4/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington: Anguish and Farewell (1793-1799)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington Anguish and Farewell.jpg

 

Copyright: 1969, 1972

Pages: 503

Read: Sept. 14 – Oct. 11, 2018

Rating: 4/5

Source: Powells.com

 

 

 

Blurb: George Washington: Anguish and Farewell is the fourth and final volume of one of the most distinguished American biographies of our generation. Covering the tumultuous years of Washington’s second term as President, his retirement, and his death, the book reveals the almost shattering pressures under which Washington struggled to maintain America’s unity during its first great peacetime testing as an independent nation.

The testing was regional: North versus South, East versus West. It’s a philosophical and political: Federalists versus Republicans, Hamilton versus Jefferson. And it was international: the upheaval accompanying the French Revolution, which threatened to draw the United States into a world war that would have stifled the growth of the infant republic and perhaps ignited civil conflicts on the streets and farms at home.

Disproving the contention that Washington allowed himself to be used by Hamilton, James Thomas Flexner has discovered unexpected dimensions in the stormy relationship between Washington and Jefferson. And Mr. Flexner’s exploration of Washington’s attitude towards slavery breaks significant new ground. He demonstrates that Washington’s growing unhappiness with slavery – he eventually freed his own bondsmen – was an important reason why Washington would not support Jefferson’s Virginia agrarianism to the exclusion of the alternative economic system espoused by Hamilton.

The book is intensely dramatic. It is also tinged with sadness, portraying Washington at a time when his struggle to keep the nation together was weakened by his own infirmities. With Washington’s retirement, his former brilliance became increasingly clouded by periods of confusion. When the time came, he was glad to die.

George Washington: Anguish and Farewell provides a brilliant counterpoint between Washington’s public and private lives. It is a narrative in which Washington not only thinks and acts, but lives. It takes the final measure of the great president as a hero – and as a man.


Review: This is the fourth and final book in James Thomas Flexner’s George Washington series. And honestly, I found it to be the best book of the series.

This particular book covers the time from the beginning of Washington’s second term up until his death. Perhaps it is because this time period was a little more interesting to me than that of Washington’s earlier years, but I definitely had a lot more interest in reading this book than I had the previous three.

As with the previous books in the series, this one was well-written and extremely well-researched. I also felt like this book was put together a little bit better than the last book (where I distinctly remember that there were things that felt a little out-of-place in certain areas).

I can’t say that reading this 4 book series was an easy road (it totaled up to 1,825 pages!), but I’m overall glad that I stuck it out and finished it because it definitely is a work of art in itself. It’s probably not the series for everyone, and definitely not for just the average reader. But if you are interested in taking a serious stab at learning more about our first President, this series is an amazing resource.

For quick reference, my reviews of Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

 

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Presidential Reading Challenge

Presidential Reading Challenge Sept 2018 Update

Ok … so I am now 9 months into my Presidential Reading Challenge and I thought it would be a good time to update you on how I am doing. I am still working on George Washington … yep, 9 months in and I’m still on President #1. Oops?! I knew this would not be a fast venture, but I expected to at least get through Washington & Adams this year.

So I have just started my 5th Washington book. I’m on book 4 of James Thomas Flexner’s 4-book series. The books are quite long and in some spots, quite dry. So it is definitely slow going. But slow and steady wins the race … right?

I technically have 2 more Washington books on my shelf. I have the Ron Chernow book and I also have recently acquired Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. I’m a little on the fence about whether or not I really want to tackle the Chernow book to be completely honest. I hate to skip it, but at the same time I’m not really excited to take on nearly 1000 pages in one book. If it reads like these last few books have read, it will take me a year just to get through that one. So the verdict is still out on that one. The Wiencek book was an impulse purchase because I’ve been quite intrigued about Washington’s entire view on slavery and am eager to dig more into that aspect of his life.

I have also recently been thinking about adding on a book about each President’s wife after I finish with the President. I just ordered a Martha Washington biography, so I will probably incorporate that into this challenge as well.

