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Publisher's Summary

Acclaimed author Joseph J. Ellis penned the National Book Award-winning American Sphinx and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers, a fixture on The New York Times best seller list for an entire year, and one of the most popular history books of all time. Now this master historian turns his attention to the most exalted American hero, Founding Father and first President George Washington.

Washington has always been a larger-than-life enigmatic figure. On the day he was given command of the continental army, he recorded only the temperature and where he ate dinner in his journal. But recently, his papers were catalogued at the University of Virginia. Ellis had primary access to the 90-volume papers, allowing him to paint a thorough and fascinating portrait.

From the French and Indian War to Mount Vernon, from the American Revolution to the presidency, Ellis delivers what will stand the test of time as the definitive biography of the greatest American icon.

©2004 Joseph J. Ellis; (P)2004 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

  • Audie Award Finalist, Non-Fiction (unabridged), 2005
  • 2005 Quill Award Nominee

"Ellis offers a magisterial account of the life and times of George Washington [that] leaves readers with a deeper sense of the man's humanity." (Publishers Weekly)
"Mr. Ellis gives us a succinct character study while drawing on his extensive knowledge of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary history to strip away the accretions of myth and contemporary extemporizing that have grown up around his subject....An incisive portrait of the man." (The New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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Story

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 11-15-15

1st in war, 1st in peace, & 1st in our hearts.

"...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 aspire to live forever in the memory of future generations, you must demonstrate the ultimate self-confidence to leave the final judgment to them. And he did.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington

A good Ellis. Probably 3.5 stars. Like with 'American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson' Ellis knows his subject has been written about before and probably better. He isn't looking to redo or modernize the biography of George Washington. He only wants to do a couple things. He wants to narrowly explore the character of George Washington AND write a slick and easily digestible biography that will sell well. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but Ellis, while an academic historian, aims both bigger and smaller. He wants to be read. He wants to be bought. So, his biographies and histories tend to be smaller, easier to digest, and built to be sold on the Costco book tables. That isn't a bad thing.

Joseph Ellis is in the same line as that great pantheon of Founding biographers: Walter Isaacson, Jon Meacham, David McCullough, Edmund Morris, Ron Chernow and Doris Kearns Goodwin. He seems to be center mass of this group. Not as solid as Chernow or Morris, not as slick as Meacham or Isaacson.

Anyway, my only real complaint about this biography is stylistic. I hated, HATED, his periodic asides (he called them Sittings). I almost dropped a star just because of those. Ugh. It reminded me of the trend with weeklies or newspapers of blocking a quote from the text (callouts?). But this was worse. It was done like a third person observation of George Washington. They were uneven and just kinda stupid and weak. They weren't necessary, were distracting, and diminished the text.

12 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Ellis is a known liar

Just to refresh everyone's memory, it was Ellis, the left winger, who was unmasked as a fraud. He had claimed to be a Vietnam veteran while railing against the war to packed classrooms. He had to eat crow and kept his head down for awhile. But he's back and slinging mud at this country's foundations once more. First it was Jefferson, now it's Washington. He's an average writer and for this I will give him his due. But this is lightweight politically correct history for all you libs. Enjoy. For the rest of us, there is always Douglas Southall Freeman's magnificent biography of Washington. The narration included some strange sounds in the background at times.

42 of 83 people found this review helpful

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Not Well Written or Read

Sorry - couldn't keep going after the first chapter. It seems to be written in a negative tone and the narration is monotonous.

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Meh.

Would you try another book from Joseph J. Ellis and/or Nelson Runger?

The Author obviously has an axe to grind so can chop away at any favorable perception you might have of Old George, he acts as if I have time or even care about trivial matters in the subjects life. What's worse is that the author draws his own circumspect conclusions about Washington giving no benefit of doubt. My time is valuable and I want to learn about significant events in story not how George remodeled his house and why we should not be impressed that he did. give me a break.

Would you ever listen to anything by Joseph J. Ellis again?

No

Have you listened to any of Nelson Runger’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment

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What a opportunity to learn of an icon.

Sometimes we have a small knowledge of people. This volume expanded my understanding tremendously. I will listen again.

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Great Biography

This biography was especially useful, as it focused on character and leadership traits of General Washington. The reader was great, often using tone or character voices to help deliver the meaning.

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Admirable Attempt

I appreciate what Joseph Ellis tried to do here and I think he succeeded for the most part. I have always found Washington's greatness hard to pin down: he won the Revolutionary war but lost most of his battles and he was the first president but it's hard to name many policy achievements of his so I always wondered why he is so revered. I think this book traces the qualities that made Washington a natural leader and these are things that were very personal and don't usually just jump off the pages of a history book.

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Great book and reader; poor production

This book was great, but bodily noises from narrator should have been edited out. I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in a general outline of Washington.

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Great book, fine narration, poor editing.

If you are at all a fan of Washington or American history at all, this book is great for you.

The narrator has a command of reading this sense book with an engaging tone. The problem though...

Every time he pauses, there's lip-smacking, mouth-moistening, distracting inhalations. I don't blame the reader, he's human after all. But someone should have edited this better, or pieced together separate takes to eliminate these nuances. They were pretty distracting and, at times, gross.

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  • James
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 02-13-14

Fire the Narrator

Where does His Excellency rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

The narrator makes so much noise with his breathing, and smacking sound from his tongue. Does he need a drink of water? Is he nervous? It is very distracting. I listen to a lot of audio books and this was the first time I encountered this. I was 15 minutes through it and started checking the reviews to see if I was the only one who noticed it. Thankfully, other reviewers mentioned it, too, so I'm not crazy. Who is the producer / director of this project? What a joke.