familiar and formidable adversaries fighting for their own independence: In effect, behaving pretty much as he would do in their place.

"Working closely with Knox, Washington devised a policy designed to create several sovereign Indian "homelands". He concurred when Knox insisted that "the independent tribes of indians ought to be considered as foreign nations, not as subjects of any particular State." Treaties with these tribes ought to be regarded as binding contracts sanctioned by the federal government, whose jurisdiction could not be compromised: "Indians being the prior occupants possess the right of the Soil...To dispossess them...would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of Nature and of that distributive Justice which is the glory of a nation." He felt to do so would equate moral failure and ultimately stain our nation. He sought to avoid the outcome that occurred with Andrew Jackson forty years later. *Sigh* fucking Jackson.

And finally,

"There can be no greater error to expect, or calculate upon real favours from Nation to Nation. 'Tis an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard."

We've still not learned that.

All in all, a fascinating man and a fascinating read. I'd known he was brilliant but this was very compelling to read.
Craig Adamson
After a half-hearted review of "Founding Brothers" due to my lack of continuity in completing, I breezed through "His Excellency" in just a few weeks.

I really enjoyed reading Ellis' work. Much like my recollection of the aforementioned "Founding Brothers" the style which he presents history is very enjoyable and smooth for the reader. Very similar to Joel Achenbach's style in "The Grand Idea." This book was very charming and warm in tone while still willingly pointing out Washington's gaffe's an After a half-hearted review of "Founding Brothers" due to my lack of continuity in completing, I breezed through "His Excellency" in just a few weeks.

I really enjoyed reading Ellis' work. Much like my recollection of the aforementioned "Founding Brothers" the style which he presents history is very enjoyable and smooth for the reader. Very similar to Joel Achenbach's style in "The Grand Idea." This book was very charming and warm in tone while still willingly pointing out Washington's gaffe's and shortcomings. The book, as the author suggests, is a rendering of the complete man as opposed to a glowing biography with no sign of warts. Nor is it the revisionist history and/or ideologically driven need to depict Washington as shallow or callous or subhuman by focusing on all his faults and the sad fact that he was a slave owner. If the author and his sources are to be believed then enslavement at Mt Vernon, while difficult and inhumane, was less so. Again, the author goes to great pains to remind us of these glaring problems that even the 'Father Our Country' succumbed to like many of his contemporaries in Virginia and further south. However, Ellis also rounds out the man and brings this decision into context of the times and as a part of Washington's overall life on this earth.

I didn't realize that Martha Washington burned all the correspondence between herself and her husband. It would have been interesting to learn more about Washington the husband, step-father, uncle, etc. But this point also brings to mind the fact that Washington specifically wrote and saved and worked towards preserving his legacy. In the book he doesn't come off as egotistical, but it makes you wonder about it. You certainly have to have a healthy self-confidence to be a General, a President, and a Founding Father. But I find it remarkable that all these people saved this information for us to be able to read, think, debate, and judge 200 years later. One fact shared in the book is that the Continental Congress hired 4 people to transcribe all of Washington's war-related correspondence instead of paying the soldiers and that Washington himself was for this expenditure.

Other items of interest were related to the creation of the 2 Party System so many people despise today. As well as the unreal sniping, bickering and treachery these guys were capable of in the good old days. It just proves that the people who complain that "our country has never been more divided" never read the Federalist Papers, nor studied in of the history of this country's founding. How Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Madison, Monroe, Henry, Paine, and others constantly worked to destroy and undermine one another despite being on the same team to bring the US to birth. Its almost comical how mean and derisive these people were -often in broad daylight, compared to the dumbed-down slap fighting we have to suffer through today. Maybe if our politicians had better vocabularies it would be more entertaining and energizing.

I would very likely read this book again in a year or two just to revisit it. I still have several Washington biography's to read... as well as Ellis' "American Sphinx" on Jefferson. I'm almost apprehensive to read that book for how bad Jefferson comes off in several of these biographies and historical accounts I've been reading of late. George Washington may never have chopped down a cherry tree, but he would seemingly have had many reasons to become Jefferson's axe murderer. Fortunately, our first president had enough self-control not to go down that road.

