Book: His Excellency: George Washington
Author: Joseph John Ellis
1. Date- Originally published in 2004, this book has the benefit of hindsight and allows the reader to look at it from a modern perspective. The recent publication puts Washington’s views on Native Americans, slavery and the economy in contemporary times without being unduly harsh. The distance from his death in 1799 removes any hint of partisan or biased slant. Ellis uses the date to his advantage to debunk any error a contemporary may hurl but also attempting to show how much has changed since the times of Washington.
2. Scope- Though a short biography, the book gives extensive coverage of the presidency. This is significant to this project because of the overwhelming military life that proceeded it. The military life of Washington is crucial if not essential to the story but for purposes of this project the book selection must heed caution about that becoming the narrative. For a short biography about not only the president but the force that made him president this scope checks out. The coverage of the post-presidency is given slightly more than a token glance, but the short retirement (1797-1799) doesn’t allow for much else. Impressive scope for such a quick read.
3. Author- Mr. Ellis is a professor of history and has widespread credibility to a reader looking for a rock solid source. The significant feature of the author is his many books on the founding generation and key figures like Washington and Jefferson. By doing grand scopes of both the times and the individuals, Ellis does not fall in love with his subject and brings many perspectives from the table. This is the book’s strongest quality. The credibility of the writer is enough to make this a worthy recommendation.
4. Length- This is an ideal book for something attempting the project with shorter biographies. Though short in length this book hits all the key notes and manages to mix good with bad in seamless transition. The book is a quick read. It is almost as if Washington leaps off the battlefield into office. However, upon further examination Ellis meets his goal in the fewest pages possible. As short biographies go, this one is void of pitfalls in this project that will be seen later. There is cradle to grave narration and the presidency is in context of a life.
5. Mission- The mission of this book is to be a short yet effective introduction to Washington. It is hard to find fault with a book that hardly deviates from its mission to show Washington through every stage from his beginnings to his death. Ellis sought to make Washington seem more real perhaps a TV personality 21st Americans would better recognize. The truth is Washington rarely divulged emotion, rarely wrote without posturing for his legacy and constantly revised his childish quips. Some may be bored with frequent talks about his slavery views but in the context of the mission, Ellis is dead on. Washington is a complicated man and a book that presents more questions than answers accomplishes that mission.