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Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continen Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continental Army, Washington's keen political savvy enabled him not only to outwit superior British forces, but--even more challenging--to manage the fractious and intrusive Continental Congress. Despite dire setbacks early in the war, Washington deftly outmaneuvered rival generals and defused dissent from officers below him, ending the war with the status of a national icon. His carefully burnished reputation allowed Washington, as president, to lead the country under the guise of non-partisanship for almost all of his eight years in office. Washington, Ferling argues, was not only one of America's most adroit politicians, he was easily the most successful of all time--so successful, in fact, that he is no longer thought of as having been political.


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Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continen Perhaps the most revered American of all, George Washington has long been considered a stoic leader who held himself above the fray of political infighting. What has gone unnoticed about the much-researched life of Washington is that he was in fact a consummate politician, as historian John Ferling shows in this revealing and provocative new book. As leader of the Continental Army, Washington's keen political savvy enabled him not only to outwit superior British forces, but--even more challenging--to manage the fractious and intrusive Continental Congress. Despite dire setbacks early in the war, Washington deftly outmaneuvered rival generals and defused dissent from officers below him, ending the war with the status of a national icon. His carefully burnished reputation allowed Washington, as president, to lead the country under the guise of non-partisanship for almost all of his eight years in office. Washington, Ferling argues, was not only one of America's most adroit politicians, he was easily the most successful of all time--so successful, in fact, that he is no longer thought of as having been political.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    The Colonial

    As he has done time and time again in each of his biographies and histories that focus on the American Revolution and Founding era, historian John Ferling has brought new insight and understanding to an otherwise already exhausted subject—and in this particular work he manages to humanize George Washington. This is first and foremost a chronological political history and character study, and along the way Ferling brings us Washington’s faults, hidden ambitions, eccentricities, and an intimate ba As he has done time and time again in each of his biographies and histories that focus on the American Revolution and Founding era, historian John Ferling has brought new insight and understanding to an otherwise already exhausted subject—and in this particular work he manages to humanize George Washington. This is first and foremost a chronological political history and character study, and along the way Ferling brings us Washington’s faults, hidden ambitions, eccentricities, and an intimate backdrop into his actions and mindset. Ferling opens his account with an introduction that describes the sorrow and respect paid to Washington’s life works and achievements for the nation, where “Light-Horse Harry” Lee gives a stunning eulogy to the former first President during his funeral in 1799. From there, Washington’s childhood is brushed over briefly, as the reader is introduced to his half-brother Lawrence, who’s experience in soldering and land acquisition has a profound effect on his younger counterpart. Ferling suggests that while Washington did not have access to a formal education or degree, most of his studies were of those that were important to Lawrence—including his influence by works composed by the likes of such great masters as Seneca and Cato, which would help George throughout his adult life. The strengths of Ferling’s work include his successful tribute in bringing out the very grit and dirt on his subject, in which he succeeds by not canonizing and shying away from the flaws and failures of Washington: Washington has enjoyed a reputation among historians as an excellent administrator of the Continental army, but that view was not shared by all of his contemporaries. Some saw enormous waste, and especially a shameful squandering of the army’s manpower. Some thought there were far too many officers, and others were furious with the army’s practice of allotting vast numbers of men as personal guards and servants to the highest officers. Washington had a Life Guard of one hundred men who protected him and secured headquarters. Few quibbled over that, but each general officer had his own guard, some of which totaled nearly fifty men. Powerful events that bind and mold Washington’s world and vision are brought up throughout the book, such as: his experiences on the frontlines of the French and Indian War, his induction into the House of Burgesses, stature as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental army, and eventual inauguration as the first U.S. President. While nothing is truly groundbreaking here in terms of facts or research obtained, Ferling still manages to keep the reader interested by providing another window on such events as the dramatics of the Newburgh Conspiracy, as well as the alleged collusion and machinations behind the Conway Cabal. Readers will find an easy to follow study into the mindset and ambitions of George Washington—all the while addressing his triumphs and failures both in and out of politics. Full scale maps are provided that include the geography of all territories discussed. Read the Full Review and More

