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Washington: The Indispensable Man

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,986 ratings  ·  100 reviews
After more than two decades, this dramatic and concise single-volume distillation of James Thomas Flexner's definitive four-volume biography "George Washington," which received a Pulitzer Prize citation and a National Book Award for the fourth volume, has itself become an American classic. Now in a new trade paperback edition, this masterful work explores the Father of Our ...more
Paperback, 423 pages
Published February 22nd 1994 by Back Bay Books (first published 1974)
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R.J. Askew
400 pages. 52 chapters. 8 pages per chapter, roughly.

The structure of Washington: The Indispensable Man was perfect for this reader. I read one or two chapters per sitting and never strayed from the path into a forest of detail.

I have longed to read about Washington for several years, but not got round to it. I went as far as going into four bookshops in London and St.Albans before going on holiday last year. Not one word on the man.

I was shocked that such a gigantic figure was absent from the s
Mary JL
Mar 01, 2009 Mary JL rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a good biography
Recommended to Mary JL by: Found while browsing
James Thomas Flexner wrote a very detailed 4 volume biography of Washington. Then, I beleive at a publishers request, he took the core parts of the four volumes and published a one volume biography.

It is very, very good. First, one long volume of almost 400 words is still more accessible to the general reader than a four voume biography. Second, by reducing the story to one volume, the author can focus on the high spots. Third, the reasearch is very well done.

If you really want to know more abou
Katie Abbott Harris
This was required reading for a history course that I was enrolled in a few years back, but I ended up dropping the course and never sold the texts back. It is an interesting and relatively short biography on George Washington; at 400 pages, it is MUCH shorter than Flexner's FOUR VOLUME long version. The writing was very dry at points, and I really had to stay focused or I'd find myself "reading" pages without really reading them. Still, it is a thorough account of a fascinating man and a very i ...more
Robert A. Smith
A classic Presidential biography, it brings George Washington to life. The author takes Washington off his marble pedestal wand puts on a horse, racing through a storm of bullets during the French and Indian War. And so the journey begins. This book explains why Washington was great, glorious and, above all, selfless. More than anyone else he kept the Revolution alive. This from a wealthy man who had more reasons to stay out of the fight than any other. Yet, despite treachery, betrayal and the i ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Aug 27, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those Interested in the Revolutionary Period and American Presidents
In his bibliography in the back, Flexner divides published biographies of Washington into "three major categories--the historically sound, the goody-goody, and the debunking." Flexner's four volume biography of George Washington won a Pulitzer Prize citation and a National Book Award. This one volume version of that work seems to strike a good balance between the critical and admiring and, based on primary sources, from what I can tell, deserves to be put among those "historically sound." It's c ...more
I'm embarrassed to admit the limited knowledge I had of George Washington prior to reading this book. The vision of a nostalgic, white haired man and the memory of my playing the part of Martha Washington in elementary school were about the extent of it. Thank goodness I chose this book to get to know him. Let's just say I cried upon finishing the last page. I felt extreme guilt over having thought of our 1st president as only a sweet looking, quiet old man, when in reality he was a man of great ...more
Flexner's survey of the life of the United States' first President is a contracted version of his earlier four volume biography of Washington. The author faced a considerable challenge in distilling the content of the original work into a single book, and ultimately falls short. This history adopts a quasi-scholarly tone that denudes from narrative excitement, yet has very little historical context aside from an outline of the philosophical dispute between Hamilton and Jefferson. This unhappy co ...more
While I respect the work that Flexner has done, his inability to understand Alexander Hamilton and his refusal to set aside academically accepted predjudices of the man bothers me greatly.

However, he gives the reader a coheasive view of who George Washington - the man - was. And I think that is wonderful
From everything I've read, this is supposed to be one of the best single-volume George Washington biographies, but though it does a great job detailing all the major points of GW's life, I left the book feeling that I still didn't truly know who George Washington was. Some of the more recent GW biographies do a better job at communicating GW's personality and psychological motivations, and Flexner's prose is relatively flat compared to that of Ron Chernow & Joseph Ellis. Still, if you're loo ...more
Washington--interesting. Book--meh.
Dana Stabenow
Any good biography is not only a portrait of the subject, it is a doorway that opens into a place and a time, and Flexner’s book is rich with this kind of detail. “The “Wild West” was then on the Atlantic seacoast,” he writes of Virginia in 1675, the year the first Washington came to America.
There, that gives you a little perspective on the time.

How about this: “In 1768, Washington went to church on fifteen days, mostly when away from home, and hunted foxes on forty-nine…He attended three balls
Washington was no brilliant tactician, at least to begin with. He had suffered many defeats and had learned to work within the limits that were imposed on him by circumstances and resources. His style of command was uniquely American. He wasn't concerned about the protocols of rank as much as he was about the realities of the battlefield. Whatever it took to win victory was given priority. But he also had to preserve his troops, at least until their enlistments expired.

Typically, in his council
Aug 24, 2010 Marie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Marie by: NPH
After more than two decades, this dramatic and concise single-volume distillation of James Thomas Flexner's four-volume biography George Washington, which received a Pulitzer Prize citation and a National Book Award for the fourth volume, has itself become an American classic. Now in a new trade paperback edition, this masterful work explores the Father of Our Country--sometimes an unpopular hero, a man of great contradictions, but always a towering historical figure, who remains, as Flexner wri ...more
Gary Hoggatt
James Thomas Flexner's single volume biography of George Washington, George Washington: The Indispensable Man, is widely regarded as among the best single volume treatments of the subject. As Flexner first wrote a four volume biography before writing this original work (this is not just an abridgement of the four volume set, it is a new endeavor), he certainly has a great understanding of the subject and it comes through in this book.

