1 George Washington

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1 George Washington

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Editado: Jun 14, 2012, 3:14pm

Here's how the group has progressed on General George...

Patriarch:George Washington and the new American Nation by Richard Norton Smith
General George Washington: a military life by Edward G Lengel
Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner
George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Washington: A Biography by Douglas Southall Freeman
The World of George Washington
George Washington: A Life
George Washington by Paul Leicester Ford
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington - Richard Brookhiser
The Ascent of George Washington
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Election 1789 Washington (69 electoral votes) vs. unopposed
Election 1792 Washington (132 electoral votes) vs. Adams (77)

George Washington had to borrow money to go to his own inauguration.
George Washington who commanded the Continental Army as a four-star general was promoted posthumously to the position of six-star "General of the Armies of Congress" by an order of Jimmy Carter, who felt America's first President should also be America's highest military official.
When George Washington was elected President, there was a king in France, a czarina in Russia, an emperor in China, and a shogun in Japan. Only the office of President remains.
Washington was one of two Presidents that signed the U.S. Constitution.
George Washington was a half first cousin twice removed of James Madison, a second cousin seven times removed of Queen Elizabeth II, a third cousin twice removed of Robert E. Lee, and an eighth cousin six times removed of Winston Churchill.
Washington was the only president elected unanimously, receiving all 69 of the electoral votes cast.
Washington carried a portable sundial.
Washington's inauguration speech was 183 words long and took 90 seconds to read. This was because of his false teeth.
Washington loved to help fight fires.
Washington's favorite sports were fishing and fox hunting.
Washington's face was scarred from smallpox.
Washington was the only president to die in the 1700s.
George Washington had two ice cream freezers installed at his home in Mount Vernon.
George Washington left no direct descendant. Though his wife Martha had four children by a previous marriage., Washington never sired a child to continue his line.
Washington once issued an order that forbade swearing throughout the U.S. Army.
Washington used to take a boat from Mount Vernon to Washington D.C. to get to work.
Washington's IQ was estimated to be about 125.
He was a very loud snorer.

Dez 11, 2008, 12:08am

Interesting collection of facts. The impact of his having been the only president to die in the 1700s is somewhat mitigated, I think, by there having been only two to serve in that century... But nonetheless, interesting.

Washington is such a tempting topic for biographers, I'm sure there are many good biographies out there. The one I really enjoyed was George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall http://www.librarything.com/work/148642

Engaging, comprehensive, and full of the history of the times admixed with the life of the man himself. As a good biography should be. I actually listened to it on audiotape in the car, and it was readily absorbed in that format.

Dez 11, 2008, 12:35am

Cheli---not sure where the tidbit about taking the boat from Mt V to Washington came from. I'll have to research, but I don't think DC even existed during Wasington's tenure. He did take a boat from Mt Vernon up the Potomac to Alexandria VA.

Having lived in Alexandria, and in a house that actually stood on the site of one of George's 5 farms, I remember when they rebuilt the dock at Mt Vernon. I love these trivia bits...maybe we can get the correct answer from a reader of one of the hundreds of good biographies out there.

Dez 11, 2008, 10:10am

I did a quick search on wikipedia. Georgetown was chartered by the Province of Maryland in 1751. Alexandria was chartered in 1749. George Washington selected the site for the federal district that became the city of Washington in the Territory of Columbia. Much later these were united as the District of Columbia. So it's likely that he did indeed take a boat across the Potomac to Washington, but not as part of his responsibilities as President, since the capital was Philadelphia at the time.

Decent wikipedia page, by the way.

Dez 12, 2008, 2:57pm

Thanks Jim, for verifying that info. I got all the Trivia from a Trivia page for presidents.

Editado: Dez 18, 2008, 12:35pm

Picked up my first President today - Patriarch for George. It's supposed to go in depth on the problems during his presidency so I can't wait to start it.

12/18 I'm gettingthis book out and starting it today!

Dez 15, 2008, 5:44pm

Not trying to be a nitpicker, but should we define "biography"? This books purports to start at his presidency -which to me puts it in the category of other books. Are we going to define bio as the story of his life, starting somewhere close to birth with discussions of person influential in early life, etc, moving on thru all years. Or is any book that touches on the presidential years going to count.

Should this be a discussion on the general tab instead so we can all pitch in?

Dez 15, 2008, 6:19pm

I wanted to start with this one and if I feel that I didn't get enough early years I may get another. I don't want to be so restrictivve that we are eliminating books simply because they don't go back far enough or end before he dies, I'm really looking for something that tells me about his presidential years. I've heard so much about his revolutionary years (Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware,etc.) but never very much about what he went through as the first President. That's why I chose this book above others.

I think each reader needs to determine what they want to "learn" from the challenge and each president. It may be something different from each guy.
One of the reasons I want to read them in order is to see if there is something that leads me to want to know more about the next guy because of what happened to the guy before him.

I think that this does need to be on the general thread so that everyone is included, I wil copy are comments and post them there.

Dez 15, 2008, 8:54pm

I've picked His Excellency: George Washington and An Imperfect God as my January President reads. The first is a more classic bio, the second looks at Washington through his relationships with his slaves and the issue of slavery in general.

Dez 15, 2008, 9:49pm

Cheli...I think that's the way to go--let everyone decide depth of the work they want to read and the order in which they want to do. I like the idea of reading in order, but don't want to spend a long time waiting to find the next one....that's how I got off track last time. Couldn't find a good one of Monroe, and went on to read cozies instead.

Drneutron...Imperfect God looks like a great one for my ancillary list. I'm going to try to make the first book for each pres a true bio, but will be keeping a side list and definitely doing some side reading on specific issues. That sounds like a great one.

