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The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,081 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Even compared to his fellow founders, George Washington stands tall. Our first president has long been considered a stoic hero, holding himself above the rough-and-tumble politics of his day. Now John Ferling peers behind that image, carefully burnished by Washington himself, to show us a leader who was not only not above politics but a canny infighter—a master of persuasi ...more
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Published June 8th 2009 by Tantor Media (first published May 1st 2009)
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Laurie  Anderson
Not the first book I'd recommend to anyone looking to read a biography on Washington (check out Ron Chernow's instead), but an enlightening exploration of the political genius of Washington that I found helpful.
Charlie Wagner
A very interesting view of George Washington. Nearly all of the books I've read on the Founders seem to offer the same view of Washington as politically disinterested if not downright apolitical.
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
robin friedman
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Still The Great American Founder

Early in this new book, "The Ascent of George Washington", John Ferling quotes the famous two lines offered by Henry "Light Horse" Lee in his eulogy for George Washington offered on December 26, 1799 in Philadelphia. Lee declared that Washington was "first in war - first in peace - and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Lee proceeded to observe that in his long public life, Washington had acted in a selfless manner. Washington's intentions and actions had bee
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
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent story of the life of our first President by John Ferling! I also recommend 1776 for anyone interested in American history.
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.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Geni
Bob H
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Steven Peterson
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Craig Bolton
"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
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
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
Seth Childress
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome book! It's nice to see Washington as a flawed human with a pasion for becoming more than society said he could be. This book showed his blunders in military strategy and how he was able to rise to ultimate power in spite of it. The book also captured the spirit of '76 very well where other similar books failed to do so.
Stan Lanier
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. If non-scholarly readers were to read only, say, Chernow's biography of GW, this would be a great supplement. In a way, it is a study of how Washington "got ahead," showing some particularly less than stellar characteristics of this man of whom much mythological thinking persists. Ferling is, I think, both a good historian and a good historiographer.
Jul 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ferling specializes in the American Revolutionary epoch, with a mission of putting right myths and distortions that have so colored our perceptions of that time. If you believe ‘Ascent,’ Washington’s was not the spotless character our cultural consensus would have it, but rather a personality given to extremes. Say, when Washington influenced the selection of a site for the permanent capitol, it happened to be where the value of his holdings was most enhanced: If this happened today we wouldn’t ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
** 2 1/2 - 3 stars **

This book is not a biography which is one reason why I might not have enjoyed reading it as much as I have past books about our Founding Fathers (including Washington himself). Ferling doesn't shy away from looking into the darker aspects of his subjects. In Washington, we see a man who's very much concerned about his legacy, and as such, disregards uncomfortable truths about his character and own failings in his prescient efforts to preserve his name in history. With that
Gary Schantz
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I reading about history in chronological order, i chose this book to read ONLY about Washington's 8 years as president. I did this for two reasons: one - I have already one full biography on him by Joseph Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington and plan on reading Ron Chernow's book, Washington: A Life so i didnt want to read another full bio; and two, i wanted to read a different author's POV, so I chose John Ferling.

All in all, this decision was a good one (I think) because Ferling doesn't
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is an extremely capable and well-written biography of Washington. It basically focuses on the aspect of his political and social ambitions, and doesn't give much depth to his personal life, so a look at other more general biographies might well be in order. Chernow's "A Life" is quite good. Also, since much of what Ferling is doing is presenting an alternative take to the not-infrequent hagiography that one gets in stories about Washington, or even more so, in histories that deal with the A ...more
Douglas Trent
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent, albeit different, biography of George Washington. It takes the gloves off a little and details the ego and aggressive ambition of Washington and how it helped him succeed while also knocking a lot of people down around him to get there. I think this seems to be a more honest assessment of the great leader than most of the biographies I've read about Washington. It's good, it shows that Washington was human, he wasn't the mythical icon that historians have put on a pedestal ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd read about Washington before, and of course the Revolution, but this book focuses on the politics involved in his life. As such, it actually explains a lot I hadn't realized, such as why Washington was so lionized as a General despite not really winning very many battles himself, or just what exactly caused the split into political parties a couple years into his presidency. Ferling, who apparently wrote a couple of earlier books on Washington, does a great job of covering the basics of his ...more
The review of the adult part of Washington's life,the events he participated in and the people he interacted with made this a book worth reading. Unfortunately the author's main premise seems to be that although Washington was uneducated, a poor general, a poor decision maker and a poor speaker; he was a political genius and a great actor. Also worthy of all the praise and reverence for the role he played in the events of his time. I just don't think you can have it both ways. The author did suc ...more
Jim J
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Professor Ferling explores the marriage of zealousness and stoicism that made up the character of George Washington. Washington is one of those hallowed American figures where there exists almost as much mythology as actual history. Professor Ferling develops a convincing case that Washington cared very much about his status at the time and was meticulous in his approach as both a military officer and later as president.
May 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book greatly expands on the simplistic saintly view of Washington that is taught in high schools. It's packed with successes, failures, and motivations I've never heard about, painting the picture of a man that was human like any of us.

While full of novel information and good research, this book is ultimately about history and politics, so I found it painful to push through at times.
Alex A
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The founders of this nation were truly special men. This is not to say they were free from faults and I truly believe this helped them realize the vision. A collaborative effort amongst them. If Washington's full potential was not reached, he certainly was a survivor and master of his fate.
Ginette Seare
It's a George Washington bashing spree, which made it interesting in the sense that it offers a very different perspective on Washington, but it definitely begs reading a book that has more positive things to say about Washington.
Chris Serger
John Ferling is one our most admired writers on the American Revolution. His recent Almost a Miracle was a masterful one-volume account of our Revolution. In George Washington Ferling once again proves why his reputation is what is is.
Clifford Luebben
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. Kept me wanting to read more. Definitely humanized Washington a lot for me.
Daniel Baltich
Esay and enjoyable to read. Definitely heightened my interest in reading Chenrow's biography of Washington.
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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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