Great book! Very enjoyable and look forward to revisiting.
David Mckinnon
Joseph J. Ellis has taken "The Father of Our Country" out of the tissue paper wrap of deification, and presents him to us as a very human being, heroic indeed, but also flawed and conflicted. The memory of the first president and the hero of the Revolution is better for it.

Little is known of George Washington in his youth except the cherry tree myth fed to school children as a chapter of history. But as the youth grew into the young man we begin to see what drives him toward success and eventual Joseph J. Ellis has taken "The Father of Our Country" out of the tissue paper wrap of deification, and presents him to us as a very human being, heroic indeed, but also flawed and conflicted. The memory of the first president and the hero of the Revolution is better for it.

Little is known of George Washington in his youth except the cherry tree myth fed to school children as a chapter of history. But as the youth grew into the young man we begin to see what drives him toward success and eventual fame. Almost from the beginning he seems to have been driven toward two goals; land acquisition and a lasting legacy that would ensure his place in history.

His experiences in the French Indian War served to introduce him as a heroic military figure. The aftermath of this war saw him being presented as a heroic figure. It was also the means for Washington to acquire huge parcels of land much further West via land grants to participants in this conflict. As Westward expansion was talked about, the future General was conflicted. He believed the Native Americans needed to be dealt with fairly, and the treaties between the Indian and the white invaders needed to be honored. He also came to the understanding that these treaties would not be honored as expansion moved further and further West.

There is no doubt about the now General George Washington and the all-important role he played in the Revolutionary War. He and his army suffered great looses of men, suffered privation on all levels; manpower, weapons, food and clothing. Through it all, he provided leadership that was fair yet tried to instill discipline into what was not a regular army, but us disciplined militia. Through the battles that are now famous he led his men, yet at war's end he remained unscathed, having not suffered wound or injury through the awful days of the conflict.

The War was won and the General's historic reputation was assured. He longed to return to his beloved Mt. Vernon, now made larger by his marriage to Martha and the acreage it brought. Retirement was short lived and he was called upon to accept the Presidency of this new land, and be a witness to and assist in the birth of this new nation.

Washington enjoyed an almost monarchical status during his first term. He was near-worshipped by many. But during the second term, which he did not want to accept, the President suffered harsh criticism from the press, and lies from the rival politicians. So, we see another side to not only the book's subject, but also to Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Monroe, and others in the pantheon of early American heroes.

His second term ended and he hoped to permanently retire to his farm on the Potomac River. From there he dealt with land and farming problems, and oversaw the construction of Federal City....later, Washington DC. Besides the conflict presented by dealings with Native Americans, Washington also dealt with the strong conflicts brought about by being a slave owner. He realized slavery was wrong but would not free his slaves for multiple reasons, some of them financial. Slaves were property and property is worth money. He vowed to not purchase slaves in the future, but those he held were not freed before his death.