I probably need to make a list of other things I’d like to explore in the future, because there have been numerous people mentioned in these biographies that I’ve read that I would like to learn more about at some point. I’ve also considered hitting the pause button, so to speak, to read a book or two about the early years of our government. There’s been so much not mentioned in these biographies of Washington that I feel like I should buff up on my history a little bit more. But again … that just adds more to my load. I’m making this wayyyyyyy too complicated!

So yeah … I’m still chugging along. And of course I want to make this so much harder than it really needs to be. I probably should have just kept it to one book per President … but nope, I had to go and purchase a 6 book series on Thomas Jefferson….

But I’m still having fun, so I suppose that’s the most important part!

3.5/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington and the New Nation (1783-1793)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington and the New Nation

 

Copyright: 1969, 1970

Pages: 425

Read: July 13 – September 11, 2018

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Powells.com

 

 

Blurb: George Washington and the New Nation begins with Washington’s return to Mount Vernon, a victorious, but exhausted soldier eagerly seeking the pleasures of a quiet country life. Free of heavy responsibilities, his character expands in genial, often unexpected ways. All too soon, however, the idyll is broken. Washington is called to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Popular confidence in him secures the ratification of the new government by the states. He is unanimously chosen our first President.

In the face of growing faction and division, Washington helps mold our major governmental institutions and gives durable shape to the Presidency. He is accused of many failings. He is guilty of some. His personal life is strained by countless pressures. But at the end of four years, Washington has seemingly proved the viability of the republican form of government to a watching world of kings.

Even as Washington dreams of final retirement, however, the storm raised by the French Revolution threatens to overwhelm the United States. Now Jefferson and Hamilton – the two men who have, throughout our history, epitomized the polarities of American political thought – join in begging Washington to stay on. They warn that, if Washington relinquishes the Presidency, the country may well pull apart.


Review: This is the 3rd book in Mr. Flexner’s 4-book series on George Washington. Having enjoyed the first book and feeling somewhat lukewarm about the second book, I was looking forward to getting to this one. I was excited to learn more about how the country’s government was shaped and Mr. Washington’s first term as President. It also made me realize (AGAIN!) that my memory of the history of our country’s early years is really severely lacking. I keep reading and realizing that there’s so many other things that I need to brush up on … more reading I suppose 🙂

This particular book was again extremely well researched and it read quite easily. Even though these books were written in the 1960s and 1970s, they read as easily as any contemporary biography would. That definitely makes things a lot easier for me. My one and only complaint on this book was how the feud between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton basically took over the last 100 or so pages. I had to remind myself that yes, I was reading a biography on Washington … not Jefferson and/or Hamilton.

Overall, a really good book that I enjoyed. I’m definitely looking forward to the fourth and final book in this series. The final book covers Washington’s second term up to his death. It’s a chunkster for sure … but I’m eager to learn even more about Washington!

3/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington in the American Revolution

 

Copyright: 1967,1968

Pages: 552

Read: March 20 – July 10, 2018

Rating: 3/5

Source: Powells.com

 

Blurb: History has blinded us to the all-too-human character of George Washington; in doing so, it has blinded us to the true nature of his greatness. We have urgent need to know this man we call the Father of Our Country. And now, at last, James Thomas Flexner has given us the biography that fully meets our need.

In George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783), we are witness to eight fateful years, as Washington lived them day by day and month by month. We see a Virginia officer catapulted – despite his obvious military limitations and his own protestations of inadequacy – into the command of an amateur army opposing an experienced European force under elite leadership. The fact that Washington was at first out-generated is not suppressed. His failures and reverses are not diminished or excused.

Yet even as we share the anguish of his unsuccessful battles – and the political unrest and uncertainty that marked the Revolution – we understand the slow but sure process by which Washington taught himself, through trial and error, to become the clear master of his English foes.

As James Thomas Flexner so brilliantly demonstrates, Washington’s command of the Continental Army was deeply marked by the extremes of his own complex personality: his compassion and his towering rages; his short-term pessimism and his abiding belief in the virtue of the American cause. By turns indiscreet, impulsive, and artfully dissembling, the General’s ruling mood was – as his wife Martha wrote – unhappiness: the troubled mind of a civilian in uniform, yearning for Mount Vernon, for his hearth and home.

