Home / Books / Reviews in Brief: His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

Reviews in Brief: His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Pulitzer-Prize winning Revolutionary War historian Joseph J. Ellis turned his sights on the nation's most singular founder in this 2000 biography, His Excellency: George Washington. A concise look at a long, complicated life, Ellis focuses on very specific questions here, namely how George Washington’s character influenced his public decisions, and how he came to be the symbol of not just American leadership but, earlier, of the entire Revolutionary cause.

Did Washington, the man and the leader, deserve his later canonization? Ellis' answer is a slightly qualified yes, as he traces Washington's life from his youthful, energetic, impulsive military decisions — and a string of near-catastrophic mistakes — to his later, steady leadership of the fledgling American republic.

What Ellis takes pains to demonstrate are the parts of Washington's character — namely, his ability to turn down offered powers despite extremely high personal ambition — that translated into not just his own personal success but also made the American experiment possible. Washington’s strong-willed denial of his own ambition made it possible for America to escape the curse of dictatorial rule that could have easily befallen the country, and it makes Washington, in Ellis' eyes, one of the most remarkable leaders in world history.

The book is an easy, narrative-driven read that should interest even the mildest history enthusiast, and includes earlier paintings and illustrations of Washington and his closest associates. It makes the monument into a man, and then shows why he deserves his later memorials, in effective, clean prose with a sturdy (if oft invisible) background of intense scholarship.

Powered by

About Jenn Kepka

  • Dennis Sweny

    Very interesting book. I very much enjoyed reading it to gain a better understanding of Washington. I did sense a politacal bias of anti-Jeffersona and pro-Washington in their character and shaping of their respective politacl parties respectively.

  • Absolutely true, Dennis. I think Ellis does revere Washington over Jefferson, and Federalism over JEffersonian Democracy; that’s particularly evident in his extremely well-written and researched book on Jefferson, Sphinx.

    Thanks for the comment.