Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “His Excellency: George Washington” as Want to Read:
His Excellency: George Washington
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

His Excellency: George Washington

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  17,665 ratings  ·  861 reviews
Focusing on the greatest hero in American history, this is the long-awaited biography of George Washington by the Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning author of "Founding Brothers" and "American Sphynx." Unabridged. 12 CDs.
Audio CD
Published October 26th 2004 by Recorded Books (first published January 1st 2004)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about His Excellency, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about His Excellency

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Nate Cooley
In "His Excellency," Joseph Ellis has written a very readable and concise synopsis on the life of George Washington. Though more recognizable for his works "Founding Brothers" and "American Sphinx" (about Thomas Jefferson), Ellis successfully undertakes the task of illuminating probably the most important figure in American history.

Probably the most apparent burden struck by Ellis, and a theme readily illusive throughout his book, is the author's effort to avoid what he terms a certain "hyperbo
I wish that more biographies were 270 pages. I find that nonfiction is a commitment for me - I read and absorb it much more slowly. Most biographies of people that I'm marginally interested in, then, become totally unrealistic reads. His Excellency: George Washington creates a compelling portrait of one of the most idealized heroes of American history, and it does so while remaining readable. This is a great introduction to Washington scholarship, and an even better portrait of a complex man.

John McNeilly
This was the first of two books I'm currently reading about George Washington. As part of my 2-year quest to read the top two biographies of each of our 43 U.S. Presidents, I began with this and Ron Chernow's behemoth "Washington: A Life," a far more comprehensive treatment.

Initially I preferred Chernow's book, but as I started to compare the two for interpretation, Ellis's gorgeous narrative writing quickly won me over. While no where near the depth of Chernow's tome, Ellis covers all the main
I just returned from a visit to Washington, D.C. and Mount Vernon, so I'm in a patriotic mood. This is a very readable, enjoyable biography that attempts to explain Washington's character and motivations and to describe the influences which shaped his decisions.

The book is fairly short and is written at a bird's-eye view, mostly lacking in the kind of human detail that I usually enjoy in a biography. It left me hungry for more details: I wanted to know more about his personal experience during t
I'm glad I read this book, but I'm glad I'm finished it too. I'm not sure if I'll read any others by this author. He interjects too much of his own opinions and spent lots of time denigrating his subject! Although I learned a lot, it was pretty dry and did not include enough flesh on the bones of history for me. No comparison to Walter Isaacson's conversational style, which I read just prior to this. Had I not, I may have enjoyed this one a whole lot more.

Now on to John Adams! May the force be
Mike Stone
This book is disgraceful. Had there been an open window on the jet I was traveling on I would have opened it and tossed this piece of revisionist garbage out of it. This is yet another book written by yet another 'termite in the pillars of history'. If you have read history then you know well that George Washington was without a doubt one of the most outstanding great men of all time. His peers, even his 'enemies' named him, readily, as a giant among giants. Virtuous, selfless, wise, benevolent ...more
First response: Ellis pontificates beyond my comfort level. I enjoy grand sentences, but this is way to much. His flourishing, over-bloated style does little to represent Washington (who, Ellis admits, was not a high intellectual.)

