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National Bestseller

To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose 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. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.

Review

" [Ellis has done it again. This is an important and challenging work: beautifully written, lively, serious and engaging.” —The Boston Globe
 

“Absorbing. . . . An incisive portrait [that] eloquently conveys the magnitude of Washington’s accomplishments.” —The New York Times
 

“Absolutely fascinating. . . . Underscores how extraordinary Washington’s accomplishments really were.” —The Christian Science Monitor

 

“Lively and engaging. . . . An accessible portrait. . . . Ellis writes simply but eloquently. His prose is lucid, graceful and witty, his book is hard to put down. . . . Should be required reading.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

From the Back Cover

The author of seven highly acclaimed books, Joseph J. Ellis has crafted a landmark biography that brings to life in all his complexity the most important and perhaps least understood figure in American history, George Washington. With his careful attention to detail and his lyrical prose, Ellis has set a new standard for biography.
Drawing from the newly" catalogued Washington papers at the University of Virginia, Joseph Ellis paints a full portrait of George Washington''s life and career-from his military years through his two terms as president. Ellis illuminates the difficulties the first executive confronted as he worked to keep the emerging country united in the face of adversarial factions. He richly details Washington''s private life and illustrates the ways in which it influenced his public persona. Through Ellis''s artful narration, we look inside Washington''s" marriage and his subsequent entrance into the upper echelons of Virginia''s plantation society. We come to understand that it was by managing his own" large debts to British merchants that he experienced firsthand the imperiousness of the British Empire. And we watch the evolution of his attitude toward slavery, which led to his emancipating his own slaves in his will. Throughout, Ellis peels back the layers of myth and uncovers for us Washington in the context of eighteenth-century America, allowing us to comprehend the magnitude of his accomplishments and the character of his spirit and mind."
When Washington died in 1799, Ellis tells us," he was eulogized as "first in the hearts of his countrymen." Since then, however, his image has been chisled onto Mount Rushmore and printed on the dollar bill. He is on ourlandscape and in our wallets but not, Ellis argues, in our hearts. Ellis strips away the ivy and legend that have grown up over the Washington statue and recovers the flesh-and-blood man in all his passionate and fully human prowess.
In the pantheon of our republic''s founders, there were many outstanding individuals. And yet each of them-Franklin, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison- acknowledged Washington to be his superior, the only indispensable figure, the one and only "His Excellency." Both physically and politically, Washington towered over his peers for reasons this book elucidates. "His Excellency is a full, glorious, and multifaceted portrait of the man behind our country''s genesis, sure to become the authoritative biography of George Washington for many decades.

"From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Joseph Ellis is the Pulitzer Prize_winning author of Founding Brothers. His portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx, won the National Book Award. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and their youngest son, Alex.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Interior Regions


History first noticed George Washington in 1753, as a daring and resourceful twenty-one-year-old messenger sent on a dangerous mission into the American wilderness. He carried a letter from the governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, addressed to the commander of French troops in that vast region west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and south of the Great Lakes that Virginians called the Ohio Country. He was ordered to lead a small party over the Blue Ridge, then across the Allegheny Mountains, there to rendezvous with an influential Indian chief called the Half-King. He was then to proceed to the French outpost at Presque Isle (present-day Erie, Pennsylvania), where he would deliver his message “in the Name of His Britanic Majesty.” The key passage in the letter he was carrying, so it turned out, represented the opening verbal shot in what American colonists would call the French and Indian War: “The Lands upon the river Ohio, in the Western Parts of the Colony of Virginia, are so notoriously known to be the Property of the Crown of Great Britain, that it is a Matter of equal Concern & Surprize to me, to hear that a Body of French Forces are erecting Fortresses, & making Settlements upon that River within his Majesty’s Dominions.”

