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The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac & the Race to the West

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  107 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
The war had been won. Now what? This was the pressing political question for the United States in 1784, and a consuming one for George Washington. He had laid down his sword and returned home to Mount Vernon after eight and a half years as commander of the Continental Army. He vowed that he had retired forever, that he would be a farmer on the bank of the Potomac River, ...more
Hardcover, 367 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Simon & Schuster
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Theo Logos
`The Grand Idea' is a book with a very loose central theme - George Washington's vision (share by many others) of the westward expansion of the young United States, and his idea to use the Potomac River as the crucial tie that would bind the trans-Appalachian western frontier to the coastal population center. The book meanders, (much like the undisciplined and changeable river in its subtitle), all over from that center, covering much of the history of the republic from the end of The Revolution ...more
Craig Adamson
Nice historical look at early westward expansion. Essentially told through the details of George Washington's letters, papers, and various historical records of his interest in expanding the country and making a killing at land speculation. The books specifically follows Washington's interest developing the land in and around the Potomac River as an important commercial route through the region.

Lots of details about Washington the Explorer. How he navigated the river, where he stayed, people he
Jul 15, 2015 Ron rated it really liked it
George Washington's conviction that the Potomac was essential as a gateway to the Western territories, and the best way to cement the West to the rest of the Union was sincere, and dramatized the idea that in the early republic, guaranteeing a union was dicey. But he saw the division as between the settled East and the raw, unsettled and eager West, not between North and South. Achenbach presents a fine quick portrait of Washington in his glory years, showing him as a reluctant politician, but ...more
Dec 10, 2015 Ryan rated it really liked it
Achenbach's book follows the George Washington in the period following the War for Independence. The general feared the new nation could be divided, and believed canals could help with transportation and trade. The story may meander, but it gives a history of the other main character, the Potomac River. It gave an interesting portrait of Washington, and a glimpse of the communities which stretch from the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Cumberland, Maryland.
Travis Blanchard
Aug 14, 2013 Travis Blanchard rated it really liked it
A smooth and very readable account of Washington's failed plan to develop the Potomac into the primary trade hub for the East. I am generally leery of histories written by journalists, but Achenbach has done an admirable job condensing the story into a format which the majority of the reading public and the casual history buff will enjoy.
A great read if you want to learn about a lesser-known facet of Washington's personality and life.
Felt like it took me a long time to finish this one, but it was a really interesting glimpse at the history of the Potomac. I loved the author's funny asides and slighty snarky comments. It could have been dry and difficult, but instead it was a good look at an aspect of Washington's personality and life that seems to be generally disregarded in most biographies.
Suzanne Wheatley
Jan 28, 2008 Suzanne Wheatley rated it it was amazing
Awesome book by Joel Achenbach, humor writer for the Washington Post. A surprisingly sober and insightful look at an odd topic -- George Washington's relationship with the Potomac River. Achenbach channels Washington and makes him human better than any of the historians out there, and I've read quite a few.
Nica  Noelle
Sep 14, 2008 Nica Noelle rated it really liked it
Brings George Washington down to human proportions -- not an easy task. Joel Achenbach is so masterful at taking bigger than life topics and making them accessible to the layperson. He's one of my favorite science writers, and here he does a great job at analyzing Washington's steadfast dream to utilize the Potomac River for travel and trade.
Apr 11, 2012 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is interesting portrait of Washington. It covers more of the man and his business then politics and government. Those topics get touched since so much of his life was in government It is a good example of how western expansion was on people's mode before the LA purchase and that alternatives to expansion were possible and a completely different US might have evolved.
Jun 15, 2016 Peter rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
A great introduction to Washington's early years and exploits before the Revolutionary War and his compulsion with exploring and establishing the Potomac region as the gateway to the West. Can be a bit dull when it discusses geography in parts, but overall really interesting.
Bob Daugherty
Nov 10, 2007 Bob Daugherty rated it it was amazing
A great recording of George Washingtons activities between being commander of the Revolutionary war and being elected president. Great for history buffs!
Sep 09, 2011 Sharon added it
Shelves: history
Took me a long time to get into it. But, it was an interesting look at an important time in our country's history, and it made George Washington come to life.
Dec 24, 2012 Patricia rated it really liked it
One of my many Founding Fathers reads. Very interesting insight into our First President's civilian life. Achenbach is an entertaining story teller.
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Jun 17, 2009 Brendan rated it really liked it
Less boring than expected.
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“But perhaps we see a different set of sins in our own time: a reluctance to take on any new Great National Projects, a general self-indulgence, a culture built on consumption, whole generations raised in an environment where dreams are purchased at the mall. If we could somehow select the virtues of early Americans from amid their failings, we might choose their optimism, their endurance, their inventiveness, their willingness to do something big and difficult--like dig a canal across the mountains or build a new kind of road on rails. These people took on challenges that a more sober and settled population might consider too ambitious, if not downright insane.” 1 likes
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