The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon

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by John Ferling
     
 

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Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the…  See more details below

Overview

Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continental Army, Washington's keen political savvy enabled him not only to outwit superior British forces, but--even more challenging--to manage the fractious and intrusive Continental Congress. Despite dire setbacks early in the war, Washington deftly outmaneuvered rival generals and defused dissent from officers below him, ending the war with the status of a national icon. His carefully burnished reputation allowed Washington, as president, to lead the country under the guise of non-partisanship for almost all of his eight years in office. Washington, Ferling argues, was not only one of America's most adroit politicians, he was easily the most successful of all time--so successful, in fact, that he is no longer thought of as having been political.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Ferling (history, emeritus, Univ. of West Georgia; Almost a Miracle) attempts to shed new light on the myth that George Washington was above partisan politics, instead showing that Washington was not only very partisan but probably one of America's best politicians. In fact, Ferling argues, he was so skilled at portraying himself as the impartial "father of the country" that most historians have overlooked his political savvy. Ferling seeks to remedy the situation with this "political biography." He traces Washington's evolution from a self-serving and insecure young man driven by a quest for recognition and wealth into a seasoned political veteran who could maneuver, cajole, and cut backroom deals as adroitly as any modern politician. One example is his handling of the Hamilton-Jefferson battles over the country's economic structure. Although Washington showed sympathy toward both sides and urged conciliation, it becomes clear by studying his behavior and writings at the time that he supported Hamilton's vision of a strong central government. Ferling has done his research and offers some new insights, but ultimately most of the history he presents is familiar. Recommended for readers interested in taking a fresh look at Washington's political life.
—Robert Flatley

Kirkus Reviews
Historian Ferling (Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence, 2007, etc.) unveils the canny politician behind America's first president. In a revisionist view, the author argues that Washington, generally thought of as a selfless Olympian figure who was above politics, was actually "a master of political infighting . . . one of the very best politicians in American history." Reminding readers of the president's godlike status at his death in 1799-people wore black armbands for 30 days-Ferling examines the career of this soldier, legislator and president, finding him burned with ambition for renown and success from an early age. Born with a meager inheritance and determined to enter the planter aristocracy, Washington kowtowed to the rich and powerful for a chance at winning glory as commander of Virginia's army in the French and Indian War, laying the groundwork for his postwar political ambitions. After 16 years in Virginia's House of Burgesses, where he cultivated other assemblyman as supporters, he took command of the Continental Army at no salary, burnishing his reputation as a self-denying warrior and emerging after the War for Independence as America's most powerful man. Ferling's bright narrative offers considerable evidence of Washington's savvy politicking in these later years. He sought a canal linking the Atlantic to the Ohio country that would cause his own lands to soar in value; after 1783 he twice declined to hold public office, knowing full well that the nation would demand that he leave the quiet of Mount Vernon to assume the presidency; as president he argued for locating the nation's capital in an area where he owned property. Never questioningWashington's greatness, Ferling insists that seeing him as an artful self-promoter and master politician only enhances his reputation as an adept leader who knew exactly what he was doing. In fact, writes the author, Washington "was so good at politics that he alone of all of America's public officials in the past two centuries succeeded in convincing others that he was not a politician."A fresh take on a monumental American.
From the Publisher

“Sensing that such biographers as James Flexner and Joseph Ellis have accepted the above-politics thesis, Ferling inspects the evidence of Washington's political activities…while illustrating the substance behind Washington's image as the indispensable man, Ferling pointedly grounds that image in the political soil from which it sprang.” —Booklist

“Ferling has done his research and offers some new insights…recommended for readers interested in taking a fresh look at Washington's political life” —Library Journal

“Never questioning Washington's greatness, Ferling insists that seeing him as an artful self-promoter and master politician only enhances his reputation as an adept leader who knew exactly what he was doing…a fresh take on a monumental American.” —Kirkus

