Washington: The Indispensable Man
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2003
I normally can't read biographical books without falling into a coma. This book was quite an exception.
Being a member of a local SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) chapter, I thought I should learn more about the Revolution and Washington than I did in school.
I was truly amazed at how much INTERESTING information this short book had that I'd never known before. This book is very readable and provides a wealth of information about this amazing man and the early years of our nation. After reading this book, you'll appreciate how hard it was to maintain a democracy even after we won the war.
I probably would have enjoyed American History at school if this book was taught rather than a snippet here or a date there. This book gives great background and tells enough of what was happening in American and Europe to understand the significance of Washington's decisions and actions.
The only negative thing about this book is the author's clear bias when describing some of Washington's contemporaries. It is one thing to explain what some of them did (which could have destroyed America as we know it), but the name calling detracted from the feel of the narrative.
Excellent work, Mr. Flexner!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2006
This is an excellent biography, covering Washington's entire life in a single volume. Its 'readablity' is fairly high for a history book. It is considerably less dry than your average text book, but a bit less readable than a historian with more mass appeal like Ellis. All good history books have a balance between 'fact' and interpretation, and in this one Flexner tends to keep the scales tipped a bit toward the factual side. This is great for gaining a solid understanding of what happened in Washington's life, but it does render a work a bit less readable than your typical airplane novel.

Flexner obviously has a pro-Washington bias. You can tell he respects and admires the father of our country. If you are looking for a book that will give you all the "dirt" on Washington's flaws, this is not that book. My personal opinion is that it would be hard to understand George Washington in light of his time and place, and not come away with a great deal of respect and admiration for his character. However, I understand there are some iconoclasts out there who prefer history to be a bit less kind to powerful dead white men. They probably won't be too thrilled with this book.

All in all, this is an excellent work, which will give any reader helpful insights into the life of perhaps the greatest American that ever lived.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2005
Washington and the other participants in the Revolutionary War have been my main interest in historical study. Unfortunately, many of the facts regarding members of this era are spun by emotion to show how great they were in creating the great nation of America. This is not necessary with the men and women who founded the nation, because the facts of their deeds alone are extraordinarily impressive without any spin. James Flexner gets that. He writes a very fair book that discusses the life of President Washington without spinning the facts to make him look better than he already is. Flexner's writing is almost like reading a novel. It flows easily and discusses all aspects of President Washington's life, beginning with his ancestry. He does not focus any era of his life disproportionately, and there are few weaknesses in this book.

The only critiques I have are that Flexner ignores several aspects of Washington's personal beliefs and activities that others cover. He paints Washington as a reticent member that shied away from public life, when he was a central part of his community, as is shown in his volunteer positions he held throughout much of his life. His critique of Washington's personality and personal life are a bit off from the majority of other writers, but the facts are clean of spin and the writing is magnificent.

Overall, this book is the premier Washington biography because of the excellent writing, fair factual representation of his life and a proportional discussion of the events of his life.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2000
I have always considered Washington a great President, but knew little about him. From reading the book: 1. I was amazed how often Washington extricated himself from difficult political situations simply by being forthright and honest. 2. I never knew the large role he played in the Constitutional Convention. 3. I learned he purposely wanted to step down as president to demonstrate our new govt could continue peacefully (this "experiment" was all new). 4. I now appreciate his large role in guiding the new country. Its beginnings were more tenuous than I had thought. While reading the book, I often wondered if the country would have survived without Washington. I easily read the book. I would put it down after finishing a chapter and usually find myself reading again withing the half-hour. The facts were well supported (documented), but not a dry textbook presentation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 1999
George Washington could have crowned himself king of this nation with the blessings of the people. After reading the story of his life, the fact that he was one of few men in this position not to accept was not surprising.The fact that George Washington survived untouched through some scenarios, left me to think that he had to have had some divine intervention.You can not go away from reading this book and not be left with the utmost respect and admiration for George Washington. In closing I would like to add that I agree wholeheartedly with the Cincinnati Enquirer that "This book should be required reading for all Americans."
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2001
A biography is intended to be an account of someone's life - considered as a whole. Though I learned much about the working life and ethical priorities of Washington that I did not know - little was revealed about Washington; the child, the husband, the friend, etc. Flexner touches on these subjects, but to the mere extreme - and I am left wanting in knowing Washington as a whole man.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2005
Flexner's vast research and delightful prose make this the best Washington biography I've ever read (and am likely ever to read).
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Since I did not read the original four-volume biography, I do not know what material was not used in the condensed single volume. However, in my humble opinion, the single volume is a good read.

