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His Excellency: George Washington

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  39,546 ratings  ·  1,293 reviews
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 political leader and a ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 8th 2005 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 Will…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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John McNeilly
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Michael Finocchiaro
After thoroughly enjoying Dallek's 2017 biography about FDR, I wanted to go back and read about the other two of the Big Three, Washington and Lincoln. Reading here and there on the web, I understood that Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington - following his excellent Pulitzer-winning Founding Brothers - was considered among the best in class. (I plan to read Chernow's biography of Washington soon as well).

In His Excellency, Ellis paints the great general and first president as an impo
Nate Cooley
Feb 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.

Paul Haspel
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
His excellence in all things is so much a matter of record that, in the American imagination, he has lost much of his humanity. George Washington was the general who led the Continental Army to a seemingly impossible victory over British forces, at a time when Great Britain was the world’s lone superpower. Years later, he presided over the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, and oversaw the drafting of the Constitution that made the United States of America a more perfect union. B ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fun fact about George Washington’s: His last words were ‘Tis well’ and his last action was to feel his dying pulse!
Nov 12, 2015 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
Sep 22, 2009 added it
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 rated it liked it
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
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
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great single-volume biography of the Father of Our Country (in the U.S.A., that is) that seeks to tell the honest truth about the man and the legends around him, showing his flaws and extolling his virtues, Joseph J. Ellis states that while there are multi-volume biographies that are more comprehensive, his purpose was to try to condense the available information into one book, sifting information and filtering it while revealing more recent discoveries.

And, for the most part, Ellis succeeds.
“He was that rarest of men: a supremely realistic visionary.” (A brilliant politician with a moral compass and the ability to imagine the judgements of posterity.) Like Lincoln, like Grant - and the three are companions on an old Cuban cigar box lid, “Los Inmortales.” To me Washington seems a heroic template for Lincoln and Grant, showing how one disciplines “a truly monumental personal ego” and “a massive personal agenda” - and, in Grant’s case, a primal ease in violence - to larger national in ...more
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting perspective but this was as much opinion as history. I thought the author too often tried to pass off his own opinions as Washington's which detracted from an otherwise solid overview of an amazing man's life. ...more
Benjamin Alexander
Aug 06, 2009 rated it did not like it
Don't ever read this book. Horrible history. Ellis is a modern secular liberal who does all he can to force Washington into that mold. ...more
Steven Peterson
Dec 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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
Christopher Saunders
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
His Excellency: George Washington is another solid biography by Joseph Ellis, arguably the best contemporary historian of America's Founding Fathers. As with Ellis's other work, it's less a traditional biography than a non-linear character study, using specific events and incidents to probe Washington's personality and character. Ellis views Washington as torn between his high-born, princely arrogance and a sense of modest propriety that prevented him from becoming a mere dictator; he argues tha ...more
Drew Widney
Jul 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
I say this was a sludge to get through. And I am a major biography reader. The authors tone speaks louder than the historical portrait he paints, which obstructs your view and spoils the experience of learning about this man and his times. Truly this book is a disservice for the biography space. Instead of being immersed into the time and riding along one of the most inspiring and courageous American journeys, we are lambasted throughout the entire book by the authors disdain and utterly unwarra ...more
Elsa K
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've been into the Revolutionary War Era lately. I found this book to be a good overall biography of George Washington without being too intense. It read more like a novel than a textbook. The author did a good job of drawing you in. He tried to analyze what Washington's character was like and what drove him, which I found as an interesting angle. I also learned about how his ideas on slavery changed over the course of his life. While George Washington has always seemed larger than life, this bo ...more
Having written fine accounts of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, historian Joseph Ellis turns his attention to Washington, and the result is lively and thoughtful, perhaps the best single-volume work on the man in a generation.
Britain would have avoided plenty of trouble by granting Washington a commission. In leading Virginia troops during the French and Indian War he showed talent, but he refused — a crushing disappointment. Although the War was not over, he gave up his dream of a military car
Scott Rhee
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If the only thing you actually know about George Washington is that he chopped down a cherry tree in his youth and didn’t lie about it, then you may be in the majority of sadly misinformed and ignorant Americans. I am, unfortunately, among that majority.

Besides being the very first president of these United States and being somewhat of an important player in the American Revolution, Washington actually did other stuff. He actually had a life outside of having his face on the dollar bill. Unfortu
William Lawrence
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs and patriots
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
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
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
Enjoyable and brief biography of Washington. Ellis gets beyond the legends and myths that have grown around Washington to discuss his character through incidents in his life. Ellis insightfully points out that it is Washington's relinquishing of power that is the foundation of his place in history. Twice - at the end of the revolution, and again after two terms as President, he walked away from power (and his acts as President defined the role as non-autocratic).

I found it a concise and fair vie
Mary Ann
I recalled this book, which I read in 2005, while reading Alexis Coe's You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington. I've always liked Ellis's work, especially Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and thought this one was worth a re-read. ...more
David Eppenstein
Very readable biography of GW.
Jun 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
My favorite page was page 2 because it had no writing on it.
Jenna Hackworth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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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. ...more

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