Review: His Excellency: George Washington

Joseph J. Ellis (2004)
352 pages

An extremely readable life story of the Revolutionary War hero who reluctantly went on to become the first U.S. President. While I wasn’t surprised by how little I knew about Washington (wooden teeth and an apocryphal cherry tree story), I was surprised by how much I learned about the man and the birth of our nation in this relatively brief book. Fortunately for historians, Washington was fixated on documenting his own life and he spent years updating and revising his own story, with a very conscious nod to posterity.

As the leader of the Continental Army, Washington’s triumph in the Revolutionary War made him a legend in his own time. When he retired from the military, Washington believed his days of serving his country were behind him and he settled down at Mount Vernon to dictate his memoirs. The second half of Ellis’ book relates the formative years of a fledgling democracy and the crucial role Washington played in maintaining the delicate balance between those forceful personalities (Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison) who shaped our country. [**** out of 5]

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