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His Excellency: George Washington

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  26,852 Ratings  ·  1,055 Reviews
National Bestseller

To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and poli
ebook, 352 pages
Published October 26th 2004 by Vintage (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
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
Oct 24, 2012 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.

Nov 12, 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
Nov 10, 2016 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 Stars - Good book

Let me start by saying that this has been a rough few days. I'll admit I had a hard time reading this because of the current political situation in America. I think that put me in a sour mood, especially reading about the presidency. Not a fan of a certain and I became quite harsh. My tolerance for historical decisions that are rooted in racism and white superiority is nonexistent right now. I angrily sped through the last 150 pages (not necessarily a reflection of the book/Wa
Luís C.

Religion in the United States

How to religion has been one of the presidential campaigns of a leading candidate for the presidential in the United States, I decided to withdraw this text of a Web site:

The overwhelming majority of the 44 American presidents were religious. And all Christians. Only three of them (Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln) were not affiliated to any church. Most presidents belonged to the Episcopal Church, including
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
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
Jenna (JennaHack)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Mar 01, 2017 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, biography
Ellis' biography of Washington was refreshing after being immersed in two immense biographies that spare no details.

The beauty of Ellis' book, beyond its accessibility, was that his intent was not to describe what Washington did, but rather to examine who Washington was. There was, then, no mandate to examine every event in pristine detail, but rather to use events and information as supporting facts around what kind of man Washington was.

Disciplined, ambitious, keenly aware of his reputation, a
Jul 15, 2016 Athena rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Alas. Ellis wrote a fine (Pulitzer-winning) biography of Thomas Jefferson, who fell out with Washington during the latter's presidency: perhaps Ellis has inherited a bias against Washington from his earlier Jeffersonian scholarship? Who knows.

After a few chapters left an odd taste I began skimming the book, heading to those situations where some anti-Washington writers have tended in the past to excoriate Washington simply because they could, finding that Ellis, while less blatantly scornful, do
Jun 29, 2011 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
Rebecca Budd
Jan 30, 2011 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
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
Oct 05, 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
Apr 17, 2011 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
Dec 20, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 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
Jul 15, 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
Arun Divakar
May 11, 2016 Arun Divakar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The ultimate sweetener is history. Incidents, men, women and happenings all achieve a sheen of brilliance after a few decades. When I was a kid and eagerly reading up about historical heroes, there was this admiration on my mind ’Wow, I wish I could be more like them. I wish I could do no wrong, be right and just…’ As growing-up would have it, such naïve notions were soon beaten out of me and were replaced by an understanding that not many heroes had a clear notion of where things were heading d ...more
Jun 14, 2016 Tiffany rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book so much. I'd like to read Chernov's book on Washington but at the moment it is way too large to even think about. This book was an ideal length and gave me a better idea about Washington and who he really was than I'd ever had before. What follows are things that fascinated me.

Washington was born in 1732 and was a fourth-generation Virginian. Kind of amazing to think that he was fourth generation at the time of birth.

He received the modern equivalent of a grade school educa
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
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
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
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
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  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
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  • President James Buchanan: A Biography
  • Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge
  • An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America
  • The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States
  • Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President
  • George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots
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  • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)
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  • Grant
  • Washington's Crossing
  • The Life of Andrew Jackson
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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