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His Excellency: George Washington (Unabridged CD)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

Washington & Religion

One reviewer lambasted Mr. Ellis¿ work because ¿historical documents prove that George Washington was a devout Christian and based the belief of God on everything he did.¿ Historical documents prove no such thing. And wishing doesn¿t make it so. Washington gives us...
One reviewer lambasted Mr. Ellis¿ work because ¿historical documents prove that George Washington was a devout Christian and based the belief of God on everything he did.¿ Historical documents prove no such thing. And wishing doesn¿t make it so. Washington gives us little in his writings to indicate his personal religious beliefs and asserted no beliefs in any specific traditional religious dogma. His own writings never refer to Jesus Christ. Franklin Steiner in The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents '1936'¿highly recommended¿states that Washington commented on sermons only twice, joking that he had enjoyed a German Reformed service because he hadn¿t understood a single word. Washington was certainly not anti-religious and indeed spoke out against religious intolerance, banning in 1775 a Protestant celebration called Pope's Day 'mocking of the Catholic leader' by the Continental Army. In the Revolutionary War, Washington supported troops selecting their own chaplains. He reportedly did not take communion, though his wife did, and supported no particular theology, while complimenting all sorts of religious groups. He attended church irregularly but did attend and praise Quaker, German Reformed, and Roman Catholic services. In securing workmen in 1784 at Mount Vernon, Washington said he would welcome ¿Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists.¿ Washington rejected the notion that there should be any narrow religious test for officeholders, and he never advocated the superiority of one religious sect over another. In Washington's replies to messages from Jews and Swedenborgians, he demonstrates not a mere tolerance for those who had not chosen the ¿correct path,¿ but an endorsement of what Jefferson later called the 'wall of separation between church and state.¿ It might be best to read Washington¿s own words: ¿To the General Committee Representing the United Baptist Churches of Virginia¿ and ¿To the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah, May, 1790.' Some of the inaccuracies about Washington¿s religious piety come from the famously silly fabrications in The Life of Washington, 1800, by Mason Locke `Parson¿ Weems, the source of the invented tale about the cherry tree. Many writers have tried to project their own biases and agendas onto Washington's image. Perhaps this is where we get such phrases as ¿historical documents prove¿ without the understanding that ¿historical documents¿ need to be questioned for credibility and are indeed subject to scholarly review. If some of us want to believe in that the earth is flat, that the founders made this an exclusively Christian Nation, that the world is suspended on a stack of turtles, that due process is ¿quaint,¿ or that recognition of universal human rights did not have the historical context of the Enlightenment, we should just say so. But don¿t claim things that are not true. And don¿t criticize good scholarship simply because it¿s not bad scholarship. Which brings us back to Ellis¿ work. It is well researched, well written¿enjoyably so for this reader¿and provides valuable scholarship.

posted by Anonymous on June 13, 2008

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Most Helpful Critical Review

3 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

Insightful, but was it truly truthful?

I've read this book by Joseph Ellis with the intent to learn more about our Founding Fathers and what they believed in to make the United States such a great country. To start, 'His Excellency' was a complete let-down to me. I don't like sounding like a Christian, but h...
I've read this book by Joseph Ellis with the intent to learn more about our Founding Fathers and what they believed in to make the United States such a great country. To start, 'His Excellency' was a complete let-down to me. I don't like sounding like a Christian, but historical documents prove that George Washington was a devout Christian and based the belief of God on everything he did from the time he lived on Mount Vernon till the moment he first saw blood. I am somewhat disgusted at how Ellis portrayed Washington in this 'biography'. He referred to him as a 'prideful man/slave-owner/blood-thirsty brigand' and other things. But what bewildered me was the little given information on Washington's religious background. The only time I saw mention on this topic was when, 'when Washington prayed, he stood up and was never seen bowing his head.' Thats it. The overall biography was insightful, but I have to remain skeptical at its validity. In post-modern America, biased people, and, to no offense, liberals and atheists, tend to swath American history with made-up lies and to tell incorrectly what made our founding fathers, and any given key character in our nations history, persist to act upon what they truly and spiritually believed. I find this book lacking in the latter. If you are looking for a more foundational approach on the life/or lives of our Founding Fathers, I recommend David McCullough's books on American Biographies. He, I find it more evident, strikes the truth more accurately than Ellis.

posted by Anonymous on January 21, 2007

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2005

    Not overly impressed

    This was my first read of Ellis and I hope the next one is better. It was too short, skipped too much and didn't get into many details. As a result, I didn't feel as though I learned what I should have. The only thing I came away with was the impression that Washington was more interested in his legacy than the welfare of the country.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    I feel closer to him than ever before in my life!

    He writes of 'His Excellency' in a way that makes me feel as though i'm reading about a grand father I always heard about but was not yet alive to know personally. In the end a very touching account.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2005

    Ellis Has Done It Again!!!