  2. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    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 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 been motivated solely "from obedience to his country's will". Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the State University of West Georgia and the author of many books on the Revolutionary Era. Most recently, he is the author of "Almost a Miracle", which describes the Revolutionary War with an approach that he also follows in this book. Many generations of Americans have accepted the iconic portrayal of George Washington that Henry Lee, together with his fellow eulogists, propounded. In our critical and skeptical age, this idealization of Washington has received substantial attack and correction. In his book, Ferling takes issue with two primary components of the Washington legend. He attacks the view that Washington was a disinterested participant in the political process and finds instead that Washington was heavily motivated by personal, political ambition. Ferling also attacks the view that Washington was above partisan politicking, and describes the first president as a skilled politician knowingly acting to advance a specific political agenda. Ferling argues that "George Washington was so good at politics that he alone of all of America's public officials in the past two centuries succeeded in convincing others that he was not a politician." Ferling also takes issue with other parts of the Washington legend. He points out that Washington made many military mistakes, both in the French-Indian War and in the Revolutionary War. Further, Washington was habitually indecisive and frequently acted with slowness more than with his vaunted deliberation. Unlike the other Founders, Washington lacked an extensive formal education and, at least early in life, was not as wealthy as is sometimes believed. But Washington had an overweening ambition to make something of his life. (In this regard, Washington resembles the other great American hero, Abraham Lincoln.) Through hard work and the use of connections, Washington rose to increasingly large positions of responsibility while showing, especially in the French-Indian War, military deficiencies, a tendency to blame others for his own shortcomings, and a certain indecisiveness. Washington became active and Virginia politics and an early supporter of American independence. He saw America through a difficult and brutal war for independence, served as president of the Constitutional Convention, and as the first President of the United States, to highlight the greatest of his accomplishments. Ferling shows that in many instances, Washington's disinterestedness and apparent aloofness were calculated to mask an individual with a drive for power. Ferling seems to me correct in this, but he also tends to overlook that many other students of Washington have made the same observation. Ferling also fastens upon Washington's many military mistakes. Here again, he offers little that will surprise students of the Revolutionary War. However, Ferling overstates his case against Washington, and he tends to overlook glaring deficiencies and mistakes made by other leaders of the Continental Army that, Ferling would have the reader believe, had a better military sense than Washington. There is a feeling of carping in Ferling's account. He recognizes, as he must, that Washington displayed the highest qualities of leadership and administration during the difficult years of the war. The conflict almost certainly could not have been won without Washington at the helm. Some of Ferling's criticisms, while true, are thus relatively insignificant. When he considers Washington's presidency, Ferling again covers ground that has been well-explored by other historians. He argues that Washington was not above the political fray but was instead a strong supporter of the politics and tendencies to aristocracy of the Federalist Party, as exemplified in Alexander Hamilton. Yet Ferling recognizes that Washington, at his best, listened carefully to divergent points of view before making up his mind on issues of importance. He also downplays instances in which Washington did not fully follow Hamilton's counsel. While Hamilton undoubtedly tried to use his Chief on several occasions to further his own agenda, Washington was savvy enough to use Hamilton as well. Here again, Ferling's criticisms, while well-taken in part do not capture the nature of Washington's presidency. Ferling acknowledges the judgment, skill, and dedication with which, for all his pomposity, Washington conducted the presidency. Washington established the presidency as an institution. There was no one else, Ferling admits, who could have led the United States through the eight tumultuous years of domestic and foreign unrest as did George Washington. Ferling's account perhaps humanizes Washington. But it hardly lessens his stature. It is a commonplace that many Americans today are woefully ignorant of our history. There is also a tendency to approach history and revered figures with cynicism. Ferling's book is readable and accessible. If his book encourages readers to think about its subject, it will have served its purpose well. The book offers a good if polemical account of Washington, the Revolutionary era, and the first presidency. For all his caviling, Ferling offers a portrait of a Washington who deserves strong and continued study and admiration from his countrymen. Robin Friedman