“Once in a while a book comes along to remind us that history has no gods, that the past is less fossil than textbooks suggest and America more vibrant than a mere list of principles. John Ferling's Ascent of George Washington is just such a book: a fresh, clear-eyed portrait of the full-blooded political animal that was George Washington…In John Ferling's eminently readable, landmark interpretation, we cannot help but marvel at the man.” —Marie Arana, Washington Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191826
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
630,124
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

John Ferling is Professor Emeritus of History at the State University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he has appeared in many documentaries and has written numerous books, including Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War for Independence, Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution, and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic.
John Ferling is Professor Emeritus of History at the State University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he has appeared in many documentaries and has written numerous books, including Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War for Independence, Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in the American Revolution, and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic.

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The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
malegre More than 1 year ago
In "The Ascent of George Washington," John Ferling focuses on Washington's political life. The author goes behind the myth to reveal Washington's political flaws and genius. The portrait of Washington that emerges is of an adroit politician. Ferling gives a balanced perspective. Washington is revealed as having been enormously ambitious and driven to succeed. He was quick to claim credit for the accomplishments of others and skilled at laying blame on others for his own failures. He was expert at self-promotion. He was a poor tactician and strategist and commonly indecisive in a crisis. Yet Ferling believes Washington may have been the only person equipped to lead the American colonies to independence and to guide the fledgling nation. Washington's character, judgment, courage, industriousness, persistence, and political skills set him apart from his contemporaries. Ferling writes in a readable style without sacrificing scholarship. In this book he has scripted a convincing narrative of Washington's education as a leader. Today's leaders may learn from Washington's strengths and shortcomings. The reader will come away with a more human portrait of Washington, which very well may instill a greater appreciation for his achievements.
AngelicBlonde More than 1 year ago
This review is actually coming from reading the advanced reading copy. I know there were maps to be included in the final copy, which I think would greatly enhance the book. I really loved this book from start to finish. Mainly because it is not just another book on George Washington. The author, John Ferling, takes a new approach to this famous man by arguing that he was actually very political and highly partisan, which goes against what other historians have said. John Ferling takes the reader through George Washington's life and proves every step of the way that Washington was political and everything he did was to become more well-known and in a higher place politically. From a very early age the reader can see that Washington was ambitious. This doesn't lessen his accomplishments or make him less of a patriot. It makes him human. He did want to do the best for his country but he also, according to this author, wanted to do the best for himself as well. I highly recommend this book for everyone because it offers a fresh new look on an old subject. I think any from high school and up would enjoy this book and learn a bit more about our famous president. This is definitely worth the read and a great addition to a library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John Ferling's telling of the political life and development of George Washington was a revelation. I have always held the stereotypical images most of us probably share of Washington's wisdom, decisiveness, selflessness. This honest, balanced portrayal of the father of our country is refreshing and surprising. Ferling's interpretation (a "re-interpretation" to me) of this great man's public life is convincing, readable and scholarly, though never pedantic. His Washington is a real human being, with vices, ambitions, personal agendas, and frailties. In fact, the deal making, posturing, and shenanigans of today's politicians are a mirror image of the behavior of Washington's contemporaries. I have a new appreciation for how our country came into being and how fortunate we are that it survived those early years. The book deserves a wide audience. It's as readable and revealing and fresh as any good novel, yet it's all about how America got its uncertain start. Let's hope it doesn't just make the rounds of history departments and grad student library carrels.
Joan_Peel More than 1 year ago
Disappointing I bought this hoping to get some examples of Washington's political skills in action, but Ferling spends most of his time on a narrative of events. There are lots of examples of Washington's spin-doctoring, or use of proxies; not many of his taking an active role, and very few reactions from others. His service in legislature is rushed past, and there are precious few substantial examples of correspondence (sent or received). This may be due to lack of primary sources, but the end result is unsatisfying.
RoadHunter More than 1 year ago
I'm only in the middle of it but by Ferling's accounts so far you'd thing Washington was an idiot. Still, the book is quite readable and entertaining for a casual reader such as myself.
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