His death belies another myth about this giant of a man. At his death from Epiglottis, he suffered the very painful manifestations of this condition without religious solace. He wanted a decent burial in a vault to take place two days after his death. At his bedside was his wife, three slaves and his physicians: there were no ministers, no prayers, no Christian rituals. He did not seem to believe in the heavenly promise. He accepted his death and marched bravely toward it.
John Brian Anderson
Fascinating look at our first President. Learned more than all the schooling I had as a child.
Jim
An excellent look at the character of George Washington. Though perhaps even more detail would have been warranted, given the crowded nature of history at the time.
Steve
Ellis presents a good account of our first president. Very well written and informative with little known facts. I enjoyed Ellis' take on how Washington dealt with the issue of slavery.
Edgar Cisneros
1. George Washington was the first military leader of a revolutionary army in history to voluntarily step down.
2. He not only guided the continental army to victory, he guided the nation in its infancy as an overwhelmingly (at least publicly) bi-partisan executive power. He was really a die-hard federalist.
3. He had an astute ability to judge any situation
4. He correctly identified that nations are inherently self-serving, hence his stance on isolationism.
5. Common sense and self-interests dire 1. George Washington was the first military leader of a revolutionary army in history to voluntarily step down.
2. He not only guided the continental army to victory, he guided the nation in its infancy as an overwhelmingly (at least publicly) bi-partisan executive power. He was really a die-hard federalist.
3. He had an astute ability to judge any situation
4. He correctly identified that nations are inherently self-serving, hence his stance on isolationism.
5. Common sense and self-interests directed many of his policies and philosophies.
6. He was the only sitting American president to ever lead an army into battle
7. He had a keen eye for talent
8. He proved stubborn in action when certain decisions contradicted what he felt was part of his character. In that sense he was slow to make decisions
9. When he did make decisions, even unpopular ones, he rarely if ever wavered.
10. He was never injured in battle, despite fighting in both the savage French and Indian war and the American Revolution - which combined was over 15 years worth of fighting.
11. He never went to college. He was often insecure about this.
12. He inherited most of his fortune by marrying Martha Custis (Martha Washington)
13. He single-handedly put down the closest thing to a military coup just prior to his presidency (most likely why he reluctantly accepted both nominations)
14. He was always in the right place in the right time. Example: The Battle of Yorktown.
15. He had no direct heir. Perhaps not by choice. But this ended any fear of a Washington aristocracy.
16. He made multiple sincere promises and executive proclamations to aid and respectfully re-settle the Cherokee, Six Nations and other tribes. They were all mercilessly broken by his successors.
17. He encouraged rapid Western settlement, while Republicans and other colonists were distracted by the goings-on of Europe.
18. He visited all 12 Colonies personally that ratified the Constitution. He said "fuck you" to Rhode Island until they ratified later.
19. His most trusted aid was Alexander Hamilton, one of the most brilliant political and financial thinkers of his time.
20. Washington hand picked Hamilton as an advisor to his War Council in 1777. Further cementing his quality as having an eye for talent
21. Washington hated being president.
22. Washington was the only President to have been unanimously elected by the electoral college, not once, but twice.
23. His lasting requests after his retirement was the establishment of a Federal City (Washington D.C. which he planned and was executed by Jefferson), a national university in that Federal City, and a military academy to prepare young officers to lead in the army.
24. He dodged the question of slavery out of personal, and national necessity.
25. He was obsessed with posterity and believe the only ever lasting life after death was defined by what subsequent generations wrote about you.
26. He died of a throat infection that caused him to choke to death, while his doctors were busy draining him of 2 pints of blood.
27. He emancipated his slaves in his will, maybe because of personal conviction, but more likely because of his concern with posterity and personal legacy.
28. His final words: "All is Well"
Cathy
Now I'm even more impressed with Washington than ever before! Such a determined, disciplined and insightful man, and so lucky we had him to help us form our country. So very many interesting parts to this well-written book. Some of the thoughts I'd like to remember include: Washington wasn't born to a manor and perhaps as a result of his marrying into wealth and being uneducated, plus living and fighting so primitively in the French-Indian War, he sought security for his survival and cared deepl Now I'm even more impressed with Washington than ever before! Such a determined, disciplined and insightful man, and so lucky we had him to help us form our country. So very many interesting parts to this well-written book. Some of the thoughts I'd like to remember include: Washington wasn't born to a manor and perhaps as a result of his marrying into wealth and being uneducated, plus living and fighting so primitively in the French-Indian War, he sought security for his survival and cared deeply about his exacting details. He felt strongly that the future of the country lie to the West and that was a prize worth fighting for; Washington had been granted good portions of land in Ohio for his great efforts in the French-Indian War. The British government was blocking that expansion. Such was his absolute luck at not being killed or maimed in the War, that when it came time to consider a continental army, there more votes for Washington leading that army than there were votes that one should even exist. He was 43 years old when he left Mount Vernon and 51 when he returned; he thought he was fighting a war for independence and came to realize it was actually an American Revolution. He spent the entire war in the field with the Continental Army. A part of his success was his push for inoculation against smallpox, such a tremendous impact against the soldiers - perhaps that was his most important strategy in the entire war. Lafeyette was of great importance to the war effort and also as Washington's surrogate son. The threat of a standing army was great, since previous (Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell) attempts at republicanism had ended in military dictatorship. Slavery was very much on Washington's mind but he wasn't one to let ideologies prevail over practicalities; also, he realized slavery needed to be a national agenda and should really wait about a generation before being considered. Generally he rose above politics but did take stands on the location of the national capital, Indian affairs and foreign policy. He treated Indians as foreign nations and paid them greater heed than countries across the water. He agreed to a second term because of the infighting among Hamilton and Jefferson, which rather helped determine our two party system, conjectured to be a part of our success as a nation because it institutionalized opposing dialogue into routinized dissent. Washington did have a great deal of wealth in his old age, and in his will he divided it equally among family members, going against tradition but true to his beliefs in American priorities. Upon his death he had no religious trappings or services; he did ask to not be buried for a few days, just to make sure he wasn't buried while alive. He was always attuned to the evils of life and had no presumptions about natural order in human affairs. Quite a number of people described his as actually quite volcanic, which may well have been true according to various reports but does seem contradictory to his image.
Dylan
As Ellis is quick to point out, most of us think we know George Washington-- he is the most famous and beloved of our founders-- but in reality beyond being the commander and chief during the revolution ("His Excellency"), the first constitutional president, a story about a cherry tree and wooden teeth most of us don't know much about him at all. I had just finished Chernow's book on Hamilton when I took this up so Washington was more familiar to me than what my history text books had given me, As Ellis is quick to point out, most of us think we know George Washington-- he is the most famous and beloved of our founders-- but in reality beyond being the commander and chief during the revolution ("His Excellency"), the first constitutional president, a story about a cherry tree and wooden teeth most of us don't know much about him at all. I had just finished Chernow's book on Hamilton when I took this up so Washington was more familiar to me than what my history text books had given me, but I still didn't presume to know much about the how and why of George Washington's rise to power and his remarkable ability to command respect.