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    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 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 contends that Washington was a more complex man, and more politically talented, than he is usually portrayed. Ferling starts with Washington as a young man. He paints a picture of a man who takes action to hide his faults, while subtly highlighting his virtues. The Washington he portrays is not really modest, just very smart and charismatic. He also intentionally studies those around him, in order to adopt the behavior most likely to lead to his personal advancement. In his early business career, he was mostly interested in his own monetary gain. One particular thing that bothered me was the way he took advantage of the enlisted men. This is as described by the author, to the best of my recollection. A parcel of land in the west was to be set aside as a reward for military service - the author contends that it was mainly for those who enlisted. Washington successfully lobbied so that large parcels were reserved for officers, with much smaller parcels for enlisted. Even worse, he sent his own survey team out to mark the prime parcels. As the land was distributed, he convinced some men to sell prime land to him, convincing them it was worthless. As a general, Ferling claims Washington was a bumbling disaster, better able to discredit his fellow officers vying for command than able to plan and execute military strategy. His reputation is a result of luck and a conscious effort by congress to attempt to maintain the public's faith in a war leader. Ferling claims he was obsessed with attempting to retake New York, and only by luck (in the form of a French advisor) did he end up victorious at Yorktown. After being elected president, Washington put Hamilton in charge of treasury. Ferling gives them both credit with establishing the firm financial foundations of the new country. Although commonly believed to be apolitical, Ferling contends that Washington was a firm Federalist throughout his life. This is a good time to explain how I came to read this book. My history education is full of gaping holes. I have almost no formal world history education. I had a high school history class which went in depth into the United States history through the Civil War. And I took one history class in college which also covered early United States history. In that college class, we read a biography of George Washington - Washington The Indispensable Man. This was the first historical biography I had read, and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it and how easy it was to read. (I normally have a hard time with non-fiction.) So when I saw this John Ferling book listed on the FirstReads page, I signed up because of my vague but fond remembrance of the other George Washington book. And wouldn't you know it, I won. I am probably not the right audience for this book. Someone with a stronger background in history (preferably from multiple original sources) would be better able to rate this book. My problem is that the author is using a persuasive tone. He's trying to sell his idea of George Washington as a political genius. I just don't have sufficient knowledge to accurately judge the author's portrayal of Washington.

  6. 5 out of 5

    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 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 are well supported by Washington’s own words or other legitimate historical sources. Yet it is peppered by inflammatory language that suggests Washington was “mad” for glory, power and wealth. Ferling also infers that Washington “raged” as he wrote certain things. Washington is well known as having a volatile temper but to conclude that certain letters were written when Washington was in a fit of rage is a subjective judgment interpretation that cannot be substantiated. On the other hand, Ferling writes of Washington in appropriately objective terms throughout most of the rest of the book – sometimes even with respect – that it is hard for me to believe that Ferling thinks Washington is in some way defective. I am left to conclude that Ferling was either writing for the approval of his liberal peers or, more likely, it is the work of an editor who thought the manuscript needed to be spiced up in order for the book to sell well. I learned a lot about Washington from this book, but I found myself notating and setting aside the subjective “overstated” passages of the book, which I believe undermines the basic premise of the book: that Washington was a highly skilled politician, not a passive but noble man who was thrust to the top by others who were awed by his greatness. I believe this premise to be true and wish that the author’s arguments were not cheapened by the pejoratives he used.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    An excellent story of the life of our first President by John Ferling! I also recommend 1776 for anyone interested in American history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    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 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 reading about Washington. From Washington's early days trying to rise the ranks in Virginia, to his French and Indian War service, his colonial Virginia political career, to leading the Continental Army, to his time as the first President, Ferling depicts Washington as constantly looking for advantage and political advancement, while putting a noble, self-sacrificing face on his actions. For a fan of Washington like myself it can be a bit trying to hear Ferling keep attempting to tear him down, but Ferling does a solid job of establishing his interpretation, and it is interesting to see episodes other biographers gloss over or don't mention at all, or commonly discussed events from another angle. While Ferling didn't dim my admiration for Washington, I do have a more well-rounded view, and I wouldn't say that Ferling ventures into "hacket job" territory at any point. The main area where I'd suggest Ferling is overly hard on Washington is slavery. Ferling is pretty negative about Washington on that front, but having read Henry Wiencek's excellent An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America I'd suggest that Ferling doesn't give Washington enough credit for his growth on this issue over his life or for the environment he was in. I would not recommend this book for the Washington novice. It helps to have read at least one general biography of the man to have a baseline for Ferling's alternate view, and since Ferling sometimes skims over less political aspects of Washington's life one might be a bit lost without other background. Reading something along the lines of Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis, or Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow would be wise before tackling The Ascent of George Washington. Reading Ferling first might also sour you on Washington unnecessarily. I listened to Tantor Audio's 2009 production of the book, narrated by Norman Dietz. The production was very well done, and Dietz delivers a solid, no-frills reading fitting the non-fiction topic. The unabridged production runs approximately 17.5 hours. The Ascent of George Washington is an interesting book for the veteran Washington reader, and I recommend it to anyone who fits that category and is looking for a different take on the first president's life. This was my second Ferling book, following Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 which didn't impress me. The Ascent of George Washington, however, was good enough that I was glad to have given Ferling another chance and expect to read more from him in the future.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joy H.