I think I'm going to start with the one volume Washington: The Indispensible Man by James Flexner. His original work is four volumes and highly acclaimed, and I'd like to read that, but with the 999 challenge going at the same time, I think I'll start with the single volume. Reserve the right to change my mind of course. And I'm waiting to see what others come up with in suggestions.

Dez 27, 2008, 2:58am

I ordered the book His Excellency: George Washington, also. I won't be able to start reading until after the first because I am going out of town. I am excited about starting this challenge! :)

Editado: Jan 16, 2009, 6:27pm

BOOK TITLE: Patriarch: George Washington and the New American nation
Author: Richard Norton Smith
Read: Dec 18 - Jan 1
Category: Biography
Pages: 448

I just finished this superb book! It was kind of hard to start but once the author got on a roll, it was great! There were so many things that I never knew that came out in this book. My review is kind of long (just click on the touchstone and you'll see it) but I wanted to do him justice. I would definitely recommend this book if you want to find out about the startup government and how it survived.


Jan 1, 2009, 2:24pm

tutu - FYI

In the Washington book, it did make note that after he retired, he was still overseeing the "Federal City" construction and often took a boat from Alexandria port to the Georgetown port to review progress.

Jan 1, 2009, 2:52pm

Good to know...

Jan 1, 2009, 6:42pm

Speaking of Washington's oversight of the Federal City construction, there are some great scenes in the PBS John Adams miniseries showing John and Abigail arriving at the White House during construction, and living for quite a while amidst the work.

Jan 1, 2009, 7:20pm

I read His Excellency when it first came out, and consider it one of Ellis' best.

Jan 5, 2009, 9:11pm

I read His Excellency a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. We are truly lucky that he was chosen to be our first president. It took a really extraordinary person to make the decisions that he did and to unite our country.

Jan 5, 2009, 9:29pm

I agree. After reading the Patriarch I was stunned because you never hear about all he went through with the new government, only about his war record.

Jan 22, 2009, 12:24am

Awhile back, I read James Thomas Flexner's outstanding one volume biography of George Washington. It's called Washington: The Indispensable Man. I think it was about 450 pages long.

Flexner is a prominent Washington scholar who has also written a 4-volume biography of Washington.

I would definitely recommend this one.

Jan 26, 2009, 8:52pm

Just finished His Excellency: George Washington. I've always enjoyed Revolutionary War history but never actually read a George bio. The book was very good. As others have said, most people know his part in the Revolution but not quite as much about his Presidency and his retirement years. This book does a good job covering those years.

Jan 26, 2009, 9:50pm

I'm about 2/3 of the way through His Excellency. I agree - it's very good. My only criticism so far is that the reader really should be familiar with the basic history of the American revolutionary period. Ellis goes for larger themes and an understanding of Washington himself rather than a detailed retelling of events. It worked for me very well, but others may not have the needed background.

Jan 28, 2009, 2:31pm

I'm glad to here so many good things about His Excellency - I just ordered it the other day. I'm a little slow getting started here, but it's because I only allow myself to place book orders once a month!

Jan 28, 2009, 9:04pm

Now that I'm done, I can heartily recommend His Excellency. It held up well to the end. I was fascinated with Washington's second retirement - he entertained anybody who dropped by!

Jan 30, 2009, 9:47am

Alexander Hamilton has a lot of detailed interesting look into Washington's Presidency (and Adams), and so I'll use the Hamilton book as a placeholder until I find something more focused on Washington.

Even though the book is focused on Hamilton, it is filled with information about Washington and Adams and their presidencies. Less information on Jefferson, and almost no information on Jefferson's first term (when Hamilton was still alive).

Quite detailed about the era, and the various "names" of that era. Interesting look at Madison, Jefferson, Aaron Burr, George Clinton, and other big names of the era.

Jan 30, 2009, 1:49pm

OK, well, these aren't biographies, per se, but as the comments above suggest that I can choose what I want to get out of this, I'm counting the following for what I've read on Washington. I'll be upfront that most likely, the other books I select on other presidents may very well not be cradle to grave biographies.

General George Washington: a military life - this was an interesting account focusing on his military/military administrative career and goes back to his role in the French and Indian war before getting into Revolutionary times. I thought it interesting because it suggested he really grew into his own over his military careers, showing real growth.

1776 - who can resist McCullough? Though, I read this after reading Washington's Crossing and thought that 1776 was a little more cramped than McCullough's other writing due to both its brevity and its adherence to just examining this particular year in somewhat of a vacuum, rather than as the continuum of events that led up to and followed. Washington's Crossing was a great read and I found myself wishing there were more of it as I neared the end.

Jan 30, 2009, 6:25pm

#25 I also though 1776 felt incomplete, since it doesn't tell a complete story of anything. But he told us up front that it was going to be just the significant events of that one year, and it was. I wasn't ready for it to end, though, since the story wasn't over yet!

Jan 30, 2009, 7:15pm

bfertig, it all balances out in the end. Someone could choose to read all the slim American Presidents series volumes (125-150 pages each) and just scratch the surface for each. Many will probably go in depth on the presidents who are of most interest to them.

There aren't any quizzes at the end (unless Cheli is going to surprise us?)

Jan 30, 2009, 9:23pm

I hadn't thought about it, but maybe I should.

Jan 30, 2009, 11:54pm

>26 sjmccreary:
I thought 1776 was just right. It had limited aims, and accomplished these with with a deft and picturesque brush. No substitute for a biography of Washington, but as a portrait of a crucial moment in America's founding, a satisfying dish indeed.

Fev 1, 2009, 12:33am

I also read His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis and I thought that it was just great. This book was extremely well-written and I want to read more from Ellis. I learned so much about Washington.