    Joseph Ellis has once again proven why he is the leading historian of today in the study of our country's founding fathers. Everyday we see Washington's face on the dollar bill, or have at one time stood in front of his memorial in the city which holds his name. Yet with that said the majority of us still dont understand exactly what this man did, and why he merits all the honor and celebration. Ellis argues, and does a great job, that Washington stood out because of all the founding fathers he understood that in order for the young infant country to surive it had to become united as one, take a macro approach to foreign affairs, and most important in order to lead he had to put all personal feelings aside and lead with his head, not his heart. By accomplishing all three of these tasks George Washington set the foundation for which this country still sits on today. I started this book with the mind set that Washington was only a puppet to the likes of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. I finished the book with a greater appreciation for the man who should go down as the greatest president of our time. I urge everyone to READ THIS BOOK!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2005

    Excellent character study

    I loved this book. It provided insights to the character of George Washington that I was not aware of. The book concentrates on the personality and emotional make up of Washington. Joseph Ellis has distilled a lot of facts into a highly readable and informative 278 pages. I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in our founding fathers. We tend to treat Washington as a semi-mythical god figure. This book paints a picture of the real person.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2005

    A fantastic look at the man behind the myth

    This is my first Ellis read, and I must say I was very impressed. His Excellency gives its reader a warts and all view of Washington, from his failures and shortfalls during the French & Indian War coupled with his seemingly uncanny ability to evade death during battles. Ellis paints the picture of Washington as a Man who was as much one of destiny as well as foresight. I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about how the United States' First President was destined for greatness during and after the War for Independence, and was altogether aware of the part he played in the American Experiment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2005

    Skip this one

    This guy is pumping too much out too fast. Skip this one and pick up Washington's Crossing. It is a much better read. This book is plainly and simply slow and boring. I get the distinct impression that Ellis was simply going through the motions

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2005

    Chose Not To Be King;The First American President

    J.J.Ellis writes of a great,historical person who we only heard maybe, three percent about, as grade school children. Was his life a secret? Where did the wisdom come from, that led him not to follow in England's Monarch traditions? How greatly did this benifit The States?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2004

    A Great Read!

    ¿His Excellency¿ is a wonderful short biography of our most important and influential early president. Ellis delves into the character of this great man in order to better understand the singular impact George Washington had on the survival of our fledgling nation. The reading is fast and captivating, but slips into the academic style quite regularly (not that this is necessarily a detractor). I read this book casually and was finished in less than a week. It is an excellent read which I highly recommend to anyone interested in better understanding President Washington.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2004

    Offers fantastic perspective on today's politics.

    This is a great book for anyone - not just historians. It touches on everything from Washington's daily life to his political agenda. The gruesome stories of his military career are particularly moving.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005

    A compact account

    While I enjoyed this book very much, I also thought that there were large amounts of history covered very quickly. I would have liked a little more detail. I do have to say that the insights into Washington before the war and during his presidency were fascinating. I would recommend this book to all history fans. It is especially good for the casual history buff, since it is not ladened with too much infomation. The speculations into Washington's thoughts and actions is well worht the read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2004

    A short George Washington

    I was able to view an exhibit of Washington's papers on exhibit at New York's J.P. Morgan Library a few years ago. Apparently Joseph Ellis uses his reading of 'The Papers of George Washington' as the basic research material for this excellent, all be it short, biography of Washington. Ellis attempts to get into his subjects inter life through well-argued speculation. He points out that Washington, unlike our modern Presidents, did not self justify by invoking the name of God, but saw things as 'destiny' and 'providence'. Washington died; Ellis maintains 'a Roman Secular rather than a Christian Saint'. The book is fast paced and Ellis covers a lot of ground in few words. He gives the reader an overall topic or offers an interesting question and then drills down to offer up the sole of the topic and then moves on. The reader picks up lots of tid-bits of information. Did you know for example that Washington's greatest wealth came in the form of land in Ohio as gifts from the British government for his service in the French and Indian wars? That if Washington had not sided against the British and the rebellion not succeeded that Washington would have lost these valuable tracks of land as the British had planed to seed the land back to the Indian nations. Ellis does an effective job of tracking Washington's political development into a full-fledged Federalist and outlines his slow burn, which develops into a tremendous contempt for Jefferson and Madison's 'Republican' anti-government views. And Ellis commends Washington's very tortured delayed decision to free his slaves in his will, thus securing a lasting legacy. So what's not to like? I personally feel is important that a first class biography provide a sense of the social, economic and overall world the subject lived in. And this is where I believe Ellis let's the reader down. It's fair to say this was not his intention in such a short biography, but for me I could have taken more pages to get a more rounded view of Washington's world. Also, remarkably Martha Washington burned all of her and George's letters, leaving no real history of their relationship. Unfortunate, Ellis points out. And would it not have been wonderful to have an idea what the nature of their relationship was? Overall this is an excellent book and remarkable that so much could be covered in so few pages. (I might point out that this is the only Biography of Washington I have read, so I can not compare it to say Richard Brookhiser's 'Founding Father' which I understand is excellent.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2004

    truly magisterial

    This book is, perhaps, Ellis' best. Though Washington is illusive, Ellis manages to capture the essence of the the man, the military leader and the president. As always, Ellis writes with grace. His words are truly elegant. An awesome contribution to our understanding of Washington.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2004

    A Pretty Good Short Biography of Washington

    Let me say upfront that I was looking for a good, comprehensive biography of Washingon along the lines of the Chernow Alexander Hamilton book or the McCullough John Adams book. This book is not that! That being said Ellis does a good job delivering a short, character biography of Washington. Ellis briefly touches on all of the important events of Washington's life and what they reveal about him. Ellis shows that Washington is the indispensable founding father, the consummate realist and stoic without whom victory in the Revolutionary War and the founding of the United States would not have been possible. Ellis concludes that Washington probably developed his calm, stoic presence to control the powerful, ambitious emotions boiling under the surface. Who knows? But to Ellis's credit, we see Washington portrayed with the reverence he deserves in our pantheon of founding fathers. I think the book deserves a good rating, and it's an enjoyable, short read. Forgive me if I was looking for a little more substance than interpretation Mr. Ellis.

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