Jacki: George Washington

His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph J. Ellis

It’s almost embarrassing how little I knew about George Washington before I read this book.  I’m not sure if the public school system failed me or if I just didn’t ever listen, but I could count the number of facts that I knew about him on one hand… and I’ve been to Mount Vernon twice.  Sad, right?

So here’s what I learned:

  • While George Washington was pretty courageous and good at being a solider, he was mostly really lucky at first.  He only had an education through like sixth grade but he was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing enough times that he quickly rose through the ranks.
  • Martha was not the love of George’s life.  He was in love with his neighbor but married Martha for social and political reasons.  Crazy, right?!
  • I learned a lot about his views on slavery. A lot.  Too much to type here.
  • Mount Vernon was passed down to him and in the years between when he was at war and when he became president he spent a lot of time and money fixing it up.
  • He was a strong & silent type.
  • He took the presidency reluctantly even though it was unanimous.  After he was done being president he pretty much fully retired from public life.
  • He had two step children who met tragic, early ends.  Sad, sad. sad.

I’m sure that there were other things, but these are the points that I really took away with me and the things that I’ll remember about Washington.  The biography itself was just alright for me.  It was a quick read and a good overview, but I kind of wanted more meat.  There was a lot of information on battles and yadda yadda, but I am far more interested in the man that Washington was.  I wanted to know more about how he was raised and there were maybe 3 or 4 pages on his young life.  I wanted to know about his relationship with Martha and how that influenced his presidency.  Nada.  I wanted to walk away feeling like I knew him.  That didn’t really happen with this one.  I realize that there is not a ton of information out there, but I feel like there HAS to be more than was presented here.

The thing that I really didn’t like was how much of the author’s own opinions made it into the book itself.  I can see putting your opinion or take on a situation in a Forward or an Afterward, but I felt like a lot of times the author jumped to conclusions and then wrote it out as if it was fact.  There is a place for this, but I don’t think that it is in a biography.

Outside of that, this really was an enjoyable read.  I felt like it was written in a smooth, easy to read & understand way.  I liked how he often hopped out of chronological order to offer back-up info or to let us know how such and such effected the future of the country.  This made things really fit together for me and connected pieces that I probably would not have connected.

Overall, I think that this was a great way to get started on my Presidential Challenge.  Next I’m on to John Adams. I plan to read John Adams by David McCullah because I’ve only heard great things about it and we already own it.  Is anyone else that’s participating planning on reading this one?

Original Post