Thursday, August 21, 2014

"His Excellency" truly is excellent

For my first presidential biography, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I've read multiple biographies and non-fiction before, so I'm not new to reading this genre of books. However, as the first presidential biography, "His Excellency" by Joseph J. Ellis exceeded much more than my mediocre expectations. He increased my appetite for knowledge of the subject and all that relates.  Let me explain.


I'm no historian or professional book reviewer, so don't expect that out of me. My husband asked me when I first approached this new project of mine, what do I want to get out of this, and specifically this book on George Washington. I thought for a minute and then responded with something along this, "For me, it's about getting to know a little more about the people who lead our country, and ultimately shaped it to what it is today. Who, what, why and how were my questions. Who are these people besides what we were taught in
school, (mainly in elementary for me)? What makes them special? Why are they special, why are things the way they are and how were they achieved? I want to know a little more about the country I love and respect. What's a better way then reading biographies about those that founded and lead this country to what it is today? Also, I'm not here to remember dates and cram all the info I learned for an end-of-book exam. It's just for fun and for my curiosity."

So back to "His Excellency". George Washington. What do you think of when you hear or read his name?Who is he? When was the last time you thought about that? It's true that "Washington" is a common name amongst the United States, from street names to state names, and we see Washington on our dollar bills and quarters. How does human brains process knowledge when they hear a word? For me, I start thinking words that associates the word I hear.  Washington is a state, the capitol and our first president. Mr. Ellis tells us that the childhood story about the cherry tree and Washington's famous line "I will not lie" is a myth, but a good myth it is. It gives us, (when we're kids) the image of an honest man. Even as an adult, words that came to my mind to describe our first president is that he's a humble and honest man. Boy, was I right, but prior to that, Mr. Ellis intrigued me, as a reader with a further glimpse of how he became that man, and much more.


"His Excellency" gave us a true biography, with background and chronological settings, as well as further interpretations of George Washington's thoughts and reasoning. Sample writings were included to support findings.  George Washington was a young man with many events in his life that one may say is unfortunate, but proves to have benefited him in more ways than one.  His 'luck' in life, one may say he's fated or destined for more, and eventually the undeniable leader of our new country. Washington was an arrogant and ambitious man, which at first I find ironic. Would you associate such a character with humility and honesty? Possibly in this age, not, but it was necessary and a great combination for centuries before, as demonstrated in the life of Washington.  Respect flowed through my heart and mind when he did not let the arrogance and ambition get in the way of the importance of the new republic, the United States of America (even though it was not the official name yet), by stepping down as commander. He understood what it meant to forsake for the greater good. That took humility.

Nearly halfway through the book, it was no longer what Mr. Ellis wrote, but who George Washington was.  I was engulfed in the life of Washington and what his belief for a representative government meant. It was a start of how the United States came to be, and what it represented.  He was a man, not perfect, but a hero in every American sense. His grand exits from the end of the American Revolution, to the presidency and final exit on earth highlighted why he deserves honor and recognition for years to come.  I don't want to give away too much, even though many may already know.  I respect him, for his service, his quiet strength, his belief in our country, his dying wishes (as evident in his will) and for not being perfect.  Mr. Joseph Ellis captured all that and allowed me to see why George Washington, our first president as a nation is referred as "His Excellency."

Trivia:
Did you know that it was unanimous in selection and votes for George Washington to be the first president of the United States? And did you know that Washington lost more battles than won?  Now, how and what makes him special? You'll have to read "His Excellency" to find out.

Side note: I look forward to reading all those that were characters in Washington's life, including Martha, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams....etc, all that are part of my presidential project.  And I would highly recommend and look forward to Joseph J. Ellis' other books.


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