The world first became aware of young Washington at this moment, and we get our first extended look at him, because, at Dinwiddie’s urging, he published an account of his adventures, The Journal of Major George Washington, which appeared in several colonial newspapers and was then reprinted by magazines in England and Scotland. Though he was only an emissary—the kind of valiant and agile youth sent forward against difficult odds to perform a hazardous mission—Washington’s Journal provided readers with a firsthand report on the mountain ranges, wild rivers, and exotic indigenous peoples within the interior regions that appeared on most European maps as dark and vacant spaces. His report foreshadowed the more magisterial account of the American West provided by Lewis and Clark more than fifty years later. It also, if inadvertently, exposed the somewhat ludicrous character of any claim by “His Britanic Majesty,” or any European power, for that matter, to control such an expansive frontier that simply swallowed up and spit out European presumptions of civilization.

Although Washington is both the narrator and the central character in the story he tells, he says little about himself and nothing about what he thinks. “I have been particularly cautious,” he notes in the preface, “not to augment.” The focus, instead, is on the knee-deep snow in the passes through the Alleghenies, and the icy and often impassably swollen rivers, where he and his companions are forced to wade alongside their canoes while their coats freeze stiff as boards. Their horses collapse from exhaustion and have to be abandoned. He and fellow adventurer Christopher Gist come upon a lone warrior outside an Indian village ominously named Murdering Town. The Indian appears to befriend them, then suddenly wheels around at nearly point-blank range and fires his musket, but inexplicably misses. “Are you shot?” Washington asks Gist, who responds that he is not. Gist rushes the Indian and wants to kill him, but Washington will not permit it, preferring to let him escape. They come upon an isolated farmhouse on the banks of the Monongahela where two adults and five children have been killed and scalped. The decaying corpses are being eaten by hogs.

In stark contrast to the brutal conditions and casual savagery of the frontier environment, the French officers whom Washington encounters at Fort Le Boeuf and Presque Isle resemble pieces of polite Parisian furniture plopped down in an alien landscape. “They received us with a great deal of complaisance,” Washington observes, the French offering flattering pleasantries about the difficult trek Washington’s party had endured over the mountains. But they also explained that the claims of the English king to the Ohio Country were demonstrably inferior to those of the French king, which were based on Lasalle’s exploration of the American interior nearly a century earlier. To solidify their claim of sovereignty, a French expedition had recently sailed down the Ohio River, burying a series of lead plates inscribed with their sovereign’s seal that obviously clinched the question forever.

The French listened politely to Washington’s rebuttal, which derived its authority from the original charter of the Virginia Company in 1606. It had set the western boundary of that colony either at the Mississippi River or, even more expansively, at the Pacific Ocean. In either case, it included the Ohio Country and predated Lasalle’s claim by sixty years. However persuasive this rather sweeping argument might sound in Williamsburg or London, it made little impression on the French officers. “They told me,” Washington wrote in his Journal, “it was their absolute Design to take Possession of the Ohio, & by G     they wou’d do it.” The French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, Jacques Le Gardner, sieur de Saint Pierre, concluded the negotiations by drafting a cordial letter for Washington to carry back to Governor Dinwiddie that sustained the diplomatic affectations: “I have made it a particular duty to receive Mr. Washington with the distinction owing to your dignity, his position, and his own great merit. I trust that he will do me justice in that regard to you, and that he will make known to you the profound respect with which I am, Sir, your most humble and most obedient servant.”

But the person whom Washington quotes more than any other in his Journal represented yet a third imperial power with its own exclusive claim of sovereignty over the Ohio Country. That was the Half-King, the Seneca chief whose Indian name was Tanacharison. In addition to being a local tribal leader, the Half-King had received his quasi-regal English name because he was the diplomatic representative of the Iroquois Confederation, also called the Six Nations, with its headquarters in Onondaga, New York. When they had first met at the Indian village called Logstown, Tanacharison had declared that Washington’s Indian name was Conotocarius, which meant “town taker” or “devourer of villages,” because this was the name originally given to Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, nearly a century earlier. The persistence of that memory in Indian oral history was a dramatic reminder of the long-standing domination of the Iroquois Confederation over the region. They had planted no lead plates, knew nothing of some English king’s presumptive claims to own a continent. But they had been ruling over this land for about three hundred years.

