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The Ascent of George Washington
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The Ascent of George Washington

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  281 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continen...more
ebook, 464 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published May 1st 2009)
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When we were little, we were told George Washington chopped down a cherry tree; had wooden teeth; beat the British at Valley Forge; and magically our country was born! This book is an engrossing and fascinating interpretation of Washington's mythology from contemporary accounts of his peers and a wider narrative of who and what in the world helped forge our great nation.
Having just finished slogging through the huge amount of facts and stories in this book, I found it most interesting learning a...more
Steven Peterson
The thesis of this volume is straightforward (Page xix): "This book, however, takes issue with [many historians':] portrayal of Washington as nonpolitical and steadfastly seeking to stay above politics." The author, John Ferling, also notes Washington's vaulting ambition and his willingness to use a variety of tactics to achieve his goals. Thus, this book can be deemed a political biography of George Washington.

The basic approach is laid out early. Washington did not have much of an education a...more
Craig J.
"As I am late to the battle of these reviews, let me add more of a footnote than a full review. [return][return]The previous reviewers are correct in pointing out the focus of this book - the political aspect of Washington's life, rather than a broader focus that would include more details of his private life and military leadership. However, one should interpret the term ""political"" broadly, as Ferling has much to say about the politics of Washington's rise as a military leader and how he ear...more
Gary Hoggatt
George Washington has been the subject of countless books, from multi-volume biographies to books that focus in on a single aspect of his life. John Ferling's 2009 The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon falls into the later camp, looking at the father of our country through the lens of his political career. Overall, it's an interesting book with a fresh - if often cynical - perspective, though I wouldn't recommend it as anyone's first venture into readin...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...more
Ok I will shorten this review since I did a review earlier and then lost it due to some computer boo boo.
I really enjoyed reading this book about the Father of our nation. No where is mentioned the cutting down of the cherry tree or the infamous false wooden teeth. I was taught these stories in grade school and I now really don't understand the significance of these facts.
This book describes a Washington that is very self-serving,blaming others for his failures, unable to make a decision and cau...more
Bob H
Even after all the books about George Washington, this author finds a new perspective on Washington's career. Readers should not be put off by the sometimes-startling insights, by a Washington who owed as much to political favor and self-promotion as to his military successes, such that they were. The very fact that Washington served as colonial officer, revolutionary general and President was important, as was his symbolic value as early as 1775, and all this was the result of his political con...more
Every American knows who George Washington was and even though few still believe Parson Weems’ story of his life (does anyone still believe he chopped down a cherry tree?) most Americans have an idealized portrait of Washington in their minds. In The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon, John Ferling portrays a different and much more human version of Washington. [return][return]Ferling, who has written extensively about the American Revolutionary period,...more
William C. Montgomery
This book was a fairly quick read, lacking the density of other biographies and histories I have read in recent years by Edmund Morris, David McCullough and Richard Lyman Bushman. I have wanted to find a good book on Washington since reading 1776 by McCullough and this book has proved credible in this regard.

I could not determine whether Ferling likes or dislikes his subject, which is part of the book's intrigue. The book is generally well written and well sourced. Most of Ferling’s arguments ar...more
An ARC from the GoodReads FirstReads program

This was a concise review of American history, although I'm not sure how reliable it is. The author clearly intends to portray a different side to George Washington, the 'hidden political' side.

In the preface, I came across a word I wasn't familiar with - hagiography. Turns out, this is the study of holy people. Ferling contends that most biographers treat George Washington as something of a saint, allowing some myths about his life to linger. He conte...more
It was clear from the beginning that Ferling was taking a different approach to his biography on George Washington than most other historians. He wanted to knock Washington off the pedestal Americans have placed him upon and attempt to humanize a man that has been made into a hero and idol in the eyes of most Americans. I understand that mindset, but there was a lot of negativity in his writing and at times, to me, it took away the objectivity in this biography. Sometimes it was as if we weren’t...more
Jeremy Perron
It can be said that there are two people for every person, the person who we are perceived to be and the person who we really are. This is extra true for public personalities, there is the identity that the public knows and who the person actually is. From any reality T.V. star to the President of the United States, who the person really is maybe far different from the public perception. For those who have graced the public stage the public persona continues to live on long after the real person...more
Brett Provance
Ferling's book is an important corrective to the ever-accruing yet ever-oversimplifying hagiographies that pass for historical work these days in the popular, middle-brow media. As George Washington is practically the Jesus Christ of the American civic religion (he ascends to heaven at the interior apex of the dome of the nation's Capitol), Ferling's work is even courageous. Indeed, Ferling is unflinching in his frank assessment of Washington's perennial preoccupation with land-grabbing and the...more
This review is actually coming from reading the advanced reading copy. I know there were maps to be included in the final copy, which I think would greatly enhance the book. I really loved this book from start to finish. Mainly because it is not just another book on George Washington. The author, John Ferling, takes a new approach to this famous man by arguing that he was actually very political and highly partisan, which goes against what other historians have said. John Ferling takes the reade...more
Mar 20, 2011 Christine rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anybody more willing than I to take semi-harsh criticism.
While I myself do have an elevated view of George Washington and do find myself placing him in a realm of otherworldliness where he seems to have no faults, it is hard to read about his shortcomings. I am however able to accept his faults because I know that no one is perfect. I feel like Ferling portrays too harsh a view of George Washington, playing up all of his shortcomings, which seems to me, an alarming degree. While no one likes to read negative things about a person they really admire, I...more

“The Ascent of George Washington” is prolific author John Ferling’s tenth book (of eleven thus far) and was published in 2009. He is a professor emeritus of history and has written extensively on the revolutionary era as well as many of those who figured so prominently in its history.