He definitely covers the highs and lows, but he offers an incredible amount of personal opinion and unsubstantiated analysis, and even second-guesses motives. I am glad to know about Washington's life, and to have insight about him, but I have enjoyed very little of t
Jenna (JennaHack)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Fair, balanced, and fantastically enlightening, Ellis paints an insightful portrait of America’s greatest patriarch. Washington is an immense challenge for any biographer. His great stoicism, and mysterious personality that reveals itself so rarely – even more rarely because Martha burned all of their personal correspondence after his death – allow only the most skilled historians to gain insights into the man behind the icon. Fortunately, Ellis can credibly count himself among those most skille ...more
Steven Peterson
Joseph Ellis' "His Excellency: George Washington" is a well done brief biography of George Washington. Washington, surely, could be the subject of one of those massive bios, such as Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton" or "Titan" or Nasaw's "Andrew Carnegie" or Cannadine's "Mellon." On the other hand, not all biographies need to be so massive. Ellis' work is insightful, provides a sense of Washington the person, and outlines the growth of his character, as he controls his ambitions. In 275 pages, we g ...more
For some time now I've wanted to find some book that helped with separating the fact from the fancy regarding the life and works of George Washington. This was a good choice I believe.
I was able to see the very human side of Washington and his very mortal mistakes. He was not a womanizer as has been rumored, though he did seem to have some feelings in his younger days for another mans wife, but nothing intimate.
Washington stated again and again that the hand of providence had spared him (partic
Joseph J. Ellis' stated goal in writing this biography was to produce a book that people could actually read, and I think he really succeeds. His Excellency George Washington comes in under 300 pages, which is about a third of the length of David McCullough's fine John Adams. It really is hard to get to know the personality and character of someone so mythical as George Washington, but Ellis does a good job at displaying his virtues (which are many) along with his weaknesses. There is a popular ...more
Tim Weakley
Biography of the year for me. Ellis has produced a historical, thoughful, indepth, and yet readable story of one of the truly great men we have been given. While not an American, I am still allowed to have a respectful interest in some of the founders of your state. Washington, Adams, and Jefferson make a powerful triumvirate. These 300 odd pages about Washington left me wanting a little bit more depth about his early years, but that is my sole complaint about the book.

This is a suggested read f
I really enjoyed this biography of the "Father of the Nation" up until now all that I knew of Washington were half-truths, fables and myths. This book really helped to flesh out the man that became the Most Important Man in our history.
We would not be the country we are if it were not for George Washington. Jefferson, Adams, Monroe, Franklin, Henry and Hamilton were all important men that did help shape the landscape of the New World, but it was "His Excellency" that made the choices and to take
Scott Martin
I read this book several years ago and decided to re-read this book again. The first time reading this, I picked up on the theme of Washington's desire to emulate the legendary Roman General Cinncinatus, who rose to great military fame defeating the enemies of Rome and then stepping down from his perch of military power to serve as a farmer. It is remarkable how much restraint Washington showed, as he was all but given the chance to assume near imperial powers in America, and he did not. In a se ...more
After reading Courting Cate, I became inspired to read a biography on each of our Presidents. I’m kind of embarrassed that I don’t know a majority of the Presidents who have served our nation. But that shall change! So here’s the first review in a series that will take probably two years to complete, but I’m ready for the challenge!

First thought: Who know George Washington was tall and buff? And apparently kinda handsome or “physically majestic” as the book quoted. Say wha??? I’m just sayin the
David Schwan
This as a concise book about the life and accomplishments of George Washington. What made this book interesting were a number of points. 1) Washington's experiences both before and during the the revolutionary war brought him to the conclusion that and future nation coming out the the American colonies needed to have a strong federal government in order for it's future to be assured. 2) That untrained militia were not of much value to the continental army. The real battles were won by regular tr ...more
Joy H.
Added 3/9/12.
I listened to the audio version of this book. Below is a copy of a post I made at my group about this book and another book about GW:
Jim wrote: "Joy, did you see a big difference between Ellis' view of Washington & Ferling's? One of the more interesting things about history is how much it changes depending on the author. ..."

Jim, I would say that, as far as I can remember, Ferling's book, The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political
"Benjamin Franklin was wiser than Washington; Alexander Hamilton was more brilliant; John Adams was better read; Thomas Jefferson was more intellectually sophisticated; James Madison was more politically astute. Yet each and all of these prominent figures acknowledged that Washington was their unquestioned superior." (pg xiv) And in this "modest-sized book about a massive historical subject," Joseph Ellis looks at why Washington was so highly regarded, both by his contemporaries and by history. ...more
“His Excellency” is yet another biography about the foremost founding father George Washington. Author Joseph Ellis attempted to distinguish this work by focusing on the man’s illusive character. The book manages to entertainingly retell a story about a person known to everyone, while simultaneously describing a personality known to few. Ellis dug deep into the 18th century records and put some life back into a legendary individual who has been dead for over 200 years.

Its greatest strength is th
Having just completed The Real George Washington, I thought it would be interesting to continue my study of the Founding Fathers with another book about Washington.

I have to admit I didn't get very far. I read the first few chapters and then scanned the rest of the book. The book is lacking in a number of ways.

