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Inventing George Washington: America's Founder, in Myth and Memory

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  89 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Unmarked book with light wear
Hardcover, 249 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Harper (first published December 29th 2010)
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Steven Peterson
Dec 28, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it liked it
This is an interesting take on how the country has examined George Washington since the time of his death. In a sense, this is an exploration of the social construction of George Washington. The author asserts that in each era of American history, elements of Washington's persona are emphasized to fit the zeitgeist of the time or the expectations of certain groups. For instance, religion. Contemporary Christian conservatives focus on any evidence that Washington was deeply religious. The histori ...more
Jan 19, 2011 Dave rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
“Inventing George Washington” by Edward G. Lengel is an interesting look at the myths which have formed around the man who served as the first President of the United States under the current constitution. It is interesting to read how the perception of George Washington has changed through the years, and as to how various groups have tried to attribute quotes and deeds to Washington to serve their own purpose, often without realizing that he never said those words, or performed those deeds.

Mar 08, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing
Excellent work. The author goes about dealing with the myths that have grown up around George Washington in a very thorough and easy to read way. He has done even more here though,showing how social, political, economic and other factors drive the rise of mythologies surrounding popular figures. He also shows how once those mythologies take hold, no amount of evidence debunking them can completely eliminate them from the public mind.

In addition to debunking the many myths surrounding Washington,
Oct 19, 2012 Lynn rated it it was amazing
George Washington often kept his public persona and private life separate. In death his nephew who inherited his estate after his widow died tore up most of his papers and gave them to people in pieces not in whole letters. Others who obtained some letters kept some and threw out others. So it became difficult to understand Washington as a human being. This wonderful short book covers not Washington's life but the way he has been perceived over the years. In most of the 19th century he was regar ...more
Juliet Waldron
Jan 20, 2012 Juliet Waldron rated it it was amazing

George Washington, hailed by a modern biographer as “indispensible,” was once a man, but he has become a kind of inkblot, a projection of the times in which we live, a projection of the causes dear to our hearts. This book, written by the editor-in-chief of The Washington Papers project, has grown from a life time of study. When Washington died, in 1799, Americans felt as if they’d lost a father. His death deprived the country of the grand old man a mere decade after the Founding of the Republi
June Morgan
Dec 16, 2010 June Morgan rated it it was amazing
I was completely enamored with Lengel's book to address the difference between what is actually proven fact about George Washington and that which has been conjured by writers, producers, mystics, and many others to immortalize the "Father of our Country." Lengel begins with the story of George and his father, Augustine, and the cherry tree incident. From there, Lengel goes on to tell how writers such as Weems who embellished the events in Washington's life to the point that his tales were more ...more
Gerry Connolly
Jul 04, 2014 Gerry Connolly rated it liked it
E.G. Lengel debunks myths in Inventing George Washington. Especially effective in puncturing the religious myths (GW on his knees in prayer at Valley Forge). Good read but fails in developing the real man.
May 14, 2017 Bruce rated it really liked it
Shows how Washington is re-mythologized by each generation to suit its ethos. In that way the book makes for an interesting history of the American psyche. Lengel has undertaken to dispel many of the popular stories about Washington that have been propounded over the years for various reasons. He never was offered a kingship. He never prayed in the snow at Valley Forge. He never was slapped on the back by Gouverneur Morris on a dare from Alexander Hamilton. (I am particularly disappointed about ...more
Aug 16, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it
What this book did do: debunk a bunch of myths you have probably already heard are myths or you hold dear and true and hate to hear are myths. GW didn't write those letters that were published trashing the country, there was a pear tree and he probably didn't chop it down, he didn't fall on his knees and pray, have quasi religious mystical experiences that he based his actions on or get baptized in the semi-frozen Potomac.