Mar 4, 2009, 6:19pm

I haven't read this one--I just came upon it at the History Book Club website. It sounds interesting. Washington sat for 28 different portrait artists during his lifetime.

The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art by Hugh Howard

Mar 24, 2009, 11:48pm

I finished the Joseph J. Ellis biography, His Excellency: George Washington.

The first half or so, before Washington became president, did not hold my interest and it took me forever to slog through it. However, it picked up once Ellis reached Washington's presidency, I thought.

This book did refresh my memory as to many of the key issues of the revolutionary war era and so now I feel more comfortable moving on to John Adams.

Editado: Abr 3, 2009, 2:47pm

Hi everyone, I'm new to this group, and I recently read His Excellency and I guess I'm the dissenting voice here, I did not think it was that great. I've read much better bios, I got the distinct impression Ellis didn't even like who he was writing about! It was obviously well researched, but I thought it was dry, I agree with lindapanzo that it picked up considerably once Washington was president. I learned a great deal about him, but I just can't say the book was all that entertaining. Just because the book is a historic biography doesn't mean it has to be dull and crammed full of facts. Maybe I'm just not too fond of Ellis' style, it just sounded like he an axe to grind while writing it, not a flattering portrait of Washington, IMHO.

Abr 3, 2009, 2:59pm

ktleyed: I'm reading His Excellency now, and I agree with you about Ellis. He seems to believe that he's a wonderful writer, and that really annoys me.

Abr 3, 2009, 3:01pm

#34 scaifea - yup, I got the same impression. Even his preface alludes to it a bit.

Abr 4, 2009, 12:55pm

From the mixed reviews of His Excellency I'm glad that I read Patriarch instead. I thought Norton really admired Washington and made a big effort to show all that Washington had to go through to keep on a bipartisan road between Adams and Jefferson. The book mainly centered around his presidency so it was very enlightening to me since most of what I knew before was Revolutionary War related.

Maio 20, 2009, 11:32am

Now that the Spring Semester is over, I'm finally able to start this challenge. I just checked George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall and hope to get started in the next day or two.

Maio 20, 2009, 8:07pm


Glad that you are getting a chance to get started. Be sure and let us know what you think about this bio.

Editado: Maio 20, 2009, 9:28pm

*pipes up from the peanut gallery*

I enjoyed Randall's book. Listened to it on audiotape. It did a nice job with GW's not-so-spectacular adventure in the French and Indian War, and how it made him one of the very few with military experience in 1775. Advance planning was not a bit part of the Revolution!

But it worked out in the end, depending on your point of view ;-D

Editado: Maio 21, 2009, 1:10pm

Lengel also did a good job covering that aspect in his book. It was interesting to contrast the mediocrity Lengel exposes in Washington's early career with the brilliance Fischer expounds on in his later career. Good to see evidence that even the greats learn from experience.

Maio 21, 2009, 9:19pm

>40 GoofyOcean110:
That's a great point, because while GW may have showed promise before the opportunity for greatness was thrust upon him, no one could have predicted it from his military past. Perhaps from his bearing, from his personal rectitude, from his leadership skills, etc, but not as a military leader. Rare it is that just the right person was in the right place as the right time.

Maio 22, 2009, 9:22am

I always looked at his early career as his learning curve. He made some mistakes that he took to heart and it showed in his later performance. He also later had a fair measure of luck thrown his way that he knew how to make the most of.

Maio 29, 2009, 7:37am

Finally finished His Excellency. Ugh. I hope my other choices turn out better. The content was interesting, but, again, the writing was irritating.
Up next for me is John Adams by David McCullough.

Maio 29, 2009, 9:07am

I actually really liked His Excellency. It kind of started off dry, so I was unsure at the beginning, but by the end I thought the author had succeeded in transforming Washington from the "oldest, deadest white guy" in our history to an actual human being.

The other thing I liked about the book was that it actually said what Washington thought about the American Revolution. That is a major theme of the Jefferson books I read -- that Jefferson viewed it as not only a political revolution, but a social one also, doing away with both the class sytem and a strong federal government -- so I thought Ellis's discussion of Washington's views -- which were far more pragmatic than Jefferson's -- was very interesting. I wish McCullough would have gone more into what Adams thought the American Revolution actually meant in his book, like Ellis did in His Excellency.

Maio 31, 2009, 7:30pm

I just started reading Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman. It is considered to be the definitive biography on Washington. I'll admit to cheating a little and reading the abridged version rather than all 7 volumes.

Jun 1, 2009, 9:04pm

I can't blame you for the abridged version if unabridged is 7 volumes! The whole idea is to get the information that you want for each president so if abridged gives you that, go for it!

Jun 1, 2009, 11:05pm

I will eventually read the full biography. I'm just waiting for either Easton Press or The Folio Society to publish them again.

Jun 2, 2009, 11:40am

I visited Mt. Vernon for the first time last weekend and George has gone up further in my estimation as a Renaissance kind of guy. I think he would be pleased overall with how things have been maintained except for one thing. There were some minor issues in need of restoration and a guide did reveal that the foundations were in serious need of work, but the thing that concerned me was the lack of cleaning of the interior of the home. I realize it must be done delicately, but the layers of dirt and cobwebs on the furniture, moldings, etc. reflect not short term, but years of neglect. Surely to goodness some interns could be found who with the proper instruction could clean the place up. Since Mt. Vernon is privately owned and apparently a money maker I can't imagine what excuse there could be for this. Even if George didn't care I think Martha would be pissed.

