Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memoryby Edward G. Lengel
Editor-in-Chief of the Washington Papers Project Edward G. Lengel delivers an/em>/em>
“Lengel’s Washington is the archetypal American soldier—an amateur citizen in arms who struggles to learn an unfamiliar and demanding craft on the job....Outstanding.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Glorious Struggle
Editor-in-Chief of the Washington Papers Project Edward G. Lengel delivers an entertaining and erudite history of America's Founding Father. In Inventing George Washington, a captivating counterpart to Lengel’s General George Washington: A Military Life, the historian looks at Washington’s life and writings, at the creation of his mythos, and at what his legacy means for our nation and ourselves.
Not a biography but a frothy history of the many energetic, often wacky efforts to turn George Washington into a godlike national icon whose life provides lessons in moral uplift.
Few deny that Washington did not cut down the cherry tree or throw a dollar across the Potomac, but historian Lengel (This Glorious Struggle: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters, 2008, etc.), editor in chief of the Washington Papers project, points out that a PBS documentary examined his indignant refusal to make himself king in 1783 after leading the Continental Army to victory—an event that also never happened. The author stresses that every generation invents a Washington that agrees with its beliefs. Soon after his 1799 death, writers (including Parson Weems, of cherry-tree fame) produced a classical Washington—restrained, solemn and honorable. Victorian times required a romantic figure, passionately pursuing women as he agonized over his nation's fate, regularly appealing to God for guidance. Twentieth-century materialism converted him into a cold-hearted businessman, but a resurgence of nationalistic patriotism after Ronald Reagan's election revived the old-school father figure. Good 18th-century rationalists, our founding fathers were not notably pious, Washington included. However, by the following century this became unacceptable, and Lengel devotes a fascinating section to the torrent of sermons, invented quotations, anecdotes (everyone seemed to stumble upon Washington kneeling in prayer) and even a forged prayer diary designed to illustrate his evangelical Christian fervor. That these are fiction has not discouraged today's political leaders, religious and conservative websites, TV commentators and documentaries from presenting them as truth.
Readers will chuckle at this well-presented avalanche of nonsense, but squirm to realize that our leaders, media, journalists and even historians regularly accept it.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author
Edward G. LengeL is editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington and a professor at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including General George Washington and This Glorious Struggle. A lecturer on Washington and the Revolutionary War, Lengel is also a historical consultant, advising on such works as the History Channel's own comprehensive documentary. He is a frequent radio and television guest—appearing on C-SPAN, CBS, and NPR, among others—and is a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines in the vein of military history and American heritage. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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