    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 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 Genius of an American Icon, seemed to tell more about Washington's shortcomings than did Ellis's book, His Excellency: George Washington. If I had read your question before I listened to the books, I would have paid more attention to the differences between the books. As it was, I was going back and forth between them since one listening device was in the living room and the other was in the kitchen. So my listening was interspersed between the books. Ferling's book was interesting because it told about the disagreements and animosities between the historical figures of the time. It also told about the friendships. One relationship that was especially interesting was GW's friendship with Hamilton, who was capable but was also a rogue at the same time. I'll bet his life would be an interesting one to read about. It was interesting to read the details of GW's early life as a backwoods explorer and also as a soldier, with descriptions of the battles and their outcomes. GW was tall and impressive in his uniform and on his white horse. He had a commanding demeanor. He was fearless in battle. Quite the hero even though credit must be given to the officers under him, something Ferling said GW didn't do all the time. Instead he took the credit himself. IIRC, Ferling pointed out a time when GW didn't tell the truth! :) I think that much of Ferling's info came from letters and writings of the important people of the time who made comments to each other about GW. =============================== In another post about this book, I wrote: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It was interesting getting to know the details of Washington's life including his character and his personality. He was quite an operator! :) One interesting aspect of his personality was the fact that he often found scapegoats to blame for some of his failures. He married a rich woman. He invested in wilderness property in order to be able to sell it and make money. He's credited with guiding the new union through its infancy, following policies which helped it grow and become strong. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bob H

    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 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 connections, the point of this book. He served at the pleasure of the royal governor of Virginia, and of the Continental Congress, and it's not cynical to say this, if only because he recognized that civil authority should govern the military. Mr. Ferling seems to have made excellent use of recently-published papers and contemporary accounts by and about Washington, and it's because of his scholarship that he can buttress this story. Washington was quick to shift blame for military defeats from himself, to deliberately cultivate a public air of gravitas, to pass off disasters as temporary distractions, none of this a pretty tale. That a man of little formal education could manage politicians and professional soldiers in this way says much on his skill. Ferling does show, time and again, how the Revolution had greater generals than Washington. He lost New York, he lost Philadelphia, the victories at Saratoga and Guilford Court House weren't his, and it was Gen. Rochambeau who suggested, even manipulated him, into the Yorktown campaign. Still, he remained, and this is why. After all, if Congress had relieved him of command, the Continental Army could have won more victories, but possibly not have prevailed. And he did save the Republic, and in some interesting ways. Ferling tells, once again, of the Newburgh incident in 1783, when Continental officers came very close to mutiny and overthrow of Congress. Washington quieted them, reaffirmed the army's subordination to the rule of law. That Ferling tells it as a well-managed bit of theater does not diminish its importance. And Ferling tells of how Washington's presidency consolidated what the Revolution had only made possible: an orderly and capable Federal government, and that while managing bigger-than-life personalities like Hamilton, Jefferson, and John Jay. It was Clausewitz who may have said that war is the extension of politics by other means, but it is Ferling, here, who illustrates how closely they interact, how political management can sustain a general, and how difficult it is for victories by the sword to be made into a permanent civil good. In that regard, Washington was a far greater leader than Napoleon.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    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 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 and was acutely aware of this shortcoming. Using his older brother from their father's first marriage as a model (Lawrence Washington), he set out to create a military success and use that as a steppingstone to wealth and success. To his advantage, Washington had a number of powerful patrons, who helped him in his ascent. The book chronicles his up and down military career during the 1750s, his inveterate lobbying for military advancement, his "fights" with governors and military personnel to get the recognition that he desired. And, indeed, this represents one of my questions about the book. Ferling notes that others see Washington as "disinterested," but Ellis, in his excellent biography called "His Excellency," makes some of the same points, although in more nuanced terms. In that, it sometimes seems to me that Ferling is understating points made in other biographies to make his appear the more unique. His ambitions were also supported by a marriage into wealth and an eminent family. From there, the arc of his well know life is traced--from the state legislature and his plantation to his role in the Revolutionary War to his accession to the presidency. Through all these stages of his life, Ferling notes his ambition. He also contends that, as President, Washington was far from the nonpartisan president described by many. Ellis, for instance, speaks of Washington often "levitating" above the partisan factionalism of his cabinet and of the emerging first party system. Ferling has none of that. All in all, an interesting "take" on the life of George Washington. My own sense is that Ferling may take his thesis a bit further than warranted; he also sets up some straw men (like Ellis) to distinguish himself from their views of Washington. Nonetheless, his political biography makes Washington more human as a person than some volumes do, and that is to the good. The work also emphasizes the political side of Washington in a manner that has some credibility. All in all, I would recommend this book for its political orientation on George Washington.