Editado: Jun 2, 2009, 5:32pm

Varielle.....Before we moved to Maine, I lived for several years less than a mile from MT Vernon--in fact my house was on one of his original five farms. I am quite familiar with the site and the recent upgrades are, as you reported, really well done.

However, I do want to gently correct what seems to be a perception that MV is a money-maker. It's not. While it takes in money, the balance sheet is precarious, and they are always looking for grants, for volunteers, doing special projects (one year we 'bought' a window so that those apertures could be upgraded/replaced to save heat/humidity, etc.) I'm sorry to hear that it needed cleaning, and you're right--there's no excuse for that unless it was after a major tourist event (the place gets very dirty very fast whenever large crowds traipse thru).

Let's hope they get it cleaned up and keep up the marvelous work. To any of the rest of you, if you've never visited, be sure to go if you get to the DC area. It is well worth the 1/2 hour drive down the Mt Vernon Parkway (in any season one of the most beautiful drives in the country).

ETA: here's a link to Mt Vernon's Homepage Enjoy...

Jun 2, 2009, 6:24pm

I visited Mt Vernon for the first time last year - on a cold and rainy day in March. It was too gloomy indoors to notice whether there were dust or cobwebs. But I was impressed with the entire estate and the care that has been taken to keep it intact - especially the effort to purchase the land across the river to prevent it from being developed and preserving the view from the house. I can't wait to go back again on a dry and sunny day and spend more time strolling the grounds.

We took the metro from DC and transferred to a bus out to the estate - a relaxing and easy trip that only cost a couple of bucks - and a chance to get some reading done!

Jun 2, 2009, 9:55pm

I fell in love with the color of paint, verdigris green, in the dining room. Tons of people tramping through can create a lot of dirt. No, I imagine no one is getting rich there and I know it's expensive to keep an old structure from falling completely apart, so they are likely paddling hard to stay above water. Though they did emphasize they are the most visited home in the US and have retained all the copyrights to interior photography, and the restaurants and gift shops seem to be doing a brisk business. It did seem that efforts were started, but left unfinished. For instance, a great deal of trouble was apparently gone to in order to have the vegetable and flower garden going for the season, but the plants hadn't been maintained. Having hired a fair number of interns eager to work for free, for very little, just for college credit or to slap something impressive on their resume, I can't help but think that a semester or a summer at Mt. Vernon would be a great and apparently missed opportunity for history, museum studies, or parks/req majors out there. I feel like going back and taking my dust rag. Hopefully, this is just an anomaly and when I go back someday all will be well.

Jun 29, 2009, 10:05pm

I just finished Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman. This was a little hard going until it reached his Presidency. I do wander how much was lost in the abridgement. Overall this was a very thorough biography on Washington. His character really comes through the pages. It was interesting to note how he never allowed personal ambitions to cloud his judgment to what was best for America.

Jun 30, 2009, 9:04am


I found the same thing.. he really was a dedicated patriot. He wanted on the best, even if it wasn't the best thing for him.

Jun 30, 2009, 11:15am

Hi everyone.

I am almost finished with The World of George Washington by Richard M. Ketchum. It isn't a very good (as in indepth) look at Washington but it had maps and pictures. I just love maps and pictures. :) Ketchum seemed to skim over Washington's life but that is OK with me. I'm not up on my history the way I should be. This book seemed to give me direction and an easy history lesson. I have George Washington:A Life by Willard Sterne Randall waiting in the wings.

Jun 30, 2009, 1:09pm

#54 it had maps and pictures. I just love maps and pictures. Me too. :-)

Editado: Jan 4, 2010, 9:47am


I've read and listened to a number of presidential biographies in the past, but won't be counting them since I've decided to start this project like my country anew.

finished 8/3/2009
Title: His Excellency : George Washington
Author: Joseph J. Ellis

I'm reading in order and have just finished my first of the three by Joseph J. Ellis which I intend to read. I thought that it was very good, though not quite great.

Ago 10, 2009, 12:44pm

I finished His Excellency last evening and was very impressed, by both the man and the writer. I've never been much of a bio reader (so how, exactly, did I get involved with this challenge?), but the book kept me very interested. I've got Flexner's Washington: The Indispensable Man ready to read but will save it for later, because I'm anxious to get on with the challenge. Next up, McCullough's John Adams.

What I found most interesting was (1) how much unlikeable stuff is actually known about GW; (2) how he really IS the father of our country; (3) and how little I'm liking Jefferson at the moment, looking at him from the perspective given by Ellis. (I've got Ellis' American Sphinx for my Jefferson book, so that should be an interesting juxtaposition.)

Ago 13, 2009, 8:43pm

His Excellency is actually not a great Washington bio and it is, in my opinion, one of Ellis' weaker books, although I enjoyed reading it. The best one in my opinion is Flexner's Indispensable Man which truly captures the man and his critical place in our history. There would have been no successful revolution nor no successful American republic without Washington, I would wager.

The interesting thing about Washington is that it was as if fate put him on a path to play the role that he played.

He inadvertently bumbled into almost single-handedly starting the Seven Years War (the French & Indian War), which is THE event and its aftermath that led to the Revolution. He shows up in uniform -- twice the size of every other man in attendance -- at the Continental Convention and becomes commanding general. Earlier in his life, he had contracted smallpox in the West Indies, so during a smallpox epidemic that claimed perhaps thousands during the war, Washington is immune. He also seems immune to bullets, cold, deprivation, and other disease. He loses almost every battle hut manages to claim victory simply by avoiding losing. Then he does the unthinkable and relinquishes power. Later, when the nascent democracy is struggling, he re-emerges and is the first President, and then he relinquishes power again. He is vain, he is not too bright, he is prideful, he is arrogant in his own way, he is thin-skinned, but yet he is great because at the end of it all he puts his state, his country, his countrymen before him.

