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His Excellency: George Washington

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  23,789 Ratings  ·  977 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 1st 2004 by Recorded Books (first published 2004)
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David Leemon I'm not sure I understand the question. The setting would obviously be historical colonial America and the American Revolution period. Historians…moreI'm not sure I understand the question. The setting would obviously be historical colonial America and the American Revolution period. Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe named Washington as one of the leading members of "the Liberty Generation" who lived in the mid- to late-18th Century. I hope this helps.(less)
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Nate Cooley
Feb 07, 2008 Nate Cooley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 13, 2014 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily by: Eric Lin
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
Oct 08, 2012 John McNeilly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2015 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
"...his trademark decision to surrender power as commander in chief and then president, was not...a sign that he had conquered his ambitions, but rather that he fully realized that all ambitions were inherently insatiable and unconquerable. He knew himself well enough to resist the illusion that he transcended human nature. Unlike Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell before him, and Napoleon, Lenin, and Mao after him, he understood that the greater glory resided in posterity's judgment. If you aspi ...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
Jamie Collins
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
Jenna (JennaHack)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sara  (
Feeding my Hamilton the musical kick.

Interesting to see more of Washington beyond the accepted picture of him as a stolid but not very intelligent leader. Also interested to see how much he used Hamilton's energy and zeal about Federalism to shield himself and to be able to portray himself as more neutral, when really Washington also wanted a strong national government. Also interesting to see how this viewpoint came out of Washington's experience as a war general; how difficult it was to comma
Rebecca Budd
Feb 22, 2016 Rebecca Budd rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, 2009
I enjoyed this biography. Beginnings are marked by remarkable people doing remarkable deeds. As time goes by, these events take on a mythical aura while the individuals become the “stuff of legends.” We do not see them as mortal beings; rather, we elevate them to a reverential status that separates them from the ordinary. The Founding Fathers of the United States fit into this category. Benjamin Franklin was considered the wisest, Thomas Jefferson the intellectual, John Adams the scholar, and Al ...more
May 27, 2015 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Jun 17, 2014 Benjamin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 23, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 14, 2009 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 22, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2014 Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Achieves the rare feat of showing all the warts and foibles of a historical figure, while not in anyway lessening his achievements or detracting from the place he has earned in history. Now I know Washington as a human being more than I did before, yet I still have just as much respect for him. (My respect for Jefferson, on the other hand, is somewhat diminished but not by any means extinguished.)

I chuckled at the young Washington’s groveling attempts to ingratiate himself with his superiors, cr
Jul 22, 2014 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nathan Schneider
This book was suggested to me and I'm thankful that it was. Ellis writes in an engaging manner that provides information, but more importantly, tells a story. I was surprised by some of the truths in Washington's life (e.g. his exaggerating and possible deception through correspondence), but in the end, I found myself having more appreciation for the Revolutionary War hero and our first president. Especially interesting for me was Washington's take on slavery (was at moments ahead of his time) a ...more
Dec 19, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, history
This is a fantastic biography! It was filled with many nuances worthy of attention. I don't feel like I crawled inside Washington's heart or soul but I do feel like I understand him more as a flesh and blood man than the cartoon often told. It's hard not to be struck by how there really was no one else that could have done what Washington did. He was not only central in winning independence from British rule but also in nurturing a nation in its infancy.

The author covers every facet of Washingt
Scott Martin
Aug 28, 2013 Scott Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 28, 2013 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 03, 2013 David Schwan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Christian Dibblee
Thoroughly enjoyable book. I appreciate Ellis' conclusion that Washington had insatiable ambition and plenty of self-interest. All of the evidence points to this conclusion but it seems as if collective history shows Washington as a bastion of incorruptible virtue.

That said, Ellis focuses on two very salient points that make Washington the best president this country has ever had: his ability to abide fully by the rules of the Constitution and to embody the "spirit of '76" while recognizing his
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
Feb 10, 2010 Joe rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 17, 2009 Addie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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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.
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