Monday, May 14, 2012

His Excellency by Joseph Ellis

I’ve been working on His Excellency by Joseph Ellis for awhile now and have finally finished it. This isn’t a commentary on the book (which was fabulous), but rather the interruptions in my life! This is the third Ellis book I’ve reviewed here, so you can probably tell I like this writing style and research a lot!
This book focuses on George Washington and does a great job of sifting through the murky myths around him to really give us a good picture of Washington himself. I especially enjoyed the early years and how Washington’s work in the British army later affected his leadership of the Continental Army. You see in Washington a very realistic assessment of things and a very practical approach. Washington was probably the only man who could have done what he did and this book really showcases that. You can see a Washington who knew others were more educated than him, but he understood how to listen, process and then act. You see this again and again as the “great minds” around him do the writing, but he is the one who makes it “sell” as well as changes it often in some way that helps to make it work. The book also delves into the morass of Washington’s slave owning, trying to show how Washington saw it as well as his conflicting opinions around it. He understands the financial problems of slavery and that’s where he starts off as wanting to see it end.

This is mostly political, focusing on his public life with just sojourns into the more private life. For instance, we really barely see Martha here, which I found a little disappointing, but that’s all I can really complain about!

On a side note, something that amused me – Ellis was discussing the drafts of his inaugural address and Washington actually was going to mention that there could be no dynasty because he had no children! Obviously there was great worry about any “monarchial” leanings and this was a “plus” for Washington, in his mind!

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