There is little to like about Washington when you get to know him, but there is enough to admire that you want to bow to him as he passes you in the historical pantheon of great men.

Editado: Ago 14, 2009, 12:01am

I agree he wasn't the smartest man, but as you said he did put the nation before himself and that I think is what made him a great leader for the nation at the time they needed such a man.

Ago 28, 2009, 10:23pm

George Washington by Paul Leicester Ford
A simplistic but unusal treatment of an important life. The original publication was 1896. This is a presentation of an honest man who felt a responsibility to serve. I don't see Washington as a person who was out for personal aggrandizement.

Ago 29, 2009, 3:11am

Actually, while the later Washington ultimately put the needs of the emerging United States well before his own ambitions, the younger Washington was driven largely by that ambition for personal wealth and for position.

Ago 29, 2009, 10:07am

Maybe it was the way the book was written, maybe it was that my deep read of it was quite a while ago, but I missed that part of the man. It wasn't an impression that lodged in my mind from reading this book. I can readily believe that there was an ambition for wealth and position, the existence of Mt Vernon would attest to that. I still like my first impression though.

Ago 29, 2009, 11:03am

Well I haven't read the Ford book so I can't speak to it, but I might generalize in that the majority of 19th century treatments of Washington were purely laudatory and many were -- like Weems' bio -- pure mythology.

Washington was a complex character and perhaps the most difficult of the founders to get to know. He was aloof in his life and carried with him a kind of almost impenetrable dignity. There is a story -- I don't know if it is true or not -- about a lawmaker who dared another to simply touch Washington's sleeve. The story has it that the man took up the dare but mostly wilted at the icy glare that he provoked from the great man.

But Washington had many flaws and all of the current historical studies underscore these as well as the elements of his character that we otherwise celebrate.

He was a very vain man, very thin-skinned to real or perceived rebuke and he was highly ambitious for wealth, power and prestige. It has been suggested by more than one biographer that had the British granted him the military commission in the English army that he most coveted, the course of the Revolution might have been very different. (The same argument has been made about Franklin, who was denied the position of chief postmaster he so wanted.)

Of course, without Washington it is dubious that the American Revolution or the foundation of the new government would have followed the courses they did.

Ago 29, 2009, 5:18pm

I think your last sentence is a very fair statement and it should probably be copied and pasted to the bios of the first four presidents. It is astonishing that all the necessary men lived at the same time in the same general area and with the same aspirations for that land in which they lived. We would probably have to journey back to the very beginning of the Christian Era to find such a felicitous circumstance. Having said that, there are a lot of cultures about which I know little enough to make that a categorical statement.
Any way you look ai it, we who enjoy the fruits of their labors are very lucky people .

Ago 29, 2009, 5:24pm

Well I'm not sure I would go along with the Christian era comments, but yes gmiller you are right in that were very fortunate to have that group of men working in combination towards the common goal -- our new nation. May I strongly recommend to you the Joseph Ellis book: Founding Brothers -- it will further underscore this appreciation of our good fortune in this regard.

Ago 29, 2009, 7:39pm

Thanks, I've ordered a copy.

Ago 29, 2009, 7:39pm

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Ago 29, 2009, 7:49pm

gmiller -- let me know what you think when you read it. I have met Ellis and read many of his books & I believe that is the best one!

Ago 29, 2009, 11:51pm

Will do.

Editado: Set 1, 2009, 8:41pm

By the way, so far on Washington I have read His Excellency by Ellis and Washington The Indispensible Man by Flexner.

I have also read a number of books where Washington is a critical character, including Founding Brothers by Ellis and American Creation also by Ellis

Editado: Out 4, 2009, 9:18am

I finished His Excellency this morning. Enjoyed it, but glad I had already read some other books, such as McCullough's 1776, that fill in some of the detail that Ellis skims over. My experience with Ellis is that he's very analytical, and this is more of an analytical look at Washington's record and legacy than a detailed look at his life a pure biographer might give. I think both are actually needed. I might eventually seek out another bio of GW to round out my impressions.

Next up is Patricia Brady's biography of Martha Washington. I'll post in the First Ladies thread when I'm done with that one.

Out 4, 2009, 3:36pm

Ludmilla -- read the Flexner one volume Washington bio -- excellent!

Abr 3, 2010, 10:32am

Completed my 8th President when I finished His Excellency by Joseph Ellis.

Maio 7, 2010, 2:15pm

Here is another book about Washngton to add to the list.

Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington - Richard Brookhiser

I read this probably about 5 years ago, I checked it out of the library. Good book, enjoyed it a lot. Also liked Brookhiser's "Alexander Hamilton: American" which I read around the same time.

Bill Masom

Maio 25, 2010, 9:27am

I read The Ascent of George Washington in March. Really enjoyed it.

Jul 20, 2010, 7:20pm

I read His Excellency by Ellis, and concur with what many here have already said about it.

The American Presidents Series has a George Washington bio written by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn. It's a good overview, but leans a little toward worship.

Forrest MacDonald's The Presidency of George Washington is an outstanding academic look at Washington's Presidency which casts the man as a conduit for the ambitions of Jefferson and Hamilton. It looks at some of the political criticism he received, and how it really got to him. The book is 186 pages, and is part of the Kansas University series on JUST the presidencies, although some biographical info is given as background. As someone who just finished student teaching US History in HS, I really have enjoyed the series, although a couple of the books have been stinkers. There's a lot to be said for a cogent writing style. Ellis is good at that.

