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His Excellency: George Washington Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 26, 2004
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Washington first gained recognition as a 21-year-old emissary for the governor of Virginia, braving savage conditions to confront encroaching French forces. As the de facto leader of the American Revolution, he not only won the country's independence, but helped shape its political personality and "topple the monarchical and aristocratic dynasties of the Old World." When the Congress unanimously elected him president, Washington accepted reluctantly, driven by his belief that the union's very viability depended on a powerful central government. In fact, keeping the country together in the face of regional allegiances and the rise of political parties may be his greatest presidential achievement.
Based on Washington's personal letters and papers, His Excellency is smart and accessible--not to mention relatively brief, in comparison to other encyclopedic presidential tomes. Ellis's short, succinct sentences speak volumes, allowing readers to glimpse the man behind the myth. --Andy Boynton
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Curious about George?
Amazon.com reveals a few facts about the legendary first president of the United States.
| Washington bust by Jean Antoine Houdon. |
Courtesy of the Mt. Vernon Ladies' Assoc.
1. The famous tale about Washington chopping down the cherry tree ("Father, I cannot tell a lie") is a complete fabrication.
2. George Washington never threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River--in fact, to do so from the shore of his Mount Vernon home would have been physically impossible.
3. George Washington did not wear wooden teeth. His poorly fitting false teeth were in fact made of cow's teeth, human teeth, and elephant ivory set in a lead base.
4. Early in his life, Washington was himself a slave owner. His opinions changed after he commanded a multiracial army in the Revolutionary War. He eventually came to recognize slavery as "a massive American anomaly."
5. In 1759, having resigned as Virginia's military commander to become a planter, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. Washingtons marriage to the colony's wealthiest widow dramatically changed his life, catapulting him into Virginia aristocracy.
6. Scholars have discredited suggestions that Washington's marriage to Martha lacked passion, as well as the provocative implications of the well-worn phrase "George Washington slept here."
7. Washington held his first public office when he was 17 years old, as surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia.
8. At age 20, despite no prior military experience, Washington was appointed an adjutant in the Virginia militia, in which he oversaw several militia companies, and was assigned the rank of major.
9. As a Virginia aristocrat, Washington ordered all his coats, shirts, pants, and shoes from London. However, most likely due to the misleading instructions he gave his tailor, the suits almost never fit. Perhaps this is why he appears in an old military uniform in his 1772 portrait.
10. In 1751, during a trip to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence, Washington was stricken with smallpox and permanently scarred. Fortunately, this early exposure made him immune to the disease that would wipe out colonial troops during the Revolutionary War.
Important dates in George Washington's life.
|Engraving of Mount Vernon, 1804. Courtesy of the Mt. Vernon Ladies' Assoc.|
1732: George Washington is born at his father's estate in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
1743: Georges father, Augustine Washington, dies.
1752: At age 20, despite the fact that he has never served in the military, Washington is appointed adjutant in the Virginia militia, with the rank of major.
1753: As an emissary to Virginia Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, he travels to the Ohio River Valley to confront French forces--the first of a series of encounters that would lead to the French and Indian War.
1755: Washington is appointed commander-in-chief of Virginia's militia.
1759: He marries wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis.
1774: Washington is elected to the First Continental Congress.
1775: He is unanimously elected by the Continental Congress as its army's commander-in-chief. Start of the American Revolution.
1776: On Christmas Day, Washington leads his army across the Delaware River and launches a successful attack against Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey.
1781: With the French, he defeats British troops in Yorktown, Virginia, precipitating the end of the war.
1783: The Revolutionary War officially ends.
1788: The Constitution is ratified.
1789: Washington is elected president.
1797: He fulfills his last term as president.
