Lengel, the editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington, has here wittily explored legends, folk tales, pious lies, and other miscellaneous craziness loosely centered on the reputation of George Washington. For historians, the most valuable chapter may be Lengel's debunking of the debunkers Rupert Hughes and William E. Woodard; for laymen, the chapter deflating oft-told religious legends.
P. T. Barnum's creation of Washington's 161-year-old nurse is a great tale but has less to do with Washington than with Barnum's sharp eye for the sucker. Although Lengel appropriately mentions people who have sighted Washington's ghost or his reincarnations, the space given to a detailed recounting of their delusions might have been better spent providing accurate information about the myths Lengel has busted. For instance, we are twice told that the Hessians were not drunk at Trenton; it would have been helpful to know on what authority.
Nevertheless, the book is throughout an enjoyable read. There are even some laugh-out-loud sections, among which are the author's description of the pseudo-historical movie, When the Redskins Rode (1951), as well as an account of Lengel's own misadventures as historical consultant for a Mount Vernon orientation film.
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