His Excellency: George Washington immediately calls to mind, and deserves favorable comparison with, Edmund S. Morgan's Benjamin Franklin … when Ellis says that "we do not need another epic [Washington biography], but rather a fresh portrait focused tightly on Washington's character," he declares in effect that he is doing what Morgan did. It is a pleasure to report that he has succeeded. The Father of His Country, Ellis correctly observes at the outset, "poses what we might call the Patriarchal Problem in its most virulent form: on Mount Rushmore, the Mall, the dollar bill and the quarter, but always an icon -- distant, cold, intimidating." Ellis's aim is to get beyond the monument into the man, and he does so in a convincing, plausible way.
The Wahington Post
In this follow-up to his bestselling Founding Brothers, Ellis offers a magisterial account of the life and times of George Washington, celebrating the heroic image of the president whom peers like Jefferson and Madison recognized as "their unquestioned superior" while acknowledging his all-too-human qualities. Ellis recreates the cultural and political context into which Washington strode to provide leadership to the incipient American republic. But more importantly, the letters and other documents Ellis draws on bring the aloof legend alive as a young soldier who sought to rise through the ranks of the British army during the French and Indian War, convinced he knew the wilderness terrain better than his commanding officers; as a Virginia plantation owner (thanks to his marriage) who watched over his accounts with a ruthless eye; as the commander of an outmatched rebel army who, after losing many of his major battles, still managed to catch the British in an indefensible position. Following Washington from the battlefield to the presidency, Ellis elegantly points out how he steered a group of bickering states toward national unity; Ellis also elaborates on Washington's complex stances on issues like slavery and expansion into Native American territory. The Washington who emerges from these pages is similar to the one portrayed in a biographical study by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn published earlier this year, but Ellis's richer version leaves readers with a deeper sense of the man's humanity. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Nov. 1) Forecast: The 500,000 first printing seems steep but could be justified by Ellis's record and the current popularity of the Founders. First serial to American Heritage magazine. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To the dismay of generations of historians, George Washington's personal papers offer little insight into his thinking and emotions. Using Washington's correspondence, reports of others, significant historical events, and his own creative insight, Ellis (Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation) offers a unique, personal look at America's premier Founding Father, revealing a man with incredible energy, stamina, integrity, and vision as well as one who could be quite insecure, controlling, and shortsighted. Ellis examines the evolution of Washington's personality and challenges conventional scholarship (arguing, e.g., that his greatest military move was the inoculation of his troops against smallpox). He also determines that Washington's decisions on slavery were driven more by economics and posterity than purely by morality. Like Henry Wiencek's An Imperfect God, this well-researched and -written book is fresh but not revisionist and will appeal to both lay readers and scholars. Recommended for academic libraries and larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.] Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ. Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-As Ellis indicates in his well-documented acknowledgments and endnotes, this book relies heavily on the "Papers of George Washington" series, which provides access to the president's correspondence. Since no new documentary evidence is available, the attraction is Ellis's assessment of Washington's character and impeccable judgment. He keeps Washington on his pedestal while pointing out just a few flaws in the president's personality: ambition from an early age (yet how American!), slaveholding (although he came to regret this, and ordered in his will that upon Martha's death the slaves were to be freed), and no great military talent. These defects were vastly outweighed by his character and practical wisdom. Ellis notes that, even among that group of brilliant men known as our Founding Fathers, Washington was recognized by every one of them as "the Foundingest Father of them all." This book does offer new insights regarding Washington's disposition of his wealth and property in his will. Ellis does an excellent job of infusing a sometimes remote national icon with breath and life, so that readers are able to see the human Washington operating in his tumultuous period of history while towering above it-no mean authorial feat.-Edward Redmond, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A revisionist life of the Founding Father, motes and warts and all. No stranger to scandal himself, Ellis (Founding Brothers, 2000, etc.) begins by addressing George Washington's education in the school of hard knocks with tomahawks. Having lost his father early and having attained only a grade-school education, Washington was pressed into work on Virginia's western frontier, "the far edge of civilization's progress," beyond which "anything that Europeans called civilization ceased to exist altogether." Exploring the territory along the Ohio River apparently taught him a thing or two about Indian fighting, though, as Ellis notes, the documentary evidence for this period is scant; whatever the case, by the time he reached his early 20s, Washington was serving in the Virginia militia and found himself overseeing the first engagement of the French and Indian War-unhappily, a massacre of French soldiers attempting to surrender. Other debacles followed, after which Washington, by Ellis's account, came both to disdain the British officer class and to believe that he himself could not be killed. Retiring from service, he returned to Virginia and married Martha Custis-even though, Ellis writes, he was in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of a friend. As a slaveholding plantation owner, he soon worked his way through much of Martha's inherited wealth and took to borrowing money, which caught him "in the trap that was snaring other Virginia planters and that Thomas Jefferson, another victim, described as the chronic condition of indebtedness." Ever litigious and ready to blame others, Washington attributed his economic woes to the misdoings of the British Empire in America, and a revolutionary wasborn. So, too, was the regal general who insisted on being called "His Excellency" and who "lost more battles than any victorious general in modern history," but who also "surrounded himself with the most intellectually sophisticated collection of statesmen in American presidential history" and forged a republic. "A modest-sized book about a massive historical subject," Ellis calls it. Well done, too, though admirers of Washington may find in it more-or less-than they bargained for. First printing of 500,000; first serial to American Heritage. Agent: Ike Williams/Kneerim & Williams
“Mr. Ellis gives us a succinct character study while drawing on his extensive knowledge of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary history to strip away the accretions of myth and contemporary extemporizing that have grown up around his subject. … Mr. Ellis refuses to judge Washington by "our own superior standards of political and racial justice" but instead tries to show how Washington was seen in his day. In doing so he gives us a visceral understanding of the era in which the first President came of age, and he shows how Washington's thinking (about the war for independence, the shape of the infant nation and the emerging role of the federal government) was shaped by his own experiences as a young soldier in the French and Indian War and as a member of the Virginia planter class. The resulting book yields an incisive portrait of the man, not the marble statue. . . His Excellency is a lucid, often shrewd take on the man Mr. Ellis calls the "primus inter pares, the Foundingest Father of them all." And it does so with admirable grace and wit.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“Ellis [writes] with clarity and grace. He has a gift for reaching a broad public with substantive books on serious subjects. In [His Excellency], he has done it again. This is an important and challenging work: beautifully written, lively, serious, and engaging… He has given us a book that will inspire other research, it will deepen our understanding of its subject.” —David Hackett Fischer, Boston Sunday Globe
“[Ellis’s] probing biographies remain some of the most psychologically penetrating portraits of the Founding Fathers that we have. [His Excellency] is full of subtle inroads into the man Ellis calls the “most notorious model of self-control in all of American history, the original marble man.”–Richard Lacayo, Time
“Ellis skillfully uncomplicates many convoluted subjects, including the real and passionate Washington and the myths constructed around him, the economic and social forces driving him and his fellow revolutionaries…. A distinguished addition.” —Celia McGee, Daily News