His Excellency: George Washington
by Joseph J. Ellis
Read: Jan. 24-30, 2018
Blurb: To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric rose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.
Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. And here is the general who lost more battles than he won, and the reluctant president to tried to float above the partisan feuding to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
Review: With this book I embark on my presidential reading challenge!
I chose this book to start with because it appeared to be a short, all-encompassing biography. I figured it would give me a good decent background before I really got started into the meat of George Washington’s life. And for the most part, this book definitely fulfilled that. But it definitely left me wanting more. There were a lot of places that I really wanted more information on, but I realize that it’s not feasible to put every single thing about his entire life into one small volume such as this.
The writing itself in this book was extremely good. There were some dry parts, but those usually occurred when there was discussion of battle details and strategy – those topics just don’t interest me all that much. Overall I found this one easy to read and it kept my interest throughout.
The overall picture that Mr. Ellis paints of George Washington is interesting to me. What I personally came away from it was that he seemed to be a man who wanted everything he did. He claimed to not want to do this or that, namely the presidency, yet he kept coming back. He could have stepped away had he truly wanted to. Yet he was needed. And I think it was that need that kept driving him. His earlier years, he came across as extremely arrogant and not very likable to be honest. But it was his later years that you could definitely see him mature and realize that what he was living was something a lot bigger than anyone at the time could even imagine. His eye never seemed to be on the present, it always seemed to be on the future – I suppose that’s why he edited a lot of his earlier writings…. he wasn’t really writing for his immediate audience; he was writing for future audiences.
Overall, I’m very pleased that this is where I started my presidential reading challenge at. I found it to be a wonderful overview of Washington. It is an easy read, one that will most certainly appeal to casual readers. It also made me realize that my knowledge of the history of the American Revolution is severely lacking (!).
I do believe that going forward from here, when I begin a new president, I will start with something similar to this – a brief, all-encompassing volume that will give me a good starting place. This will be especially helpful with those presidents that I am truly unfamiliar with.