When the war ended, it was as a civilian, too, not as a man of war or bloodshed, that Washington risked his personal leadership to turn back a movement that might well have (as has so often happened in history) resulted in a kind of fascism as cruel as the tyranny which it would have replaced.

To read George Washington in the American Revolution is to be in the vital presence of human aspiration and to enter into a drama of transcended interest and excitement. This is the story of America’s great hero revealed as all the greater because his human faults and foibles have not been denied their rightful place in the record of his leadership.


Review: This is the second book in Mr. Flexner’s four-book series on George Washington. I knew going into this one that I would struggle with it. I do not like to read about battles and wars, so I knew that the mere fact that this entire volume revolved around the American Revolution was going to slow me down. However, I didn’t anticipate it to take me 4 months to finish it either. And to be honest, near the end, I was definitely  skimming. I just couldn’t make myself sit down and read much at a time.

That’s not to say that the book wasn’t well written, because it most certainly was. The writing was easy to read. It’s just that my interest was not there for the subject matter. I didn’t really want or need such a detailed account of the American Revolution. I know that this time period is crucial to understanding who George Washington was, as a person and an American. However, it just ended up not being my cup of tea.

I am definitely looking forward to moving on from here in this series. Mr. Flexner definitely has a writing style that I find enjoyable. Hist attention to detail and research is superb. And while I’m sure that in the end this particular installment will be the “weakest” of the four books for me personally, it certainly is a good book.

3/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, F, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: George Washington: The Forge of Experience (1732-1775) by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington: The Forge of Experience (1732-1775)
by James Thomas Flexner

George Washington- The Forge of Experience

Copyright: 1965

Pages: 345

Read: Feb. 7 – March 7, 2018

Rating: 3/5

Source: Purchased on powells.com

 

Blurb: In this deeply significant work, James Thomas Flexner has given life to the stony image of George Washington which stares at us so impersonally from Mount Rushmore, the dollar bill and the schoolroom wall.

With a clear, swiftly readable style, Flexner shows the wholly human way in which the character of one of the greatest men in history was shaped and how it, in turn, shaped his achievements. Able and energetic, impulsive and vulnerable, Washington from the first had major virtues – but he was also fallible.

Put into a position of leadership in the French-Indian conflict at the age of twenty-two – a position for which he was not yet ready – the young Lieutenant Colonel initiated actions which showed more bravery than good judgment. His hasty attack in the forest, on what the French insisted was a party escorting an ambassador, proved to be the first shot fired in the global Seven Years’ War. Yet each mistake – and success – of these early years was part of the vast experience which ultimately molded Washington into what Flexner calls “one of the noblest and greatest men who ever lived,” a man prepared to become, during the American Revolution, “more than a military leader: he was the eagle, the standard, the flag, the living symbol of the cause.”

Flexure covers forty-three years of Washington’s life in this volume, the first in a series of four planned to carry Washington through the Revolutionary War and on to the end of his life.

Vivid on the one hand and factually solid on the other, Flexner’s narrative absorbingly shows us the future hero as a callow youth, writing bad verse and in love with love. We see the era and the society which formed Washington and the individuals who mattered to him: his mother, who became an obdurate squatter on the farm he inherited; his beloved and ailing older brother, Lawrence, who married into the distinguished Fairfax family; George William Fairfax, who, in turn, married Sally Cary; and Sally, who stirred in Washington such forbidden ardor that twenty-five years later he could write her that none of the great events of his career, “nor all of them together, have been able to eradicate from my mine those happy moments, the happiest of my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.”

But it was Martha Custis, the handsome, domestic, timid and loyal widow he married, who brought the future President that happiness of a serener order which made “domestic enjoyments” at Mount Vernon and effective counterpoise, throughout his career, to ambition in the world of fame.

Impeccably researched, this work quotes directly from Washington’s letters, diaries and documents in presenting the most engrossing biography yet of the Father of Our Country.


Review: This is my second George Washington book on my Presidential Reading journey. I have the other three installments by Mr. Flexner and I intend to eventually put together an all-encompassing review of the four volumes together. So for now I will just write up a few of my thoughts on this particular installment.