Ago 14, 2010, 12:59pm

I, like so many other here, read His Excellency. Took me only 5 days so I found it to be a quick and fairly easy read. I have to say, while it was a good study of George Washington, I don't feel that it really gave the story of George Washington, which may be due to him being such a public figure and losing the private man who he was (along with Martha burning their correspondence, what a historical tragedy).

Another detraction I had, while not saying the books was compromised or saying anything truly negative about Ellis, I believe his own personal bias/feelings/politics/views may have crept into the book, causing Washington to get a little lost along the way. I'm reading American Sphinx for Thomas Jefferson, so I'm hoping I don't get the same feeling there as well.

Ago 19, 2010, 11:46pm

George Washington: A Life by Willard Sterne Randall

When I picked up this book, I didn't know whether to expect a paean to an American demigod or an expose on the shortcomings of the rich and famous. Mr. Randall did a good job of keeping the middle ground. I really got a good impression of Washington as a human being, not just some guy who sprung from the Earth full grown in military uniform and spent all his time chopping down cherry trees and posing for paintings.

My first reaction to the book, as Mr. Randall started recounting George Washington's ancestry, was "Gee, maybe I should have started with some British or colonial history." Of course, following that road would just keep sending me back further and further back to the history of ancient Egypt. So I stuck to my guns and let Mr. Randall guide me through Washington's ancestry and life. Since I was never much interested in the colonial era, it was a voyage of discovery for me. Washington was presented as a real man, doing things like learning a trade, struggling with financial matters and dancing with the ladies. And despite his presented shortcomings, Washington also came across as a noble man. I think I would vote for him without hesitation. Not something I often do. Regarding the milieu of his life, I also enjoyed learning more about the history of the mideastern states. I was a bit surprised, having my preconceptions shattered as I read of the vast wilderness of western Virginia and the Ohio Valley. It blew my mind to think that Washington saw the site of Pittsburgh--always a big industrial city in my mind--back when it was simply a river junction out in the woods.

But as much as reading George Washington: A Life was a voyage of discovery, it also was a voyage of contemplation. As I was reading about Washington's life and times and the birth of my country, my thoughts were pulled to consider how they compared with our world today. I already alluded to the point that Washington comes across as far more noble than today's politicians. (And there is no doubt that Washington, too, was a politician.) It was also surprising that modern America seemed a lot more like the Great Britain of that era than its nascent self.

All in all, I found George Washington: A Life to be quite enjoyable and informative. Mr. Randall does an excellent job of cataloguing Washington's life, though the material on his military career during the Revolution and the French and Indian War is slightly more predominate. The only drawback from my perspective is that he didn't give a full account of the events happening outside of Washington's direct experience. But it isn't a general history book, after all. Besides, I'll be getting more of that as I read the biographies of Adams, Jefferson and the rest. I'll probably be sick of the Revolution by the time I get to Madison. Anyway, if I ever attempt to amass a collection of U.S. history books, I'll be sure to put George Washington: A Life on my shelf.

Editado: Set 23, 2010, 9:03am

Two quotes of note from the New Yorker review of the new Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (9/27/10 issue). The first brought a knowing chuckle, the second pure horror.

(1) Two diary entries for Oct 24, 1774, while each author was serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress:

George Washington: Dined with Mr. Mease & Spent the Evening at the New Tavern.

John Adams: In Congress, nibbling and and quibbling, as usual.
There is no greater mortification than to sit with half a dozen Witts, deliberating upon a Petition, Address, or Memorial. These great Witts, these subtle Criticks, these refined Genius's, these learned Lawyers, these wise Statesmen, are so fond of shewing their Parts and Powers, as to make their Consultations very tedius.
Young Ned Rutledge is a perfect Bob o' 'Lincoln - a Swallow - a Sparrow - a Peacock - excessively vain, excessively weak, and excessively variable and unsteady - jejune, inane, and puerile.
Mr. Dickinson is very modest, delicate, and timid.


(2) re: Washington's physical condition: The mar to his beauty was his terrible teeth, which were replaced by unsuccessful transplant surgery and by dentures made from ivory and from teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves. I've reached a new level of disgust for slaveowners, something I didn't think possible.

Jan 21, 2011, 1:45pm

Very Late Starter, and unsure of how everything works, nevertheless, here I am with my first book. Based on all of the posts on this thread, I chose Washington: An Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner. It was a worthy choice. I found it to be imminently readable and mostly unbiased. I thought he was a little stingy on Washington's pre-Revolutionary life, but I'm sure that there would have been more had I the fortitude to read his four-volume biography (no, thank you). I did feel some pity for poor Washington. He seemed sincere, but he was doomed no matter what he tried to do. As it seems most presidents are. Nice to know that it isn't just a problem in current times.

Jan 22, 2011, 10:01pm

The Flexner book -- which is actually Flexner's one volume version of his much longer multi-volume work, is the best Washington book I ever read

Mar 14, 2011, 4:43pm

recently got a copy of ascent of george washington and looked back to see what folks said about - surprisingly (to me) little given that it came out during the course of this thread... any thoughts on this one, for those who've read it?

Jun 8, 2011, 2:14pm

I have jsut about completed the Ascent of George Washington and have been disapointed. It is fine that the author takes somewhat of a negative view of Washington; however, he seems to put thoughts and descriptions that cannot be substantiated. He talk about something Washngton said with cynasism, but he has no notes or letters from any witnesses to collaberte these statement. The same with some of the "thoughts" that he seems to think Washington had. My understanding is that historically a decision not to attack Canada to try and bring them in the war has proved to be wise and alos there is no indication htat Canada wnated to be part of the colonies, and yet the quthor spends some effort or trying to state this as a weakness of Washington's.