In the present circumstance, Tanacharison regarded the French as a greater threat to Indian sovereignty. “If you had come in a peaceable Manner like our Brethren the English,” he told the French commander at Presque Isle, “We shou’d not have been against your trading with us as they do, but to come, Fathers, & build great houses upon our Land, & to take it by Force, is what we cannot submit to.” On the other hand, Tanacharison also made it clear that all Indian alliances with European powers and their colonial kinfolk were temporary expediencies: “Both you & the English are White. We live in a Country between, therefore the Land does not belong either to one or the other; but the GREAT BEING above allow’d it to be a Place of Residence for us.”

Washington dutifully recorded Tanacharison’s words, fully aware that they exposed the competing, indeed contradictory, imperatives that defined his diplomatic mission into the American wilderness. For on the one hand he represented a British ministry and a colonial government that fully intended to occupy the Ohio Country with Anglo-American settlers whose presence was ultimately incompatible with the Indian version of divine providence. But on the other hand, given the sheer size of the Indian population in the region, plus their indisputable mastery of the kind of forest-fighting tactics demanded by wilderness conditions, the balance of power in the looming conflict between France and England for European domination of the American interior belonged to the very people whom Washington’s superiors intended to displace.

For several reasons, this story of young Washington’s first American adventure is a good place to begin our quest for the famously elusive personality of the mature man-who-became-a-monument. First, the story reveals how early his personal life became caught up in larger public causes, in this case nothing less grand than the global struggle between the contending world powers for supremacy over half a continent. Second, it forces us to notice the most obvious chronological fact, namely that Washington was one of the few prominent members of America’s founding generation—Benjamin Franklin was another—who were born early enough to develop their basic convictions about America’s role in the British Empire within the context of the French and Indian War. Third, it offers the first example of the interpretive dilemma posed by a man of action who seems determined to tell us what he did, but equally determined not to tell us what he thought about it. Finally, and most importantly, it establishes a connection between Washington’s character in the most formative stage of its development and the raw, often savage, conditions in that expansive area called the Ohio Country. The interior regions of Washington’s personality began to take shape within the interior regions of the colonial frontier. Neither of these places, it turned out, was as vacant as it first appeared. And both of them put a premium on achieving mastery over elemental forces that often defied the most cherished civilized expectations.

Glimpses

Before 1753 we have only glimpses of Washington as a boy and young man. These sparsely documented early years have subsequently been littered with legends and lore, all designed to align Washington’s childhood with either the dramatic achievements of his later career or the mythological imperatives of America’s preeminent national hero. John Marshall, his first serious biographer, even entitled the chapter on Washington’s arrival in the world “The Birth of Mr. Washington,” suggesting that he was born fully clothed and ready to assume the presidency. The most celebrated story about Washington’s childhood—the Parson Weems tale about chopping down the cherry tree (“Father, I cannot tell a lie”)—is a complete fabrication. The truth is, we know virtually nothing about Washington’s relationship with his father, Augustine Washington, except that it ended early, when Washington was eleven years old. In all his voluminous correspondence, Washington mentioned his father on only three occasions, and then only cryptically. As for his mother, Mary Ball Washington, we know that she was a quite tall and physically strong woman who lived long enough to see him elected president but never extolled or even acknowledged his public triumphs. Their relationship, estranged in those later years, remains a mystery during his childhood and adolescence. Given this frustrating combination of misinformation and ignorance, we can only establish the irrefutable facts about Washington’s earliest years, then sketch as best we can the murkier patterns of influence on his early development.

We know beyond any doubt that George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, near the banks of the Potomac River, on February 22, 1732 (New Style). He was a fourth-generation Virginian. The patriarch of the family, John Washington, had come over from England in 1657 and established the Washingtons as respectable, if not quite prominent, members of Virginia society. The Indians had named him “town taker,” not because of his military prowess, but because he had manipulated the law to swindle them out of their land.