Flexner does an excellent job of describing the events of Wash

“Washington: The Indispensable Man” is the single-volume abridgment of James Thomas Flexner’s epic four-volume series on George Washington published between 1965 and 1972. Flexner wasted little time accommodating those who beseeched him to author a biography accessible to a wider audience, and as a result this single-volume work was published in 1974. It has been widely read and well-admired ever since.

In his effort to downsize the much longer series into
Last spring my family went to Washington, DC for both vacation and a little education. Just as I did almost thirty(!) years ago, we included a trip to Mt. Vernon. At the gift shop there I picked out what I hoped was the best one-volume biography of George, a birthday gift from my folks.

The author had earlier written a four-volume biography. This 400-page book is kind of a distillation of that larger work into one volume. Whew! That was enough detail for me. Like a lot of our founding fathers, th
I have been starting and stopping this book for years now, but I finally buckled down and finished it and I am glad I did. This book made me realize that, really, all I knew about George Washington was the legendary stuff you learn in school. Usually when someone in put under the microscope like this, by an author who is determined to take a totally dispassionate look at an historical figure, you come away disappointed that they don't live up to the hero status given them. However, with this boo ...more
Well, well, well-researched. Flexner dedicated his professional career to creating an accurate and thorough biography of George Washington. He wrote four enormous volumes and then condensed them into one short text, which I read. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing man. I learned some pretty incredible things about our first president, like his mental deterioration in his old age, his secret freeing of his slaves, his possible flirtations with a married woman. Like all popular biographies tod ...more
Jun 16, 2011 Bonnie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bruce Dickson
Recommended to Bonnie by: Dorothy Hall
The publisher calls this a distillation. It is derived from a four-volume set written on the Father of our Country (the 4th of which won a prize).

A great historical, biographical read that puts forth President Washington in all his majesty manifesting his fortitude and foibles; insight and insecurities; charm, charisma and courage from birth to death.

A book club choice that I am thrilled to have read, helping me more to understand the daunting task of establishing a republic and the great visio
I liked the factual information I gained from this book and the overall content.

However, My biggest complaint and the reason I won't recommend this to anyone is that they made assumptions that were NOT based on facts. For example, when Washington was the leader of the Virginia army before the Revolutionary War some of his officers "went wenching", so they just made the assumption that Washington did, too. Even though they have no factual information to the base that assumption on. I felt like t
Hmm, what I learned from this book...that alot of the reason the country is in the state it's in is because of too much power being given to the executive branch.

And that happened because the first man to hold that office was such a man of character, integrity, and principle that such power was safe in his hands. He always did what was best for the country - and oftentimes that had little to do with his own feelings about a thing. He was the ultimate statesman.

Like Lincoln he gave his heart an
Daniel Villines
This is a relatively short biography of George Washington given that this author, James Flexner, wrote a 4 volume tome on the life of George Washington. It touches on the significant events of his life with sufficient detail. The book also illustrates the humility and strength of Washington’s character. It also narrates the strength of Washington’s belief in the new republic, his determination to see our representative form of government succeed, and his refusal of personal power for the greater ...more
Mark Dunn
A biography of Washington, focusing mainly on his experiences as Commander in Chief of the revolutionary army, as well as his time as president. Some of the main areas covered in the biography include:
- Washington's humility as a leader
- his unorthodox, and often unsuccesful tactics as a military strategist (he was the first to admit he was not ready for the role)
- his vision of a union of the states to form a federal power
- his political prowess; always talking and rallying support
- his in
May 19, 2008 Linnae rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Linnae by: Clark
Portrait of a hero and a truly great man. Flexner makes Washington human, by acknowledging his considerable gifts, but also writing candidly about his failings. I didn't realize how much opposition Washington faced as President, nor how narrow a line it was between tyranny and anarchy for us as a country in those early days. One of Washington's greatest concerns as President was actually what would happen when he stepped down--to show the world that a peaceful transfer of power could happen in a ...more
Sharon Martell
A very good look at Washington as a man rather than an icon. Flexner does not go into great detail about the Revolutionary War battles, so a prior historical knowledge helps to understand the intricacies of what was happening at the time. I found Washington's relationship with Hamilton and Jefferson interesting, and also the morals and strength of mind that propelled him to greatness, but which could also (from a pure business perspective) hold him back. It was fascinating to consider how power ...more
I took about a year to finish this book; reading it at various intervals. It is chalked full of information, plenty either unknown or ignored nowadays. Flexner engages his reader with concise, but complete, information. I encourage anyone that wants to know more about one of the most influential and interesting Presidents the US has had to pick up this book. The information included gives a rounded picture of what the country was like back then, how media bias has existed since the country's fou ...more
Dave Goldberg
A thorough biography one of one of the most written about Americans. The writing flows, but there is no forgetting that this is history writing. I liked this book for the extensive quoting from Washington's correspondance and journals. While it seems the dominant view of historians to paint Washington as a strong leader who lacked philosophical capacity, I find his own words defy that characterization. By the way, this is the book that inspired the 1980s miniseries on Washington, starring Barry ...more
Flexner wrote 4 other books on Washington. He condensed a lot of material into this book which
was a companion to a television mini-series with Barry Bostwick as our first president. It is a
very worthy read, Flexner is an expert on his subject and it shows. I learned a lot about
Washington, a truly great leader.
This is definitely a "canon" biography of Washington and is a good place to start. Many later biographies seem to be started with a specific agenda on how to be "different" and expose something new or different about Washington. These older biographies seem to be focused on just telling the story of the life in the level of detail that the writer thinks he can sustain. This book does bring home the theme of Washington's unique and truly "indispensible" role in the founding and sustaining of this ...more
T Murphy
Very good read, an insightful look into Goerge Washington's life. An easy read considering its a biography.
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