My chief complaint regarding Ellis’ His Excellency was that I wanted more of George Washington – who he was and where he came from. This installment definitely fulfilled that desire. I was glad to really get a good idea of who Washington was from his earlier years. I found it interesting to read about his mother – who was not exactly what you would call a supportive/loving mother. His marriage to Martha was also discussed more in depth, and I greatly appreciated learning more about the relationship they shared.

I enjoyed learning new things about Washington’s earlier years. But I also struggled to get through the book at times. Having been written in the 1960s, I didn’t find it as readable as more contemporary books are. Mr. Flexner made great use of direct quotes from Washington’s personal letters/diaries, which was interesting to a certain extent, but I felt that it bogged down at times.

A great portion of this book surrounded the French and Indian War years. As usual, I do not really like reading about wars. (Which makes me very nervous to read the next installment, which covers the Revolutionary War years). I don’t really care to know about battle strategy and things like that. So I definitely stalled out quite a bit in reading this book when it hit that point.

Overall, it’s an okay book. I’m going to reserve my final judgment until I have finished the entire series because I feel like it’s going to come out much better when taken in its entirety rather than just each installment individually.

3.5/5, AUTHOR, Book Review, E, Nonfiction, Presidential Reading Challenge, RATING, Read in 2018

Review: His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

His Excellency: George Washington
by Joseph J. Ellis

His Excellency

Copyright: 2004

Pages: 275

Read: Jan. 24-30, 2018

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Paperbackswap

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.

 

Presidential Reading Challenge

Thinking Ahead to My Presidential Reading Challenge

Ok, so back on Tuesday I had mentioned in one of my bookish resolutions/goals that I wanted to start on a presidential reading challenge of some kind. Well here I am today starting the planning process of this challenge. 😀

If you’re curious … this is not some new and exciting idea. I’m not even entirely sure where I first heard about this idea … I’m sure it was some blog post I ran across at some point in time. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who to ultimately credit for this. Either way, there’s a lot of lists out there if you google “presidential reading challenge” It will bring up numerous blog posts about this. The Washington Post even did a profile on some of the various people in the blogosphere who are doing this challenge.

Regardless of where I first heard about this idea ….. there’s one blog in particular that has truly caught my eye. This dude is my true inspiration for this challenge.. He has undertaken the challenge to read more than one book on each president (because how can you really be all-encompassing by just choosing one book per president?) And part of me wants to read every single book he mentions …. the other part of me realizes that this probably won’t be a very realistic goal for me. But one can hope, right? He’s been at this for a little over 5 years and is just now starting out on Richard Nixon.

So. I am embarking on my own Presidential Reading Challenge. The verdict is still out on how many books I will read per president. But it will likely be more than 1 … considering I already have 2 George Washington books and I’m hovering my mouse over that “place order” button on my powells.com cart holding 4 more Washington books (the James Thomas Flexner 4 volume set) Let’s be honest, it would be hard to choose just one book on the big ones – Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, and the like …. and yet there’s that pretty decent stretch where I’m sure one book would suffice (presidents 8-15 … I’m looking at you guys).

I’m going to be reading in order, because my OCD wouldn’t let me do this any other way. And there’s no time line to this. This isn’t something I can finish in a year. This will span multiple years. I’m still unsure how things will go down. I may just totally run out of steam and give up before I ever really get started. But this is something that I’ve been toying with in my head for about the past year. Now is the time to put it in motion!!

I’m still trying to figure out if this is something I want to incorporate here or start a separate blog for. Non-fiction/presidential biographies are not my normal reading, so I’m not sure the audience that this blog has would really be interested in seeing my progress with this challenge. On the other hand, the idea of keeping a separate blog is a little daunting – it’s hard enough to keep this one up sometimes.

So there’s still a lot of kinks to work out in my grand plan (ha!) but in the mean time I’m going to have lots of fun planning out what I’ll read (I love lists!) as well as obtaining the first few I for sure decide on.

P.S. – I totally just purchased the above mentioned 4 books 😀