The bloodline that John Washington bequeathed to his descendants exhibited three distinctive tendencies: first, a passion for acreage, the more of it the better; second, tall and physically strong males; and third, despite the physical strength, a male line that died relatively young, all before reaching fifty. A quick scan of the genealogy on both sides of young George’s ancestry suggested another ominous pattern. The founder of the Washington line had three wives, the last of whom had been widowed three times. Washington’s father had lost his first wife in 1729, and Mary Ball Washington, his second wife, was herself an orphan whose own mother had been widowed twice. The Virginian world into which George Washington was born was a decidedly precarious place where neither domestic stability nor life itself could be taken for granted. This harsh reality was driven home in April 1743, when Augustine Washington died, leaving his widow and seven children an estate that included ten thousand acres divided into several disparate parcels and forty-nine slaves.

Washington spent his early adolescence living with his mother at Ferry Farm in a six-room farmhouse across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg. He received the modern equivalent of a grade-school education, but was never exposed to the classical curriculum or encouraged to attend college at William and Mary, a deficiency that haunted him throughout his subsequent career among American statesmen with more robust educational credentials. Several biographers have called attention to his hand-copied list of 110 precepts from The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, which was based on rules of etiquette originally composed by Jesuit scholars in 1595. Several of the rules are hilarious (#9, “Spit not into the fire . . . especially if there be meat before it”; #13, “Kill no vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others”); but the first rule also seems to have had resonance for Washington’s later obsession with deportment: “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.” As a reminder of an earlier era’s conviction that character was not just who you were but also what others thought you were, this is a useful point that foreshadows Washington’s flair for disappearing within his public persona. But the more prosaic truth is that Rules of Civility has attracted so much attention from biographers because it is one of the few documents of Washington’s youth that has survived. It is quite possible that he copied out the list as a mere exercise in penmanship.

The two major influences on Washington’s youthful development were his half brother, Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, and the Fairfax family. Lawrence became a surrogate father, responsible for managing the career options of his young protégé, who as a younger son had little hope of inheriting enough land to permit easy entrance into the planter class of Chesapeake society. In 1746, Lawrence proposed that young George enlist as a midshipman in the British navy. His mother opposed the suggestion, as did his uncle in England, who clinched the negative verdict by observing that the navy would “cut him and staple him and use him like a Negro, or rather, like a dog.”

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Gretchen S Langford
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
It seems like the author doesn''t like George Washington
Reviewed in the United States on October 7, 2018
I''ve only read to page 63 but I''m ready to put the book down. I have kept reading up until now because I''ve been waiting for it to get better. I want it to get better. I want Ellis to be done with putting George Washington down and looking at him through such a negative... See more
I''ve only read to page 63 but I''m ready to put the book down. I have kept reading up until now because I''ve been waiting for it to get better. I want it to get better. I want Ellis to be done with putting George Washington down and looking at him through such a negative lens. I want him to prove that he really believes what he states on pg. 39: "Though he was still developing...the outline of Washington''s mature personality was already assuming a discernible shape." I know some biographers either over-appreciate their subjects and others under-appreciate them. This author definitely is under appreciating his. After more than 20 pages I''ve seen no sign of Ellis viewing Washington''s weaknesses and mistakes as indicators of a learning and growing process. Instead he seems to be openly judging him from a fixed mindset. By page 63, the picture of George Washington that is emerging from Ellis''s pen is a selfish, two-faced, conniving man. He''s shown as a fanatic who sees conspiracy where there is none. He weaves a plot that convicts Washington of developing into a conspirator. The author''s word choices and assumptions of Washington''s motivation seem to be revealing the author''s own motives and character, rather than Washington''s. Repeatedly, he draws unsupported conclusions about Washington''s motivation. If I hadn''t read another biography by William Roscoe Thayler, before this one, I would be of the opinion after reading Ellis''s book that George Washington was a bad guy.

Examples of this author''s wording and conclusions:

"In addition to his familiar themes--petitions were worse than worthless, abstract arguments must be accompanied by economic pressures--now he detected a full-blooded conspiracy against American liberty." pg. 62 Is conspiracy (a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful) not a good understanding of the entire relationship between America and Great Britain during this time period? There were secret plots on both sides because both had different goals and motives regarding the future of America. Why does Ellis mock Washington for seeing this conspiracy as if he were a fanatic?