  12. 5 out of 5

    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 "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 early arrived at his goal of attaining to fame.[return][return]The previous reviewers are also correct in pointing out that Washington, unlike Adams, was scrupulous in not writing his own biography or leaving us a mass of journals and notes This, it should be added, however, was not rare among prominent men of his age. Both Adam Smith and David Hume ordered their private papers burned at their deaths, and such was a common custom. The unusual thing about Washington is that there didn't seem to be all that much to burn. [return][return]Having agreed with the previous reviewers in two respects, let me disagree with them in one respect. This book is not a ""concise biography of Washington"". Given its rather narrow focus it is, if anything, much too long. After the first two chapters Ferling seems to get lost in minutia that does little to drive his story forward - another aspect, perhaps, of the relative lack of critical direct evidence to make out his thesis. [return][return]Having advanced that one criticism, I would conclude by highly recommending this book as a unique and, except for the belabored detail toward the middle, an excellently executed biography of Washington as a political animal. It is a perspective that has been sorely lacking up to now, and one that is important to add to the literature of Washingtonia."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    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, 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, discovered a Washington who was, “Madly ambitious and obsessed with recognition and renown,” he emerged a hero from two wars, in which he achieved only insignificant individual success and committed dreadful blunders. He was a genius at shifting the blame for defeat on to others and engaging in self-promotion. [return][return]In spite of these failings, Ferling maintains Washington was a great American icon and the country was extraordinarily fortunate to have had him as its first president. For while much of the aura that surrounded Washington in life and death was mythological, legendary heroes and mythical tales are essential for the creation and maintenance of a new nation. [return][return]Political leaders of the past have often been made into mythological figures that can never be imitated. The reader can never achieve the same greatness nor does he expect it from his current leaders. The fact that these past leaders were great but human, with human flaws is lost. This diminishes their accomplishments by making it appear they were something more then normal men. [return][return]The Ascent of George Washington serves as a reminder that we are all human, even George Washington.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susanclouse

    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 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 caught up in an ego that is within character of British nobility during the American Revolution. I think what saved General Washington was that he did not make sudden brash decisions. He was patient.He was a good judge of character. He knew his army was incapable of standing a chance without the proper food, clothing,training and ammunition. What especially saved Washington was the French. Unable to decide what move to make next he was stirred or tricked into action by Rochambeau. As the first President, I was impressed by his wanting to be of service and refusing pay for this position. Though this was later over ruled by his Vice President John Adams. I also was rather amused that our country started out $92 million dollars in debt from the get go. I enjoyed this book because it took a man and showed his flaws, which were many, and then by the time he was put back together again, we realize that he was the right man, in the right place and time to be the Father of our country.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    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 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 about Washington's first years' presidency and the influence of Alexander Hamilton on the beginning nation. So many little skirmishes and politics that may have been forgotten in the mythology of Washington are repeated here, and as I'm sure other reviewers have mentioned make George a little more human and fallible than just being caught as a kid lying about a tree. The text can be a little boring and hard to keep track of in my opinion, but in one sitting it might be easy to refer back to names and places. Washington's diaries themselves according to the extensive bibliography included number six volumes, and there are new anthologies of his papers (twenty-five volumes so far!) being produced all the time, so in short I think this book does a great service consolidating and interpreting those sources. I enjoyed learning so much about history, and opening my eyes to political patterns still in place today. Fun and informative read!!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Seth Childress

