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.