"(A Lukewarm Episcopalian, he never took Communion, tended to talk about ''Providence'' or ''Destiny'' rather than God, and--was this a statement?--preferred to stand rather than kneel when praying.)" pg 45 "was this a statement?" This is the author''s insertion. Why lead the reader by the nose with the author''s personal biases and conclusions?

"...but nothing he ever did had a greater influence on the shape of his own life than the decision to marry Martha Dandridge Custis." pg 40 I was expecting to hear how her faith and goodness helped him develop his own. But the author proceeds to talk about all of her money.

Ellis speaks of rumors about Washington''s fidelity to his wife and then says they were never verified. pg 44 But in my opinion, even speaking about unfounded rumors and gossip is totally disrespectful to anyone, let alone to someone whom we Americans owe so much.

"For the rest of his life, all arguments based on the principle of mutual trust devoid of mutual interest struck him as sentimental nonsense." pg. 39 I totally disagree. Looking at his life as a whole, he sacrificed much more for his country than he ever received from them or from us, who are his beneficiaries, who enjoy the resultant freedom and order of this country.

"Two features of the emerging Washington personality come into focus here: first, a thin-skinned aversion to criticism, especially when the criticism questioned his personal motive, which he insisted were beyond reproach; second, a capacity to play politics effectively while claiming total disinterest in the game." pg. 29 "which he insisted" and "while claiming" Insinuating that Washington was deliberately dishonest and two-faced. Could Ellis not say instead, "It is evident that Washington was still struggling with his ability to take criticism. In all of his actions he strove to do what he believed and understood at that time to be right but he still was learning and growing. His efforts to make a difference in the political arena were motivated by a sincere belief that he knew what was best. As a Virginian land owner, he empathized with others land owners like him and in so doing learned over time to see his own needs and conflicts as similar to others''."

"Finally, this is the kind of man who will regard any failure to meet his exacting standards as a personal affront and persistent failure as evidence of a conspiracy to deprive him of what is rightfully his. Pity the London merchant who has to deal with him." pg. 47

"But while most outspoken opponents of the Stamp Act, those whom Washington called ''the Speculative part,'' emphasized the constitutional argument, his response more directly reflected his personal experience with Cary & Company." pg 52 AND "Once again there was a personal edge to that conviction." pg. 58 These and other similar statements attribute Washington''s motives for revolution as purely mercenary. Ellis doesn''t choose to write with empathy: making a living and building security for posterity was and still is a large part of the American dream.

"HIs singular triumph, in fact the result of multiple efforts over thirteen years of complex negotiations, was largely a product of his status as a veteran of the French and Indian War." pg. 56 This is just one of many instances where Ellis attributes the cause of a result for us. He says Washington''s singular triumph was largely a product of his status.

"Washington was relentless in pressing his claims..." pg 56 Ellis chooses the word "relentless" which, combined with the portrait he continues to paint of this man, makes us believe that he was not only selfish, but relentlessly and heartlessly selfish. Where is the growth mindset he promised us on page 39? It is only to be found in one or two sentences but the rest is negative, critical, and disrespectful. I don''t recommend this book.

I know people aren''t perfect, especially those we revere. In fact I love them all the more when I see they weren''t and then learn from their mistakes. I have no problem seeing weaknesses and mistakes in George Washington but this author is choosing not only to focus in with a high power microscope on all them but to attribute a bunch more that are based on his personal speculation. He does not allow the reader to make those attributions and assessments herself. He leads her by the nose to see things in the negative light that he sees them. He presents evidence with a slanted, biased view that prevents us from seeing the true character of George Washington.
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RJ
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
It''s the life of George Washington at 30,000 feet
Reviewed in the United States on January 2, 2018
At ~275 pages before the acknowledgements, this book naturally leaves one wanting for detail, but is enjoyable and a great introduction or summation of some of the key points in Washington''s eventful life. Prior to picking a Washington bio (having been prompted by... See more
At ~275 pages before the acknowledgements, this book naturally leaves one wanting for detail, but is enjoyable and a great introduction or summation of some of the key points in Washington''s eventful life. Prior to picking a Washington bio (having been prompted by McCullough''s 1776), I had considered just plunging into Chernow''s Washington: A Life, but feeling 800+ pages a bit more than I had confidence to chew, I opted to ease into it with His Excellency, and found myself immediately ordering Washington: A Life upon finishing. I do not regret it, as I enjoyed the read, but would advise someone in a similar situation to just go ahead and read Chernow''s take - I both prefer his style and find the subject of such interest that it requires the greater level of detail that is provided in Washington: A Life.

