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The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon [Kindle Edition]

John Ferling
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continental Army, Washington's keen political savvy enabled him not only to outwit superior British forces, but--even more challenging--to manage the fractious and intrusive Continental Congress. Despite dire setbacks early in the war, Washington deftly outmaneuvered rival generals and defused dissent from officers below him, ending the war with the status of a national icon. His carefully burnished reputation allowed Washington, as president, to lead the country under the guise of non-partisanship for almost all of his eight years in office. Washington, Ferling argues, was not only one of America's most adroit politicians, he was easily the most successful of all time--so successful, in fact, that he is no longer thought of as having been political.

Editorial Reviews


“Sensing that such biographers as James Flexner and Joseph Ellis have accepted the above-politics thesis, Ferling inspects the evidence of Washington’s political activities…while illustrating the substance behind Washington’s image as the indispensable man, Ferling pointedly grounds that image in the political soil from which it sprang.” –Booklist

“Ferling has done his research and offers some new insights…recommended for readers interested in taking a fresh look at Washington's political life” –Library Journal

“Never questioning Washington’s greatness, Ferling insists that seeing him as an artful self-promoter and master politician only enhances his reputation as an adept leader who knew exactly what he was doing…a fresh take on a monumental American.” –Kirkus

“Once in a while a book comes along to remind us that history has no gods, that the past is less fossil than textbooks suggest and America more vibrant than a mere list of principles. John Ferling's Ascent of George Washington is just such a book: a fresh, clear-eyed portrait of the full-blooded political animal that was George Washington…In John Ferling’s eminently readable, landmark interpretation, we cannot help but marvel at the man.” –Marie Arana, Washington Post

“The Washington who emerges from the nearly four hundred pages of well-crafted narrative is a man who became first in the hearts of his countrymen by looking out for Number One… Washington was a complex personality, as John Ferling’s study makes clear, and it provides readers with a fuller portrait of the figure who was the First of Men of his time.”––Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

About the Author

John Ferling is Professor Emeritus of History at the State University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he has appeared in many documentaries and has written numerous books, including Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War for Independence, Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution, and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4271 KB
  • Print Length: 461 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B00A17LJI4
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004AE2TY2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,359 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A political biography of George Washington March 28, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The thesis of this volume is straightforward (Page xix): "This book, however, takes issue with [many historians'] portrayal of Washington as nonpolitical and steadfastly seeking to stay above politics." The author, John Ferling, also notes Washington's vaulting ambition and his willingness to use a variety of tactics to achieve his goals. Thus, this book can be deemed a political biography of George Washington.

The basic approach is laid out early. Washington did not have much of an education and was acutely aware of this shortcoming. Using his older brother from their father's first marriage as a model (Lawrence Washington), he set out to create a military success and use that as a steppingstone to wealth and success. To his advantage, Washington had a number of powerful patrons, who helped him in his ascent.

The book chronicles his up and down military career during the 1750s, his inveterate lobbying for military advancement, his "fights" with governors and military personnel to get the recognition that he desired. And, indeed, this represents one of my questions about the book. Ferling notes that others see Washington as "disinterested," but Ellis, in his excellent biography called "His Excellency," makes some of the same points, although in more nuanced terms. In that, it sometimes seems to me that Ferling is understating points made in other biographies to make his appear the more unique.

His ambitions were also supported by a marriage into wealth and an eminent family. From there, the arc of his well know life is traced--from the state legislature and his plantation to his role in the Revolutionary War to his accession to the presidency. Through all these stages of his life, Ferling notes his ambition.
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119 of 139 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and foolish narcissist, or American Hero April 6, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My disclaimer;
I am not a history scholar in any sense of the word. I thought "The Ascent of George Washington , The hidden Political Genius of an American Icon" would be an interesting read and I might glean some insight from this American Hero to help me in my life.

I went to school in the late `60s through the mid `70s, so I had my share of disaffected "Hippy" teachers who had their share of anti-establishment views about government and venerated leaders of the past, so the information in this political biography about George Washington didn't come as a complete surprise. What did come as a surprise was the depth and breadth of "humanizing" the icon that is known as the "Father of our Country".