    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. 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stan Lanier

    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. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Historian John Ferling has for many years studied, taught, and written about the American Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers. His work examines those critical questions relating to how the United States came to be "free and independent" and what it was about these men that made that outcome possible. This is not his first book about George Washington and it is not a biography, but it reflects a lifetime of research and thoughtful study of a man who seems more of "the marble man" to most Historian John Ferling has for many years studied, taught, and written about the American Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers. His work examines those critical questions relating to how the United States came to be "free and independent" and what it was about these men that made that outcome possible. This is not his first book about George Washington and it is not a biography, but it reflects a lifetime of research and thoughtful study of a man who seems more of "the marble man" to most Americans than even Robert E. Lee (with whom Washington has often been linked by the latter's admirers). That Professor Ferling is choosing to try and break through the stonework that encases our First President and Commander-in-Chief to expose the real George Washington is a laudatory endeavor, though it can make this work a bit of a rough go for readers more accustomed to the traditional rather more reverential treatment of our principal founding father. As a historian, such an iconoclastic approach to historical figures is neither new nor at all unwelcome and in fact falls into a strong American academic tradition. In recent decades we have been treated to works exploring the many facets of George Washington and his military and political career, including Washington as spymaster and intelligence chief, or a young and overly enthusiastic military-diplomat on the North American frontier, or as the initiator of a genocidal race war against Native Americans. In this work, the author brings together many, if not all, of the various charges, complaints, and allegations that have been leveled against Washington during his lifetime and since his death. As one reads through the book, it seems as if Ferling has accused Washington of being ambitious, boastful, conniving, duplicitous, egotistical, facile, limited, manipulative, naïve, opportunistic, self-promoting, virtual fraud and adventurer, among other faults he identifies in our first Commander-in-Chief and first President. This book is a warts and all telling of how young Master Washington of Virginia became General and President G. (drum roll, a la "1776") Washington. As a longtime student of the American Civil War, for example, I know that the re-examination of the character, performance, and reputations of such iconic figures as Robert E. Lee and his "warhorse" Longstreet are the meat and potatoes of much of what is written today about that conflict and its most prominent figures. This parallel comes to mind in part because the one real fault I find with Dr. Ferling's work is the comparative inadequacy of the supporting evidence he sometimes brings to the discussion. Criticisms of Lee, Longstreet, George McClellan, and others seem especially awash with cited reports, letters, diaries, and other documentation compared to the relatively thin gruel offered by Dr. Ferling in support of some of the charges he levels in this work. In part this reflects the relative volume of surviving records relating to these two conflicts. The Union Army and in particular the Army of the Potomac were marvels of early modern bureaucracy, turning out literally tons of paper records, reports, etc. that historians now pore over. George Washington's Continental Army, run principally by its Commander-in-Chief, some supporting general officers in positions such as Quartermaster General and Inspector General, and a handful of aides and clerks, produced far fewer surviving records. As a result, it is admittedly more difficult to expose a general who cites the failures of others to cover up his own errors of judgment or leadership. But even knowing this, I still found myself disappointed that Professor Ferling offered such little material evidence to support some of his statements regarding Washington's faults and failings. This quibble aside, there is a lot of good material here which Professor Ferling presents in a readable and interesting style. Whether you agree with Dr. Ferling's work or not, this will be a book you will have to read to be fully informed about our First President and about the times and trials through which he, his colleagues and rivals, and our nation passed in order to emerge "free and independent."