It''s a good little book (paperback) that is easy to throw in a bag and a quick read that I will likely return to from time-to-time, but I would recommend Chernow''s or McCullough''s works before it.
28 people found this helpful
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Dean 1900
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Too Small for so Large a Figure
Reviewed in the United States on June 24, 2019
I like Joseph Ellis. I have read several of his books on our nation’s beginning. He has dealt with Washington before. This time, however, he made a mistake. The book is both comprehensive and short. It does not work for me. There is no room to follow important events in... See more
I like Joseph Ellis. I have read several of his books on our nation’s beginning. He has dealt with Washington before. This time, however, he made a mistake. The book is both comprehensive and short. It does not work for me. There is no room to follow important events in Washington’s several lives. There is a reason other biographies of our first President are long. Some are three volumes. He did so much. So many of his contemporaries had opinions of him. A biography needs room to breathe. Ellis has allowed this to happen in his other works. Here, we read a dry, direct, and reliable telling of important actions and thoughts but we have no time to enjoy them. Brevity may be the soul of wit but it is not the best way to present such an important figure.
8 people found this helpful
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Bill
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book
Reviewed in the United States on February 5, 2016
I really enjoyed this book. I had neglected our 1st President since high school and feel I learned a lot from this book. Looking for something more in depth, I am now reading "Washington, a Life" by Chernow. This is a more detailed look, but I might not have read it... See more
I really enjoyed this book. I had neglected our 1st President since high school and feel I learned a lot from this book. Looking for something more in depth, I am now reading "Washington, a Life" by Chernow. This is a more detailed look, but I might not have read it without starting on "His Excellency, George Washington." This book is an excellent place to start and an easy read. It is also about 1/2 the lengthj of the Chernow book, so start there.
16 people found this helpful
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Tom Fenton
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An outstanding and compelling read by Joseph J. Ellis
Reviewed in the United States on October 23, 2013
Not having read any biographies specifically about our first president, I was impressed to find one that looked good without being over 500 pages. Ellis’ work came also with the promises attached to having won two Pulitzer Prizes for “Founding Brothers” and “American... See more
Not having read any biographies specifically about our first president, I was impressed to find one that looked good without being over 500 pages. Ellis’ work came also with the promises attached to having won two Pulitzer Prizes for “Founding Brothers” and “American Sphinx”. I was not disappointed.

Reading reviews, I noticed that more than one reviewer chastised Mr Ellis for “disrespect” and what amounts to negativism in regard to Washington. I always read negative reviews because I usually learn more about whether I will find the book interesting and worth my time by the kind of criticism it draws. Deciding to try it mostly because of this criticism, I decided I do not want a white-wash of any historical personage. I want an even handed presentation free from either animosity or excess kindness. I want the truth. Again, I was not disappointed. I find the criticisms completely without foundation. Yes, Mr Washington is presented as having romantic feelings for Mrs Fairfax, but just as truly, it is stated that he resisted all inclinations toward her. Rather than defaming the President, Mr Ellis made him more courageous and admirable. I found no slander in the book; I found no excess criticism or character assassination. Rather, I discovered a man who changed and matured over the early years of his life and learned to control his passions, make wise decisions, and who went on to become the most revered of our forefathers, simply because he WAS totally human and yet controlled himself as well as, if not better than, anyone else of whom I have read.