Jun 11, 2011, 10:40pm

I had some of the same thoughts on The Ascent Of George Washington. The author made many claims that fly in the face of virtually all thoughts on Washington. This does not really bother me. I like DiLorenzo's books on Lincoln, and these do the same thing with Lincoln. However, this book does not offer any evidence that the author's views are correct. He wants to bring a new look to Washington's story, but he has no proof for the new story. i found it rely on interpretation rather than facts.

Mar 2, 2012, 8:36pm

I've just finished listening to a 33 disc presentation of Ron Chernow's book, Washington: A Life. I borrowed it from the local library. It carries much more information than the Paul Leicester Ford book I have in my library but the general picture of the man is strikingly similar - except for the using of slaves' teeth as prosthetics - I'm still astounded at how much we have grown as humans (and there is still a very long way to go). A lot always depends on how the book is read; this one, read by Scott Brick, sounded like history and not just a good life story.

Garp, I forgot to report on the "Founding Brothers". I liked it but I thought that more might have been made of the inter-personal relationships they all had with each other. Perhaps I read it too lightly but I don't remember much discussion of how some of them grew to detest each other because of their differences in political belief - except perhaps the Adams/Jefferson thing that got reversed when they became old men. It's always interesting to find out who felt strongly about what and when. Some biographers miss that bit out in their efforts to present "their guy" from the base of their own personal feelings. "In The Name Of The Father" by Francois Furstenberg tried to do something like that but I found the book really hard going.

Set 29, 2012, 9:55am

I've just begun reading Founding Father by Richard Brookhiser. If the writing style of the introduction is used in the rest of the book, than it will be a joy to read. However, it's very clear that the author expects that the reader will be American. I can still follow him but some things he calls 'common knowledge' are new to me as a European. I don't think everyone here knows George Washington had wooden teeth (in fact, I think you'd have difficulty finding anyone except historians that know this), yet apparently it's common knowledge in the US.

Set 30, 2012, 11:41am

Yeah, the wooden teeth thing is probably one of maybe five facts that everyone knows over here. We tend to focus only on the most historically significant info for the kids!

Set 30, 2012, 12:02pm

87> What are the other 4 facts then? Might as well be well prepared when I start the rest of the book ;).

Editado: Set 30, 2012, 1:32pm

1. Chopped down the cherry tree
2. Owned up: "I cannot tell a lie."
3. Crossed the Delaware
4. Isn't he the guy on the dollar bill?

Set 30, 2012, 2:46pm

Yeah, he's the guy on the dollar bill, according to the introduction of Founding Father. In that same introduction, Brookhiser debunks the story of chopping down the cherry tree - apparently the biographer who first wrote that story made it up (along with a few other childhood stories).

Set 30, 2012, 3:17pm

No! Say it ain't so!

Set 30, 2012, 3:24pm

I'm afraid so.

Mason Weems wrote the first biography about Washington that looked at the personal instead of the purely professional side of the man. It's a collection of intimate vignettes, especially those concerning Washington's childhood. Stories like the chopping down of the cherry tree, and planting seeds in the form of his name with his father as a demonstration of God's design in the universe come from that book. Unfortunately, Weems made them up, since very little is known about Washington's education or his father. (As paraphrased from Founding Father page 6)

Of course, that means that the only thing I knew about Washington - the cherry tree story - is false... Ah well, guess I've got a lot to learn in reading this book!

Set 30, 2012, 5:33pm

That's shocking. Now if you tell me he's not really on the 1$ bill, the full magnitude of the conspiracy will hit me...

Out 1, 2012, 3:31pm


Out 3, 2012, 7:25am

I always used the Washington and the Cherry Tree story in my Mythology courses to drive home the idea of Fact vs. Truth: it doesn't matter in the least that it's not factual (i.e. we Americans don't care whether or not it's fact), because the real meaning behind it is the Truth that Washington was an honest/honorable man.

Out 5, 2012, 7:51am

And how many of those can we lay claim to?

Dez 27, 2012, 3:12pm

I've read and (finally) reviewed Founding Father by Richard Brookhiser. Full review can be found here.

Jan 6, 2013, 6:51pm

I am joining this group late but have been reading Presidential biographies since last summer, trying to read in order.

For George Washington I read His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph Ellis

Also read Founding Gardners by Andrea Wulf
This was a book about Washington, Adams and Jefferson and how they were really farmers at heart and how they handled their estates while leading the country.

Fev 16, 2013, 4:59pm

Does anyone here know if there's a movie or mini-series about George Washington's life?

Fev 17, 2013, 6:27am

Fev 17, 2013, 7:09am

100 > Thank you!

Fev 25, 2013, 4:18pm

Fev 25, 2013, 8:41pm

#102 What did you think?

Fev 25, 2013, 9:01pm

Is that a loaded question Garp, given your regard for Mr. Johnson?

Fev 26, 2013, 5:22pm

No. Yes. Yes & No.

Fev 27, 2013, 10:18am

99 -- There was an A&E movie about Washington crossing the Delaware, called The Crossing, with Jeff Daniels as George Washington. As usual, Daniels did a fine job.


Editado: Mar 22, 2013, 10:54pm

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Fev 28, 2013, 9:23am

#103, I know that since it's such a short book very little about Washington's life can actually be covered, but that being said, Johnson tries to do more than what is appropriate for a book this size, like spreading a small amount of butter over the whole loaf rather than a moderately sized slice. However, he did whet my appetite enough so that I want to read something more substantial. Even for the short size, though, I think he did fairly well at destroying the growing myth that all the founding fathers, Washington included, were small government republicans who thought like Glenn Beck.

