His Excellency: George Washington

By Joseph J. Ellis

Once, back in high school, my stepdad and I had a conversation about great American presidents. Like a lot of people, he thought quite a bit more of Thomas Jefferson than George Washington--in his words, Washington was "just a general." As much sense as that appraisal made at the time, it was ultimately unsatisfying because there must have been some reason that Washington was the first president instead of Jefferson, or other eminent politicians of the time like Madison or Adams. In fact, it is exactly this problem that is the central question of His Excellency. I found it to be an excellent read--informative and engaging while also being easy to absorb. Separating the man from the mythology that has grown up around him over the past two centuries is no mean feat, and Ellis does a good job of presenting him as a human figure. In addition to the subject of the book, I also found it interesting to see the biases that different historians have. Ellis presents Jefferson and John Adams and their respective parties in a very different light from the way Stephen Ambrose portrays them in Undaunted Courage and To America. Clearly, one writer can never give you a complete picture, but I'm starting to get to the point where I feel that the breadth of my reading is giving me a wide enough reference to read with a more critical eye.

Started: 1/30/2006 | Finished: 2/7/2006

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