His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
Publisher: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.
Genre: Non-Fiction, historical
Length: Full Length (275 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

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.

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Author Joseph J. Ellis has written other important historical works and shows he has done his research. The information is presented in a way to make a reader trust what’s on the page. One is likely to find many intriguing points within that will inspire a longing to delve deeper and perhaps do more research.

Washington is presented as human, but Ellis makes it clear that the nation’s first president was widely regarded in somewhat mythical terms. Washington, after all, was the main guy in “the winning of independence and the invention of nationhood” (271). We learn how Washington became the man he needed to be to lead the Americans to victory and who helped him. Washington’s detractors are also discussed. This was interesting because it led to an exploration of his psyche and deepest motivations.

We are reminded of Washington’s challenges and glories as president and surprised at times by factors that aren’t as commonly known.

Even in retirement, Washington’s work was never done. At long last, when he was preparing for the end, he contemplated controversial and important issues, thinking of what posterity would think of him. He made decisions based on complicated reasons. As a bonus, readers get to see some of the other founders through his eyes.

This book is worth the read. I have a degree in history and would definitely read this author again, feeling not only engaged in the reading but also educated, believing the information was quite reliable.

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