I am most impressed with this presentation of George Washington. He is no longer a marble mystery shrouded in sweet-smelling words to me. He is a real, living human being. He is, in my opinion, the most impressive human being I have ever read about, other than the only human in history to actually be perfect, Jesus Christ. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not comparing him to the Lord. I am simply saying he is a most impressive man.

As for the content of the book, Ellis says only a small amount about Washington’s youth, gives good coverage to his activities, finances, personality and thoughts during the period of the French & Indian War through the start of the American Revolution. Ellis’ discussion and analysis is logical, easy to follow and helpful. I would classify this biography as being one of the most thorough biographies I have read, yet did not find it tedious or laden with excessive irrelevance. I never got tired of the story or anxious to finish. As a result, I am thoroughly satisfied with this work.

Thank you, Mr. Ellis, for introducing me to His Excellency, George Washington. I am even more indebted than I ever realized to our most illustrious forefather.

This book is highly recommended.

Five satisfied stars.
28 people found this helpful
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Joe
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
High level summary
Reviewed in the United States on January 26, 2020
Like another reviewer posted, the book is a 30,000 foot view of Washington''s life. It''s a short, easy read that provides a good overview of the major events of Washington''s life and makes attempts at giving the reader a glimpse of Washington, the Man. However, because of... See more
Like another reviewer posted, the book is a 30,000 foot view of Washington''s life. It''s a short, easy read that provides a good overview of the major events of Washington''s life and makes attempts at giving the reader a glimpse of Washington, the Man. However, because of its brevity, it lacks the depth and direct source material that would lend it more academic weight. The author tended to paraphrase material where he should have included more direct quotes and left me questioning some of his assertions because he takes the liberty of drawing far reaching conclusions without any detail. Simply putting something in black and white doesn''t make it so; defend it. In the end, I found myself looking up other authors that might provide more detail on the subject because high level summaries (and that''s what this book is) leave a lot of room for personal interpretation. I would only recommend this book as a supplement to others on the subject.
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Eagle101
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Huzzahs for George Washington
Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2014
Ellis does an excellent job in his research of our most famous Founding Father. What I took away most from this book was Washington''s constant fixation on what people would think about him in the future. He was overly-conscious of how his words and actions might be... See more
Ellis does an excellent job in his research of our most famous Founding Father. What I took away most from this book was Washington''s constant fixation on what people would think about him in the future. He was overly-conscious of how his words and actions might be interpreted and went to great lengths to ensure that they would be held in high regard. His line of thinking was that the manner in which a person would be regarded was solely dictated by posterity.

Washington was also troubled by the contradiction of fighting for liberty and being a slave owner. Although he treated his slaves with fairness, he was very much troubled with his ownership of them. But in his last will, Washington freed all his slaves and even dictated that the young and older slaves were cared for properly.

I do recommend this book to anyone who has an interested in our First President
7 people found this helpful
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Kyle Tress
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An expert character study of George Washington
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2015
As Ellis writes in the introduction to His Excellency, The Founding Fathers acknowledged George Washington as their unquestioned superior. They did so despite being better educated, more politically astute, wiser, and smarter than he. Why was this the case? How did the... See more
As Ellis writes in the introduction to His Excellency, The Founding Fathers acknowledged George Washington as their unquestioned superior. They did so despite being better educated, more politically astute, wiser, and smarter than he. Why was this the case? How did the ambitious young Washington rise through the ranks of the Virginia elite to lead the Continental Army and the nascent United States? These are the central questions of Joseph Ellis’ brilliant work.

His Excellency is not a biography in the traditional sense, but a succinct character study of Washington. It serves as an approachable, big picture introduction to “The Foundingest Father of them all”. Ellis doesn’t shy away from the rough edges of Washington’s personality, nor does he attempt to psychoanalyze him. He sticks to the written record and constructs a portrait of a self-educated man who furthered himself through challenging experiences, powerful friendships, marriage, and luck.

Ellis delights in knocking down popular myths. He asserts that Washington was no military genius, having lost more battles than he won. He narrowly avoids the complete destruction of the Continental Army in New York, and it takes much convincing by subordinate officers to adopt a “Cincinnatus Strategy” which ultimately wins the war. But Washinton’s failures and missteps never weaken his resolve. His leadership is rarely questioned, and his character reaches legendary status when he willingly resigns his commission at the end of the war rather than seizing power for himself.