What it didn't do: Tell us much about who GW actually was. I know a large
May 09, 2011 Aroura rated it liked it
If I was to compare this to only history books, it would earn a 5star rating. It was interesting and very easy to read and follow, but smartly written. Basically it sets out to show the commonly-believed myths about George Washington and how they came to be.
Written by one of the main editors of the George Washington Papers project (therefore having access to ALL of Washington's papers that are still around), you gotta figure he'd know.
He doesn't set out to reveal the "true" Washington, just to r
George Heidemark
Apr 10, 2016 George Heidemark rated it really liked it
A first rate read about the way Washington has been imagined over time. This book is well written, engaging and humorous. Mr. Engel has worked on the George Washington Papers Project and as a result is an expert on the topic. He examines ways in which Washington was remembered in a positive vein( the inventions of Parson Weems) as well as a negative manner.( the debunkers of the 1920's and 1930's.) He also looks at ways Washington's memory was exploited over time including PT Barnum's having a w ...more
Stephanie McCown
Feb 15, 2013 Stephanie McCown rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author, who is also an historian, does a fantastic job of going through the legends and myths surrounding the Founder, some of which began before George Washington's death and continue to this day. The author deftly dismantles some of the more sensational myths, as well as shares a healthy dose of benign but thoroughly entertaining legends, such as the scattering of "Washington Slept Here" claims which are all too common among the inns and b & b's along th ...more
Jun 11, 2011 Anastasia rated it liked it
My favorite thing about Mr Lengel’s book is how he traces political and ideological changes throughout society, and how those changes affected how people viewed Washington. I found it especially interesting how various politicians and the like twist Washington’s character to push their own agenda. For instance: people that want to legalize pot say that Washington grew and smoked marijuana himself (he did not), people that want to push religion even more into government say that Washington was a ...more
Tyler Bray
Sep 12, 2012 Tyler Bray rated it liked it
Choose to read this for a book summary I had to do for Historical Methodological Bibliographical Research class. It was very good, it did not focus on George Washington's life but of his evolving image throughout time. Such as the godly man of the 1800's the, the romanticist in the 1850's and the hard charging cigar smoking worker of the 1930's. It's interesting as Lengel points out that a societies values can easily be viewed through their heroes. As George Washington's image is constantly chan ...more
Karl Rove
In this slim volume, the editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington charts the changing ways in which Americans have perceived the Father of Our Country, from a wave of myth-making in the early 1800s to a wave of debunkers in the last century. Lengel explores the waxing and waning and waxing again of Washington in the nation’s memory. It is an informative look, but uneven in quality: Lengel seems most animated when writing about his experience as an advisor to the producers and director ...more
Homer H Blass
An exciting and amusing historiography of George Washington by American authors since 1798. My favorite is a story by a friend of E.A. Poe's who has General Howe slip into Valley Forge one night in the dead of winter to offer Washington the Faustian bargain. George like Christ in the 40 day temptations in the Wilderness stays true and rejects temptation.
Feb 19, 2011 Rob rated it really liked it
What we think we know about history and historical figures is often nothing more than myth and folklore handed down through the generations. Much of our "knowledge" of George Washington is a case in point. This book doesn't try to explode as much as it tries to put the various myths regarding Washington into some form of historical context. Well written and highly recommended.
Jan 12, 2011 Jill rated it liked it
Lengel has written a very readable book that dispels some of the most popular, and erroneous, myths about George Washington. He also offers insights into why the historical representation of our first president has been deemed too important to be left to just the truth.

Rating:< 3.5/5
Aug 30, 2014 Joseph rated it liked it
Nice comparison of the perception of George Washington over the years with fact. 3.25 stars of 5.
Sep 29, 2012 Murray rated it really liked it
Well written and organized; gives a fairly clear picture of the history of how America treats one of its founding fathers.
Jun 28, 2013 Sean rated it really liked it
Lengel not only exposes some of the most cherished myths surrounding Washington, he makes historiography fun.
Jim Blessing
Dec 17, 2011 Jim Blessing rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was an interesting book that discussed the difficulty of separating the myths about George Washington from the realities. The book started out quite interesting, but then dragged till the end.
Pat Gibson
quick read, not much new
Sandy D.
Parts of this may be a little slow for people who don't love history, but I found it fascinating.
Feb 10, 2013 Kathryn rated it really liked it
Shelves: colonial-history
Fascinating and genuinely funny look at how our stories about Washington say more about us than they say about Washington.
May 18, 2011 Carrie rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
This was due back at the library before i had the chance to finish it. i will probably check it out again sometime in the future, what i read, i liked. i got about half way through.
Sharon Norris
Sharon Norris rated it it was amazing
Jan 11, 2016
K. Parker Richmond
K. Parker Richmond rated it really liked it
Dec 09, 2013
Phil LeDuc
Phil LeDuc rated it really liked it
Jan 03, 2016
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Although I’ve spent the greater part of my career as an academic military historian, my passion is as a storyteller, walking through ancient lands, sites and battlefields in my own hiking boots. I strive to capture that feeling in my writing, tours, and presentations to reduce the distance between our present and our collective past.

From the tough realities of military history to the passions and
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