1799: Washington dies on December 14, sparking a period of national mourning.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The central thesis of this work is that Washington's amazing career was driven by an enlightened self-interest, tempered by a hard-earned practical wisdom. Always sticking closely to the available evidence, Ellis shows us a young Washington full of unbounded ambition for wealth and social status that he learned to control and temper, but never eliminate. Ellis writes that, "ambition this gargantuan were only glorious if harnessed to a cause larger than oneself, which they most assuredly were after 1775." He shows us Washington as a self-educated man, not from books like his illustrious contemporary Ben Franklin, but from practical, visceral experiences of his youth fighting the French and Indians in the backcountry of Pennsylvania. He views Washington's inglorious defeat at the Great Meadows and his miraculous survival of the carnage of Braddock's massacre as critical events that freed him of illusions, and left him a man who viewed the world through practical realities rather than shimmering ideals. This practical education, working on his natural ambition, created the control mechanisms that allowed Washington to serve his nation so long and so well.Read more ›
This is not an in-depth day-by-day account of Washington's life. For that pleasure, I refer the reader to the definitive four volume set (and 1,800+ pages) published over 30 years ago by James Thomas Flexner. Even Mr. Flexner's one volume abridgement is more detailed (at 400 + pages) than Mr. Ellis' new biography (only 275 pages of narrative).
The difference lies in Mr. Ellis' big picture approach and his interpretation of key events during Washington's lifetime. So Washington's love of Sally Fairfax is restricted to a mere two pages and his estate at Mount Vernon gathers more ink than his tranquil marriage to Martha. Instead "His Excellency" focuses upon the impact that Washington's decisions had upon the course of American history. Overall this is a well-written and thoughtful introduction to the life of George Washington.
After having read Ellis's book, the answer would seem to be a less ambiguous than you would think, "Well, no." There is no "new" information about Washington here and very little noteworthy insight.
From the introduction, we learn that there have been many biographies of Washington. Some of them, like the tales of an early nineteenth century parson, were pretty fanciful (the "cherry tree incident", the dollar across the Potomac), while others were quite factual and scholarly. The only thing that could be said against this second group seems to have been that they were exceedingly long and, possibly, dry of read.
Such cannot be said of Ellis's work. Ellis is an excellent and engaging writer who could write a book on the local city council's discussion of noise abatement and leave you hoping there's a second volume. He writes with warmth and humor and all those other buzzwords so frequently misapplied to writers and I can truly say I enjoyed reading the book.
With so many other works on Washington already out there, it was left to Ellis to try to find some new angle with which to chronicle the Father of Our Country. With all the facts recorded (almost ad nauseum), what angle could he use? Ellis has chosen to explore the "character" of George Washington.
It takes Ellis 274 pages (plus some end notes) to determine that Washington was aloof.Read more ›
That puts the biographer's problem nicely. Washington is so universally revered as well as so distant from us in time that he is more marble than human flesh. The biographer's task is to somehow breathe life back into a monument. Ellis has a good track record at this sort of thing. Most recently he did the trick with Thomas Jefferson in AMERICAN SPHINX. His work on Washington is in somewhat the same vein, and is equally accomplished.
Ellis's approach sails close to the dangerous shoals of psycho-biography but never quite runs aground on them. In trying to fathom Washington's true character and motives, he sticks fairly close to the written record without presuming to peer inside his subject's head.
His conclusions are not always those that today's schoolchildren find in their history texts. In the narrow tactical sense, for instance, Ellis judges Washington no great military genius. He points out that Washington lost more battles than he won, he was a control freak and a man very conscious of his place in history. Despite this "posing for posterity," however, Ellis is favorably inclined toward his subject because he had a career "devoted to getting the big things right."
That career, of course, had two separate parts: military commander and --- after four years in retirement --- our first President.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this book. I had neglected our 1st President since high school and feel I learned a lot from this book. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Bill
An excellent history of Washington and our founding fathers. I learned a great deal about his life and leadership traits that had escaped me. We need him back today.Published 22 days ago by jamesfredericksen
My son received the book, but the package had been ripped open. He said book had only minor damage.Published 1 month ago by dan
A succinct plots all narration of Washington's carrier from its' outset to the day of his death, void of ostentation but also of moral and religious information. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Baruch Maoz
Who have been the best presidents. The books descriptions of Washington's leadership and vision put him firmly near the top. Read morePublished 2 months ago by John E. Laplante
Joseph Ellis declares early in the book his intention is to provide a brief, realistic version of George Washington. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Will Kremer
I enjoyed Ellis's Founding Brothers better. After that, this is a bit weaker, but then his wife burned their correspondence.Published 2 months ago by Em73
A fine, well-written bio of our first president. Don't expect a lot of new information (after all, with dozens of biographies out there,what more is there to reveal?). Read morePublished 2 months ago by Richard McMahon