After I finished the book, I looked at the back cover where he wrote,

"George Washington is the best-documented figure in the entire eighteenth century. But he remains remote and mysterious. He puzzled those who knew and worked with him, and who often disagreed violently about his merits and abilities. He puzzles us. No man's mind is so hard to enter and swell within. Everyone agreed, and agreees, he was a paragon. But a rich or empty one? A titan of flesh and blood or a clockwork figure programmed to do wisely? Let us inquire." (emphasis added)

Johnson established a difficult task for himself in such a short work, and he didn't accomplish it. He didn't even begin to answer the questions he asked as, purportedly, the purpose of the book. I give it 3 stars.

Fev 28, 2013, 5:51pm

#108 Tex -- normally Paul Johnson's book's are infused with his own brand of conservatism -- so much so that I generally eschew his work -- but his is a British brand of conservatism, which compared with Glenn Beck makes him a kind of neo-liberal. The best one volume on Washington, in my opinion, is the Flexner Washington: The Indispensable Man, which is his single volume treatment of the multi-volume biography he also authored. Ellis' His Excellency is a also worth a read.

Washington is a fascinating character in that he lived a kind of Forrest Gump or Barry Lyndon existence much of the time in that his presence provoked major events around him that he later came to dominate. Washington's Virginia militia's attack on the French while they were eating dinner was one of the key powder-kegs to ignite the French and Indian War, which nearly bankrupted Britain and led it to seek new revenues from its American colonies after the war, which sparked the American Revolution and the birth of the new nation, both of which saw Washington as the most consequential figure.

Bizarre but true ...

Editado: Abr 5, 2013, 9:54am

Scotland is returning to Mount Vernon some of Washington's books. http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/pageviews/2013/04/george-washington-gets-his-bo...

Jun 9, 2013, 10:04am

I attended a lecture and book signing by Joseph Ellis at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley MA in promotion of Ellis' latest book Revolutionary Summer. Since I had only days before finished reading John Ferling's Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free -- which I review at http://www.librarything.com/work/10778712/book/78778689 -- I was not shopping for another book covering this same period, although since I am a big fan of Ellis I attended and did indeed buy an edition which he signed for me.

In the course of his lecture, Ellis raised the "what if" question -- what if Washington had been killed or captured on Long Island early in the war? Apparently -- and I had never heard this before -- the question was once asked of John Adams, who claimed that the war would not have been lost, that they would have replaced Washington and gone forward. I wonder about that. In the Q & A that followed the lecture, I asked Ellis his opinion on that. I argued that Washington the general was potentially replaceable (he wasn't really a very good general, after all!) but that Washington the unifying figure for the embryonic republic was irreplaceable, citing Flexner's assertion that he was "the indispensable man." Ellis seemed to agree, noting that if Washington wasn't irreplaceable, he was as close as you could get in to a figure that was irreplaceable.

I found the topic quite stimulating. To my mind, Washington was the only one of the Founders who truly was irreplaceable. I bring it to this thread to see if any of the rest of you had thoughts to add to this subject.

Jun 9, 2013, 11:14am

I agree with you. Washington was at best a mediocre general. However, he was a brilliant leader. I have often wondered if we had a much better general, say Robert E. Lee, would we have been able to win the war. My guess is that we would have lost. We would have won more battles, but there would not have been an army around long enough to win. This made me wonder if Washington had led the Southern forces, would they have won. I have no answer to this question. What do you think?

Jun 9, 2013, 11:56am

#112 -- It's interesting that you juxtapose the two because Lee, who was indeed a great general, did follow Washington's strategy to some degree -- like the colonists, the South did not have to win, they only had to NOT lose. Washington himself modeled his strategy of parrying with the enemy after the Roman general Marius.

Dez 30, 2013, 9:39am

Just finished Washington by Ron Chernow last night.

Yes, have already read a book about Washington, but most of my reading is target of opportunity, and as someone bought me the book for my birthday in July, I read it.

Very good complete biography of Washington. Chernow's goal in writing this book was to be able to understand who George Washington was, not just recite his deeds. He wanted to try and discover how he thought and what kind of man he really was, not just the fictionalized myth from the history books. I enjoyed this book a lot.



Editado: Out 29, 2016, 1:35pm

I used two books in my study of George Washington: George Washington The Writer A Treasury of Letters, Diaries, and Public Documents and America's First Families. The former book was a plethora of information, the latter just fluff.

Since I don't start teaching American History until post Civil War--I am enjoying learning about some of earlier presidents. Here a just a few things I found interesting that will stick with me:

Washington was anti-foreign policy, meaning that he did not believe in any type of entanglements at all. He believed each country was unique and had their own set of special circumstances and should not compare themselves with others.

Washington was also very anti political parties. He refused to join either the Federalists or Democratic-Republicans. In fact, he said a 2 party system would be the ruination of the republic, a sentiment also shared by Franklin. He wrote letters to both Adams and Jefferson, political foes, asking them to end their feud for the good of the country.

Washington supported a revision of the Articles of Confederation--he was unsure that they needed to be trashed and a new document needed to be written (constitution). He was opposed to the bickering that was going on over this debate and outright stated in a letter to John Jay that he did not feel that the motives for writing a new document were purely for the good of the country, but perhaps more nefarious.

George and Martha liked to attend dances/parties/balls. George loved to dance. He was also critical in his diary entries of what he considered to be poor food at these events. He called one such ball "Bread and butter" ball as that was the only fit thing to eat.

Since I've already read John Adams previously I'm off to find something on Jefferson.

Dez 19, 2017, 11:58pm

I have read a few books on Washington. While it's interesting to see how people wrote about him before the Civil War, my favorite is The Ascent of George Washington because it does not hide his flaws while making a strong case that the war and the early years of the independent county may have been lost without him.