The author John Ferling is a well written scholar on the time period, so I assume he knows the veracity of what he states, but sourcing so many enemies of Washington as the fount of information on the character flaws of Washington as well as other "Founding Fathers" such as Thomas Jefferson as self interested profiteers made me a bit uncomfortable.

If the author is to be believed, Washington was an ambitious and foolish narcissist, who lacked any military skills and only led men to their foolish deaths. A man who's vanity and political machinations ruined the careers and reputations of more able and responsible military officers, and nearly scuttled the revolutionary war through his bungling of tactics, and only through luck and "Divine Providence" did America prevail.

I didn't care much for the majority of the book, which at least to me, defamed great men "with new insight" gleaned over 200 years after the fact. What I did enjoy however, was the covering of the early years of the new republic during Washington's "Presidential Years".
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88 of 102 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cropping the Tall Poppies July 12, 2009
Historians enjoy trying to knock icons off their pedestals.
Sometimes they try too hard. This book is surprisingly bad and demands rebuttal.
Professor Ferling is correct in saying that Washington was political and ambitious and that he was not a military genius. Unfortunately, in his effort to prove that Washington was politically astute, Professor Ferling tries to demonstrate that Washington was a military dunce who spent the Revolutionary War trying to find scapegoats for his failures. To do so, he view everything that Washington did on the battlefield in the worst possible light, damning with left-handed compliments everything that Washington did right and attributing every failure or partial success to Washington's ineptitude and character flaws.
Suddenly, every military absurdity that Washington opposed, such as a mid-winter invasion of Canada without a supply line or hard money to pay the Canadians, become a far-sighted opportunity that Washington squandered to avoid giving alleged rivals a chance to shine. Suddenly, every officer that Washington let go, from Charles Lee for his feeble and half-hearted performance at Monmouth to Adam Stephens for his drunken folly at Germantown, becomes a misunderstood military genius that Washington scapegoated. Even Horatio Gates's utterly contemptible mismanagement of the Camden campaign receives a short but vigorous whitewashing simply to denigrate Washington's military reputation. Washington kept a poorly fed, poorly clad, poorly shod, unpaid army full of quarrelsome officers in the field for years and dreamed of coordinating with the French Navy to trap and destroy a British army as he had nearly been trapped and destroyed on Long Island.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
Written very well by the historian-author. It contains a wealth of information and history of our country. Would recommend it to anyone who enjoys nonfiction.
Published 1 month ago by Maxine Goodman
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 2 months ago by Richard Knight
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye opener
A well written and eye opening account of the life of this famous man. It appears that luck and an ability to shift blame helped make him the icon he is.
Published 2 months ago by Lurline
3.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting re-take on Washington as a politician. ...
A very interesting re-take on Washington as a politician. The take on his presidency and his relation with Hamilton was new for me.
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent review of the 1st Prez of the US
excellent review of the 1st Prez of the US. Was surprised to discover that he was such a scheming manipulator and ineffective battle commander. Read more
Published 3 months ago by intense tom
4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing the man
Very long, however it showed a side of Washington that few realized how he rose to power by using people to his advantage to become so powerful. Eye-opening
Published 4 months ago by pat snyder
4.0 out of 5 stars A clean, head-clearing account on GW's motivations and actions
As I write in September, 2014, it is in the wake of two cultural phenomena that have impacted the viewing of US history: the multicultural/history-from-the-ground-up approach that... Read more
Published 4 months ago by albarino
5.0 out of 5 stars awe
This book is a great read. The ins and outs of early American politics are discussed and backed with credible sources.
Published 5 months ago by The Great
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into the real life of the first American ...
Great insight into the real life of the first American "hero". He's just as human as the next person, and all the more admirable for his drive and his commitment to being... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Judy Coutinho
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening.
Good book. Be prepared to be educated because what you "know" about Washington is about to be shattered.
Published 6 months ago by Steve-o
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More About the Author

John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark. To learn more, please visit his website:

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