First Ellis thinks that because he says it, it must be so. His references to primary materials is spotty at best. He is high on opinion, with little to back it up. For example, Ellis claim
I was fairly disappointed with this book. George Washington is the figure in American history who I admire the most, and I have no problem with criticism, however in this case the author's criticism was an irritant and distraction, and which only made me dislike the author, not the subject. His writing style was also inappropriate for a historical biography, reading more like a magazine article or newspaper editorial. However, he did a good job of researching and presenting the facts, only he th ...more
"For the rest of his life, all arguments based on the principle of mutual trust devoid of mutal interest struck his as sentimental nonsense." Washington was an extremely smart man militarily, politically, and otherwise. Though uneducated, he proved that he could go far just by listening and observing. He took advice well and though sometimes unforgiving, really knew how to handle hard situations. He fought hard and thought ahead, usually making astoundingly correct predictions about where the fu ...more
This book by Ellis, his best that I've read, is a great examination of the life of this most revered and yet most enigmatic President. Despite a dearth of personal primary sources, Ellis does a fine job looking behind the mask to see the character off Washington. A man of great passions and ambition, Washington had a keen understanding of the role of perception, and carefully crafted the regal public persona so remarkable. As a tactician, he does not rank among the greatest military minds, nor w ...more
I have never had much interest in the peri-American Revolution period of history. I think this is because in the 1950’s this part of history was taught in such a sanitized, i.e. boring fashion with these static characters who were about a alive as their plaster statues. A few years ago I read Adams, by David McCullough, and was totally in love with Adams by the end. I certainly did not have that reaction to George Washington after this book, but I do feel that this period of history has been som ...more
Before there was Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley, there was George Washington. After leading the continental army to a most amazing and unexpected victory over the British, Washington was nothing short of an international superstar. Indeed, years before he even became president of the newly created United States, he was often referred to as "His Excellency." And yet, he truly never aspired to the presidency in the first place.

He was a man firm in his convictions, extremely loyal to the revolut
This was a good biography of Washington. It was very well balanced, taking a not too worshipful tone, nor overly critical. It managed to steer a middle path, highlighting Washington's importance as the first President as well as the Commander in Chief, while exposing his weaknesses in his second term and with his struggles over freeing his slaves.

The one drawback of the audio edition was that the microphone was too sensitive during recording, allowing a lot of external verbal noise to come throu
It probably deserves 5 stars, it's that good, but I gave it 4 because I really had to plow through a lot of it. Because of this book, I have a much greater understanding and respect for the beginnings of our nation and the men who devoted their lives to principles and ideals and a cause they believed in. Ellis irritated me just a little with his determination to expose Washington's true personality and character, which come off as less than perfect, darn it. However, I'm determined to finish 'Fo ...more
Joseph Ellis is a fine historian and this is a thoroughly researched and well-cited work. Sadly "His Excellency; George Washington" reads like a history text, full of facts, many that I never knew, but lacking that magical spark that engages the reader. His book on Thomas Jefferson, "American Sphinx" was better. Although not long by biography standards, this took me quite awhile to finish. Recommended to those readers who enjoy learning about the lives of our "Founding Fathers" and the birth of ...more
Fills in the gaps in my woefully VERY VERY BAD American history public school education. And by that I ALSO mean my state school history degree.

ANYWOOT, this is a super-fascinating look into George Washington's personality and motives starting from when he was a young man to his death, moving way beyond the myths and the WE MUST NEVER CRITICIZE THE WASHINGTON worship that a lot of biographers suffer from (shh yes he had slaves but we don't talk about that LOOK A CHERRY TREE OR SOMETHING).

« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • John Adams: Party of One
  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
  • James Madison
  • Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
  • Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge
  • James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon
  • The Life of Andrew Jackson
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
  • Colonel Roosevelt
  • Mornings on Horseback
  • Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America
  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a nationally recognized scholar of American history from colonial times through the early decades of the Republic. The author of seven books, he is recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. He lives in Massachusetts.
More about Joseph J. Ellis...
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic First Family: Abigail and John Adams Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

Share This Book

“Because he could not afford to fail, he could not afford to trust.” 44 likes
“Some models of self-control are able to achieve their serenity easily because the soul fires never burn brightly to begin with.” 3 likes
More quotes…