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George Washington: The Founding Father (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 31, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

George Washington is by far the most important figure in the history of the United States. Against all military odds, he liberated the thirteen colonies from the superior forces of the British Empire and presided over the process to produce and ratify a Constitution that (suitably amended) has lasted for more than two hundred years. In two terms as president, he set that Constitution to work with such success that, by the time he finally retired, America was well on its way to becoming the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

Despite his importance, Washington remains today a distant figure to many Americans. Previous books about him are immensely long, multivolume, and complicated. Paul Johnson has now produced a brief life that presents a vivid portrait of the great man as young warrior, masterly commander-in-chief, patient Constitution maker, and exceptionally wise president. He also shows Washington as a farmer of unusual skill and an entrepreneur of foresight, patriarch of an extended family, and proprietor of one of the most beautiful homes in America, which he largely built and adorned.

Trenchant and original as ever, Johnson has given us a brilliant, sharply etched portrait of this iconic figure—both as a hero and as a man.

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From Publishers Weekly

In this masterful addition to the Eminent Lives series, acclaimed historian Johnson (A History of the Jews; Art: A New History) concisely yet vividly portrays the life and legacy of our first president. Johnson traces Washington's life from his early manhood as a surveyor falling in love with the uncharted territory west of Virginia to his later, cunning military exploits. More than anything, according to Johnson, Washington loved property and sought to expand the boundaries not only of the colonies but also of his own land holdings. Washington's skills as a surveyor and a manager established him as a military leader in the French and Indian Wars and the Revolution, and helped him establish a strong executive office and an enduring constitution for the new republic. Johnson points out that Washington's deep moral conviction about the rightness of the war helped him to defeat King George III, who lacked any moral passion about the lands he was supposed to protect. While books like Joseph Ellis's His Excellency offer more detail, Johnson captures the key images of Washington's life and work in this sharply focused snapshot. (June 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins; First edition (May 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006075365X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060753658
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #895,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Beginning with Modern Times (1985), Paul Johnson's books are acknowledged masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This last weekend, viewers of a cable TV miniseries voted Ronald Reagan history's "Greatest American." George Washington finished fourth, behind the Gipper, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Whatever this may say about the Americans who participate in television phone-in polls, it certainly shows the esteem in which Washington continues to be held by the nation he did so much to create. Personally, I would argue that George Washington is the standard against which American greatness has to be judged. And similarly, this thin volume by Paul Johnson has set a standard against which future portraits of the man should be measured.

Washington's life was a monumental one, and so it naturally attracts monumental biographies -- from Freeman's seven volume work, Clark's two-volume All Cloudless Glory: the Life of George Washington or Joseph Ellis' recent and hefty His Excellency: George Washington. Summing up the man in barely 100 pages, as Johnson (himself no stranger to weighty tomes) has done, is a far more challenging, and necessarily more selective, undertaking. It would be easy to come up with a list of things Johnson "should have" included or "ought to have" covered in more depth. But within the confines of the Eminent Lives series, Johnson has done a magnificent job focusing on the essentials of the man and his impact on his world and ours.

Despite the brevity of the book, Washington comes through strongly as a flesh and blood man, not an ivory god.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of several volumes in the HarperCollins Eminent Lives series. Each offers a concise rather than comprehensive, much less definitive biography. However, just as Al Hirschfeld's illustrations of various celebrities capture their defining physical characteristics, the authors of books in this series focus on the defining influences and developments during the lives and careers of their respective subjects. In this instance, George Washington.

Johnson observes that "As the central actor in the American Revolution, George Washington was one of the most important figures in world history. As America's commander in chief throughout the eight-year struggle against Britain he effectively liberated the thirteen colonies from imperial rule. He then presided over the process whereby the new nation drafted, ratified, and enacted its Federal Constitution. Finally, for eight years he directed the administration that put the Constitution to work, with such success that, suitably updated and amended, it has lasted for nearly a quarter of a millennium."

That said, Johnson goes on to point out that Washington remains a remote and mysterious figure. "He puzzled those who knew and worked with him, and who often disagreed violently about his merits and abilities. He puzzles us. No man's mind is so hard to enter and dwell within. Everyone agreed, and agrees, he was a paragon. But a rich or empty one? A titan of flesh and blood or a clockwork figure programmed to do wisely?" Within only 123 pages, Johnson responds to these and other questions.

Of special interest to me is the interdependence of Washington's ambitions with those of the thirteen colonies which he led to military victory and then to constitutional federation.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Paul Johnson is a British historian who admires the United States and wrote a lengthy history of the United States. Now, he has written a very short biography of George Washington. Mr. Johnson is clearly an admirer of his subject, particularly of his military record. In just 123 pages, Johnson covers Washington's entire career, from his days as a surveyer, to his early military career in the French and Indian war, to his Revolutionary War generalship, to his chairing the constitutional convention and to his presidency. Naturally, Johnson cannot go into much detail but he certainly provides a good overview.

An example of the inability to go into detail is the discussion of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Among the issues were territory in North America and impressment of American sailors on the high seas. The treaty was very controversial and many in Congress felt that John Jay had sold out the United States in negotiating the treaty. Johnson feels that the treaty was a fair one but we never really understand the controversy since the brevity of the book prevents an in depth analysis.

The book also makes some interesting blanket statements. For example, prior to the French and Indian War, Washington was involved in a skirmish with the French which resulted in a number of deaths. Johnson credits Washington with having started the French and Indian War by virtue of this conflict. Perhaps due to the short length of the book, a little exageration helps make the point.

There was another short biography of Washington that was recently written by James MacGregor Burns and which is part of a series of short presidential biographies.
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