Ellis does a wonderful job of tracing Washington's roots from his humble upbringing through his exposure to military failure during the French and Indian war and his rise to an important member of the Virginia planter elite. Washington had the great fortune of marrying into wealth with the widow Martha Custis and obtaining lands in the Ohio Valley from his service in the French and Indian War. These enabled him to rise in wealth and status, something that, in the end, was very good for our country. It's not as if no other person could have done the same. Perhaps Gates or Knox or Green would have commanded the same respect and avoided the tempting abuse of power that was always at Washington's fingertips, but it seems that he was indeed the perfect man for the perfect time. Both Hamilton and Jefferson, though famous enemies, agreed to this one point: without Washington the infancy of the United States may have ended just as it had begun, in turmoil.

The central theme of Ellis' book is that Washington's great judgment followed him and benefited the country throughout his life. He chose the Fabian course, defensive survival rather than offensive attacks, during the war. He advocated for a strong central government and presided over the constitutional convention. He supported a foreign policy of realpolitik, recognizing that nation states will always act in their own self interest and to base trade or military policy solely upon moral ideals is a mistake. Finally, he resigned the presidency when it was his to hold on to until death, thus setting a very important precedent that the new republic would not place power in the hands of families or lifelong rulers. This flew in the face of republican slander directed at Washington, setting him up as the ultimate founder who respected but did not abuse the power given him.

Ellis ends by emphasizing Washington's famous will, which gave freedom and security to the slaves he owned at his death. Importantly, he ensured that neither his wife nor his step children could change his wishes after his death. While he struggled with the economic and moral issues of slavery in life his will recognized the inhumanity of the practice and again, set an important precedent for the country that, to this day, looks to him for leadership.
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