From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lengel's Washington is the archetypal American soldier—an amateur citizen in arms who struggles to learn an unfamiliar and demanding craft on the job—one who is at the opposite pole from the paragon described in Douglas Southall Freeman's seven-volume biography. A military historian and associate editor of Washington's papers, Lengel presents a Washington who was not a creative military thinker, who made no contributions to the theory of war and who conducted his operations, Lengel argues, conventionally and unreflectively. He lacked an eye for defensive positions and could be dangerously rash in attack. More serious, Lengel finds, was Washington's consistent overestimation of the fighting power of his own forces relative to the British. But though Washington was no more than a competent soldier, he excelled as a war leader. Lengel praises his strategic vision, and his perception of America as a nation of free people with a collective destiny, as well as his bravery in battle, loyalty to his subordinates, indefatigability in his administration at all levels and his concern for the welfare of his troops. Lengel also shows Washington as a superb politician, whose relations with civilian authorities were almost uniformly good, and who was dedicated to the cause of independence. For Lengel, Washington's character inspired the trust necessary for any successful revolution. This outstanding work does that character justice. (June 7)
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George Washington has been the subject of several new biographies in the past decade (e.g., His Excellency, by Joseph Ellis, 2004). Lengel is a Washington scholar who chronicles his checkered military career, linking events from Washington's humiliation by the French at Fort Necessity in 1754 to victory with the French at Yorktown in 1781 with evaluations about Washington's ability on every occasion. Lengel is not impressed by Washington's record in the field, which was dotted with disasters until the 1776-77 victories at Trenton and Princeton, recounted in the brilliant Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer (2004). In Lengel's assessment, Washington got into perilous tactical positions through incautious or mismanaged aggressiveness. It is in the less-celebrated area of logistics that Lengel becomes nearly effusive, appraising Washington as an outstanding military administrator. In making his academic points, however, Lengel maintains a fluid and suitably dramatic narrative of Washington's campaigns and battles. A boon for military history readers. Gilbert Taylor
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