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George Washington (The American Presidents Series) Hardcover – January 7, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (January 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069365
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like other volumes in the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., this biographical essay focuses on a handful of themes through which to examine Washington's life before and during his presidency. The book's first half examines how Washington, "ferociously ambitious" and "fiercely protective of his own reputation," meticulously crafted his public image, even years before the American Revolution, to emphasize the virtues of self-sacrifice and dignity. While acknowledging the extent to which Washington craved esteem from others, the authors are basically sympathetic, framing his ambition within the context of his role in defining the young nation's political institutions. In fact, Washington is somewhat invisible during passages depicting the power struggles among subordinates in the first administration. This allows Burns (a Pulitzer winner for Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom) and Dunn (also Burns's coauthor on The Three Roosevelts) to build on the former's theories about "transforming leadership" (which he presented in a book of that title) and to praise Washington's creation of a collective leadership, rather than establishing a solitary ruling authority, as an achievement "never to be surpassed in American presidential history." The authors also offer a frank appraisal of how Washington inadvertently sowed the seeds of political discord even as he developed national unity. This compact appraisal won't radically alter anybody's perspective on Washington. But its points are made briefly without sacrificing substance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The excellently crafted American Presidents series, edited by Arthur Schlesinger, continues with a top-notch biography of Washington. In similar fashion to the other entries in this series, the authors concern themselves primarily with their subject as a political animal. According to Burns and Dunn, Washington was not only the first president but also set an enduring precedent for his successors by meticulously crafting and promoting his own sterling public image. Though historically viewed as a strong individual leader, Washington also excelled at forging a consensus among his allies and advisors. Where he failed, perhaps, was in his misguided endeavor to quash any dissenting points of view--an endeavor that had the contrary effect of polarizing and strengthening opposing political parties. This scholarly analysis of the inaugural presidency provides an enlightening new slant on a timeless subject. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

The word "obviously" is used many times to conclude a point.
Sam Adams
This book, along with the others in the series, is a short biography of George Washington.
Alan Beggerow
Don't get me wrong, though: it wouldn't be a waste of time / money, either.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By W. P. Strange on March 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I admit I am a sucker for history, and especially American History and biographies. In the last few years there have been a plethora of books about our founding fathers, and Professor Burns and Dunn's work is right up there with the best. If there is a flaw it lies in the brevity. But the writing is sharp, almost like a well developed college lecture series, and though I have read longer, more detailed biographies of Washington, this was the most entertaining and easy to digest. I also highly recommend Professor Burns previous books on Franklin Roosevelt if you have a mind to immerse yourself in a very thorough history of a very troubled time and a very heroic, and human statesman.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By J. P Spencer on March 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I too am surprised that this series of short works on the American Presidents is getting what seems to me to be too little attention. While not every book in the series is of the same quality, several, and in particular this one on Washington, are gems. Not a general biography, this is an analysis of Washington's presidency and what we get of his early life is here only to further that analysis. Despite this relatively narrow focus, it is a book all who want to understand our political system as it exists today should read. Dense but very well written, I give it four stars only because I leave five for the greatest works of English literature and we aren't offered four and a half. Nevertheless, I recommend it highly.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Sanchez VINE VOICE on March 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the latest of the American Presidents Series of short biographies, presented by Arthur Shelesinger, Jr. I remain puzzled by the lack of strong public interest in these books while lengthier tomes make the best sellers lists. Regardless, I find these books to be an excellent complimentary resource that allow a reader to learn much more about presidents for whose name may have only have been memorized for a middle school civics class.
Much has been written about Washington in the past, and he seems to be enjoying a resurgence of interest. Some of these biographies are more hagiographic than the last, while others are critical especially of his contrary views on slavery.
The authors of this book, Burns & Dunn, choose to try and focus on Washington's character, and philosophy, instead of chronicling each aspect of his life. They discuss his military career up to the revolution and give short mention of his generalship. But, what they miss in the revolution, they expound on in his post-war career as the president of the Constitutional convention, and as President.
They provide beliefs of his that are relevant in today's executive branch, but more as an example of his judgments that were not followed. For example, "In all situations, including emergencies, Washington demanded calm examination and `a deliberate plan.' No action, he repeated to the secretary of war, should be undertaken without absolutely reliable facts and information." (pp. 63-64). Also, Washington the southerner, not Lincoln the northerner, set the precedent for taking armed action against internal insurrection without the specific approval of the Constitution. This is an historical fact that is ignored by too many of the current population.
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Format: Hardcover
George Washington has a deservedly iconic, larger than life, stature among Americans; and yet his own reserve and aloofness, combined with the 18th Century world in which he lived, make him difficult for most Americans today to understand. With President's Day approaching and our country in the midst of a presidential election, I wanted to revisit Washington. This biography by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, part of the "American Presidents" series, tells a great deal in short compass about Washington and why he remains important. The study avoids the tendency to place Washington upon a pedestal, and it also avoids the more modern, and much more regrettable, tendency to deflate.

Washington (1732 --1799) was born to the landed aristocracy of Virginia. He served in the French and Indian Wars (1754 -- 1758), as a delegate to the first Continental Congress, as the Commander in Chief during the American Revolution (1775- -- 1781) and as the president of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (1787), among other accomplishments, before becoming the first President of the United States (1789 --1796). In the early chapters of this book, Burns and Dunn trace the character traits of Washington that fitted him for leadership, together with some of his flaws. They paint a portrait of a Washington driven by ambition and concern for his reputation, but also a person of character, intelligence, and sound judgment. More than once in his life, Washington professed himself reluctant, notwithstanding his ambition, to assume or to expand upon powers he readily could have assumed. Washington did indeed temper his ambition and drive with restraint.

The central theme of this book is how Washington proceeded to set the tone of the American Presidency.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on September 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is cowritten by one of my favorite authors from my college days, decades ago. James MacGregor Burns wrote a classic about presidential and congressional politics entitled "The Deadlock of Democracy." That book was about the interaction between presidential and congressional parties and how they act as checks on one another. In this book, we see the formation of our political system. Beyond what the Constitution set forth, the nature of our federal system is, in great part, defined by what Washington made of the presidency. As the first chief executive and a highly popular figure, he was in position to define the presidency for the future administrations. He could have asserted much greater power than he did and he would have been (at least initially) largely unopposed. He was in position to sieze almost monarchal power but in significant ways, he did not. For example, he set the two term custom which held until FDR was elected to a third term. Also, he often deferred to Congress.

On the other hand, in both foreign affairs and financial affairs Washington utilized power when it was unclear from the Constitution, whether such power was intended. The authors point out such example as the taking of an official position of neutralitry in the conflict between Great Britain and France. The Constitution makes it clear that congress issues a declaratrion of war. However, does this also mean that a position neutrality must be declared by congress? Washington's actions made this a presidential power. Also, Washington appointed a cabinet of very able men and they, paticularly Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, consolidated significant power in the executive branch.
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