The narrative of Washington's life is smooth reading - chapters were often less than 10 pages and dealt with only one theme in Washington's life rather than the 30-40 page chapters dealing with a variety of issues seen in other biographies. Sometimes I find lengthy chapters to be distracting.

Particularly enjoyable were the narratives of: Washington's early life, French and Indian War service, Revolutionary War service, life with Martha Washington and her children, and military/political relationships with other famous figures of his day. Since I am an ex-military officer and am not a political junkie, the military aspects of the biography more interesting than the political narratives. I gained a greater appreciation of Washington went through to lead the colonies to victory in the Revolutionary War and the intense political pressures he experienced during the war and his presidency. Reading on how he endured and stood strong only increased my respect for the man.

Whether a high school/college student, history buff, biography fan, you will enjoy reading this condensed biography of our first president. The book manages to include many details of Washington's life and avoids becoming a dry read.

Read and enjoy, highly recommended!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon March 14, 2008
This is an excellent book. It is well written and very informative. Not having read all of the single volume biographies of Washington, I cannot testify to its being the very best, but surly it must be one of the best. The book is Flexner's single volume abridgement of his four-volume biography. Being only one quarter the size of the complete work it cannot be as detailed, but it nonetheless provides a very coherent and compelling portrait. Perhaps the best accolade that I can give is that I now I want to know more and I am considering reading the complete Flexner series. As might be expected from the subtitle "The Indispensable Man" the book paints the most favorable picture possible and shows why Washington was indeed the "Indispensable Man". He was indispensable not only as the leader of the army but also as America's first president. His firm hand set many of the precedents that shaped the office of president.

While Washington is shown in the most favorable light the same cannot be said of Jefferson and Hamilton. Both (but mostly Jefferson) are shown to be more loyal to their party (the Federalists in the case of Hamilton and the Republicans in the case of Jefferson) than to Washington. Confidences were betrayed, especially by Jefferson. If there was a villain in this story it was Jefferson, who is painted as one who was willing to bring on war with Britain in order to support France and to further his vision of an agrarian America.

One word of caution - this book is not a military history of the American Revolution, or of the detailed causes of the revolution, the writing of the constitution or the complete history of Washington's presidency. All of these things are covered, but not in the detail provided in books devoted specifically to these subjects.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 1, 2000
I've read this book, Richard Norton Smith's "Partiarch" and North Callahan's "George Washington: Soldier and Man" successively, so this might not me the most accurate review. I read all three in an effort to understand Washington the man. Another Amazon reviewer rightly points out that the other "greats" of the era, including Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton et al. look to Washington, but I could never quite understand why. Reading these books has convinced me that the only way we could understand this mystery is to actually meet GW. This being impossible, the next best thing would be to read some Washington books to appreciate the things GW did for our nation. Another Amazon reviewer gives us a brief list of some actions that give us a hint to GW's personality and leadership skills. Let me emphasize that this is a BRIEF list. There is a reason Washington is put on a dollar bill, why our capital, a state and several counties are named after him and why he is called "first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Now that I've established the importance of reading about Washington, Flexner's book a one volume account of Washington's life that I recommend. While he does move rather fast at times and while I disagree with Flexner's belief that Washington is a diest, he does present a fine account of his our Founding Father's life. Flexner espicially allows us to understand how Washington goes about making decisions and why these decisions were so respected in the Early American community
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