  19. 4 out of 5

    EVAN E

    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 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 suppose that politician to be disinterested. If you consider the professional jealousies of a Doug MacArthur or Bernard Montgomery for example, you might suspect that generals of stature are given to undermining their rivals. We usually accept that H. Gates and C. Lee tried to harm General Washington by whispering campaigns and such, but might they have threatened him primarily by their successes in fighting for the same cause? Ferling shows us a talented G. W. with fine characteristics and troubling flaws. It’s odd that to this day people are prejudiced in favor of an unrealistic take on this, but then the famous case of George Washington is hardly the only example. In fact the governing classes of the time realized that our wobbly young nation needed a perfect leader to rally behind, and emotional imperatives have confirmed our preference for that distortion ever since. Or maybe Ferling has it wrong, but his view of things has the ring of truth to me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fergie

    ** 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 ** 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 said, after reading the book, I'm certain Ferling has much respect for Washington. In fact, he's clear to point out his belief that no other man could have pulled our nation together when we were at our most vulnerable: the beginning stages and shaky ground of a new nation. Through his leadership and political guile, Washington was able to achieve sure-footing for a young nation. The book is a decent read despite its deficiencies. I had two chief complaints against the book. The first is that because it leaves out much of the more interesting biographical facts for a more focused study of Washington's military and political exploits, the book lacks a personal feel for its subject. To be fair, Ferling informs us at the onset that the book is not biographical in nature. Secondly, I was disappointed to read the jarring take on Alexander Hamilton. While Ferling exposes the flaws in Washington's character that led to his mistake, I wasn't nearly as startled by this as I was at the seeming distaste Ferling had for Alexander Hamilton. While I knew some of the inconsistencies in Washington's character: the military hero, for instance, who had many more military failures than victories; the Founding Father who, like many other Revolutionary figures fought for freedom yet enslaved slaves, but Ferling goes deeper. His Washington is an indecisive, insecure man motivated by ambition (and sometimes greed) who's willing to scapegoat others for his own failings. Alexander Hamilton's character take an even harsher beating in Ferling's reflection of history. Gone is history's Hamilton: the one who had a son-father relationship with his revered Washington. Ferling's perceived Hamilton is a self-centered, duplicitous character who not only didn't respect Washington, but who used him as a puppet in pursuit of his own military and political objectives. To Ferling, Hamilton is a brilliant mind devoid of character. This is not the Hamilton I recall reading about in history books. As a result, it's somewhat difficult to reconcile what we know or thought we knew about Hamilton with the one that come across on Ferling's page. With all this said, THE ASCENT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: THE HIDDEN POLITICAL GENIUS OF AN AMERICAN ICON is a decent read if the reader is looking for a deeper exploration of Washington's deeds and failings. While Washington's character is explored, it is mainly in relationship to how he chose to lead and how that character impacted his choices, accomplishments, and failures. After reading Ferling's book, it becomes more evident that much of our reverence for and what we believe about Washington is due to Washington's careful molding of his own legacy during his own lifetime.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gary Schantz

    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 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 give Washington the glowing approval that so many others have done. He tends to criticize Washington quite a bit as if to let the reader know that Washington is only a man that has made mistakes but that he has made plenty of mistakes.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jimyanni

    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 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 American Revolutionary war and the early years of the country but which are not specifically about Washington, it is probably necessary to have read some background material before reading this one, or one won't really have a feel for what it is that Ferling is providing an alternative to. But if you HAVE read a bit on the subject, and a biography that looks more deeply into Washington than the usual worshipful gloss sounds interesting to you, then this is the book for you.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Trent

    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 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 for all these years. He was driven, egotistical, greedy but also a patriot and had dogged determination -- all of which helped him succeed and because he succeeded so did the United States. This book is worth your time, it's very long and little slow in places but I think it's worth the read. The book was researched extremely well and is very well written.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    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 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 biography while focusing on the ways in which he planned his actions in decidedly the opposite of the disinterested manner so often attributed to him. Fascinating subject, fascinating insights.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    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 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 succeed in convincing me, however, that politics in the United States have not changed since colonial days. What a bunch of rascals those founding fathers were.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim J

    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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    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. 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.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex A

    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. 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    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.

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