His Excellency is the perfect read for someone who is interested in the life of George Washington, but might be intimidated by the length of other biographies. It is a great place to start the exploration of a complex character who is shrouded in myth.
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Joe Salter
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very Readable
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2021
For a short biography, a lot of interesting information. I''m from England so had very little knowledge of American history but this is an unbiased, balanced view of a man, who, as an American national icon, could easily have been glorified in this book. it brings Washington...See more
For a short biography, a lot of interesting information. I''m from England so had very little knowledge of American history but this is an unbiased, balanced view of a man, who, as an American national icon, could easily have been glorified in this book. it brings Washington to life as a complex, real human being, Very readable.
For a short biography, a lot of interesting information.
I''m from England so had very little knowledge of American history but this is an unbiased, balanced view of a man, who, as an American national icon, could easily have been glorified in this book.
it brings Washington to life as a complex, real human being, Very readable.
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cartoisb
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Informative and Enjoyable
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 14, 2005
Ellis''s biography of George Washington is an enjoyable read and provides a good insight into the importance of George Washington to the birth of the United States as a country. The book is well-written and the story is interesting and entertaining. The reasons for only four...See more
Ellis''s biography of George Washington is an enjoyable read and provides a good insight into the importance of George Washington to the birth of the United States as a country. The book is well-written and the story is interesting and entertaining. The reasons for only four stars are that in certain places the author states conclusions without providing detail to support them and in some cases the writing style feels like a transcript of a university lecture rather than a book. But overall well worth reading and highly recommended.
Ellis''s biography of George Washington is an enjoyable read and provides a good insight into the importance of George Washington to the birth of the United States as a country. The book is well-written and the story is interesting and entertaining. The reasons for only four stars are that in certain places the author states conclusions without providing detail to support them and in some cases the writing style feels like a transcript of a university lecture rather than a book. But overall well worth reading and highly recommended.
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Mike
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
great insight and interesting facts
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 27, 2016
A thoroughly enjoyable read with lots of sources, great insight and interesting facts. I knew little of Washington before reading this and I am glad I bought it.
A thoroughly enjoyable read with lots of sources, great insight and interesting facts. I knew little of Washington before reading this and I am glad I bought it.
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Awtsana Z Misghna
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good quality
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 23, 2020
I like it. It looks brand new. Happy and ready to read it. Thank you.
I like it. It looks brand new. Happy and ready to read it. Thank you.
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Karin Urban
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Ein "Monument" wird menschlich
Reviewed in Germany on March 20, 2009
Joseph J. Ellis zeichnet den Lebensweg Washington''s sensibel nach. Er verbindet eine profunde Kenntnis der Zeit und ihrer Ideen mit einem erhellenden Blick durch die Brille moderner Psychologie. So gelingt es ihm, ein lebendiges und überzeugenes Bild von Washington zu...See more
Joseph J. Ellis zeichnet den Lebensweg Washington''s sensibel nach. Er verbindet eine profunde Kenntnis der Zeit und ihrer Ideen mit einem erhellenden Blick durch die Brille moderner Psychologie. So gelingt es ihm, ein lebendiges und überzeugenes Bild von Washington zu zeichnen und zu erklären, "wie er tickte". Ein "Monument" wird lebendig und menschlich, ohne dabei vom Sockel gestoßen zu werden. Sehr empfehlenswert.
Joseph J. Ellis zeichnet den Lebensweg Washington''s sensibel nach. Er verbindet eine profunde Kenntnis der Zeit und ihrer Ideen mit einem erhellenden Blick durch die Brille moderner Psychologie. So gelingt es ihm, ein lebendiges und überzeugenes Bild von Washington zu zeichnen und zu erklären, "wie er tickte".
Ein "Monument" wird lebendig und menschlich, ohne dabei vom Sockel gestoßen zu werden.
Sehr empfehlenswert.
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