The somewhat contentious tone of his book is quickly established when Ferling points out that he fundamentally disagrees with the prevailing view of our first president as a “...more
George Washington is as big a secular saint as any in America's history. Here, John Ferling is decidedly iconoclastic. The popular image of Washington as an unassuming public servant is the target; Ferling paints Washington as a shrewd politician, if not self-absorbed, then certainly self-interested.

This critical history begins with Washington's military career and eventual generalship. Deep and detailed, the account of this period serves as the basis from which, Ferling claims, Washington would...more
Not your average history book.

Also not quite a flattering portrayal. While it didn't neglect all of GW's accomplishments, by any means, it told what seemed to be a very frank and candid assessment of the hows and whys of the man. Not just his ascent, either, unless referring to his ascent into the history books, as the author covered from childhood to a death, even including a brief post-mortem analysis on the immediate aftermath (several years worth) of affects on the country.

I came away from...more
David Buhler
I am very glad to have found and read this book. It is an eye-opener, as they say; and a peek into the character and personality of the "founder of our country." He had a huge ego which compensated for feelings of inadequacy. And in truth he WAS inadequate as a warrior; but he was hugely lucky!

He had no qualms about embellishing the truth if it would hide his shortcomings and advance his career. He was reserved, quiet, speaking but little; maintaining a air of kingly dignity! In spite of all hi...more
This book is built around proving that George Washington while a person of great import and impact was not as good as most have portrayed him. The message at the soul of the book is that George Washington was a politician driven by ambition.

I'll grant that Washington was not some sort of perfect saint and no doubt he did have ambition(s). However, I felt the author overstated his case. The descriptions of his character by his peers that knew him in real life do not match the picture the author...more
Paul Lunger
There are a lot of words, phrases & stories that are associated with George Washington. John Ferling's biography of our nation's first commander in chief does a very good job of explaining just exactly how Washington went from surveyor in Virginia to failed military commander at Ft. Necessity to Revolutionary War hero to President of the US. Each chapter shows the growing confidence of Mr. Washington along with the growing pains that our new nation goes through from the French & Indian W...more

This guy, so glaringly not the guy from history class, was sneaky and stubborn and selfish and insubordinate, an opportunist, and in myriad freshly discovered ways, a dick, but also a bona fide OG. My previous impression: valiant and pure and dull-witted Love Of Country (cherry tree, aw shucks, sure I'll be president, if you insist, gosh my teeth hurt), was so much less inspiring than this epic, slogging determination to turn colossal mistakes to self-advantage, and intersecting so neatly with...more
Ferling takes a rather unorthodox approach with Washington's biography, but one that possibly should have been contemplated years ago. Ferling expresses the viewpoint that history has painted a far too rosy a picture of our first President, and therefore consistently examines Washington's life with the perspective of revealing his true ambitions, faults, and successes. Ferling try's to be as fair as possible, and I don't think Ferling's conclusions were inaccurate in any way, but after reading t...more
Good book- well researched and well executed. You can never have too many perspectives on Washington. I still think "His Excellency" is the best full Washington-bio out there, with "Washington's Crossing" coming in as a close-second for insight into Washington's leadership qualities during the first year of the revolution. Still, this book does help peel away some of the deification associated with the father or our country, exposing the type of self-preservationist motives behind many of Washin...more
David R.
These words come to mind about this biography: travesty, outrage, hit piece. The author cherrypicks from the historical record, putting the first president in the worst possible light. To be sure he tries some backpedaling in his afterward, but the fact of the matter is that we are obliged to accept that George Washington was a thorough military incompetent, easily manipulated mental lightweight, and barely successful plantation owner yet was somehow a world class master of self-promotion. This...more
Mike Hampson
Ferling might have a genuine argument to be made here, but he seriously undermines it with his habit of telling us how he interprets his sources without showing us what those sources say. When he does bother to actually quote them, he typically uses just fragments of sentences, often without attributing them to a specific person and rarely with an explanation of the context. Without that grounding, his assumptions and interpretations seem self-reinforcing and circular. Judging by the internet he...more
What a cool look at Washington! Like many I'd read all about how he was disinterested in politics. I'd always wondered about it considering the amount of good he achieved. Ferling is excellent as he traces Washington's growth and his reactions to difficult situations in an intelligent and astute way. I was really impressed by how detailed and well researched Ascent is.
The one thing that bugged me was how Ferling kept pushing that Washington was "glory mad" or "served himself". Yes, I get he was...more
Do to circumstances beyond my control I never finished this book. However, the part I DID read I enjoyed and found very interesting. I'd recommend reading it - and actually finishing it. :)
This book walks a careful line between the traditional hagiographies of George Washington and the mindless deconstruction of the past few decades. It is well researched and fairly well written (I would shorten some of the paragraphs). At times, such as the account of the middle years of the Revolutionary War, the author brings too high a level of suspicion to Washington's motives. He should apply the law of political entropy: accept the simplest explanation unless you have good evidence for the...more
Tommy Powell
I love George Washington and any biography about the founders, but this book became tedious about midway through. My first thought was that the focus on his personal behavior was a bit too unusual for me, but the organization does leave much to desire. I didn't get a sense of Washington's personal growth (or lack thereof). The chronological nature of this narrative made me feel a bit captive and restless.

There is a lot of excellent, and new (for me), detail, but this is not an exciting or engros...more
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John E. Ferling is a professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. A leading authority on American Revolutionary history, he is the author of several books, including "A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic", "Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence", and his most recent work, "The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Politi...more
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