As one who’s always been first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of all pseudo-intellectuals, I must confess a soft spot for a similar high-achiever who, unlike me, never had a reputation as a fake in anything.
I refer, of course, to George Washington, the Virginia planter popularly credited with never telling a lie and having to make do with wooden truth.
Both stories are false, but I’m happy to report that the truth about Washington and his roles in the founding of this country and the early years of a fledging democracy new on the world stage is better than syrupy myth. That’s why “His Excellency: George Washington” by well-known historian Joseph Ellis is the latest recommendation of Jim’s Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
Too many people look back on the history of this country and assume that America always was meant to be. Not realizing just how tenous America’s founding was and how things could have gone either way on so many different occasions, they accept it as a given.
That’s why “His Excellency” is so interesting. A rather short biography (275 pages), Ellis presents a readable portrait of an ambitious establishmentarian who became a raging revolutionary, led a rag-tag army for seven years (1976 -1983) against the much superior British army and then gave up his magisterial power to return to the family plantation in Virginia when the war was over.
Called from retirement, Washington presided over the constitutional convention and then became America’s first, maybe its greatest president.
Why the greatest? Perhaps because he held together a government that could so easily have flown apart. Everyone from Hamilton to Jefferson was just feeling their way through the creation, and many people had very different ideas about how things ought to be.
But this is more than just a story about the creation of a government, it’s about the people and tumultuous events surrounding the creation of what became a global power. Wrestling with slavery, Indians and the British battling monarchy and more powerful foes and persevering through defeat and winter in Yorktown, Washington was in the forefront of a revolutionary generation. There are no myths here, just a story that seems mythical because it is so implausible.
Here are previous recommendations from Jim’s Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
[-] “Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission” by Hampton Sides.
[-] “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris.
[-] “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord.
[-] “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” by Jay Winik.
[-] “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand.
[-] “Lindbergh” by A. Scott Berg.
[-] “The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963” by Laurence Leamer.
[-] “The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case” by Sam Roberts.
[-] “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” by Jane Leavy.
[-] “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions” by Ben Mezrich.
[-] “Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World” by Steve Neal.
[-] “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis.
[-] “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone” by Martin Dugard.
[-] “In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors” by Doug Stanton.
[-] “Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.” by Bryan Burrough.
[-] “Flags of our Fathers,” by James Bradley.
[-] “Cary Grant: A Biography” by Marc Elliot.
[-] “Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager” by Buzz Bissinger.
[-] “Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York” by Kenneth Ackerman.
[-] “They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967” by David Maraniss.
[-] “Flashman” (a novel) by George MacDonald Fraser.
[-] “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and A World on the Brink” by David Margolick.
[-] “Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics and the Battle for the Soul of a City” by Jonathan Mahler.
[-] “Five Families: the Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires” by Selwyn Raab.
[-] “The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball.” by John Taylor.
[-] “American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies” by Michael Kauffman.
[[-] “The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright.
[- ) “A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports” by Brad Snyder.
[-] “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis.
[-] “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam.
[-] “Arc of Justice: A Sage of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age” by Kevin Boyle
[-] “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl” by Timothy Egan.
[-] “The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case” by James Neff.
[-] “The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House” by John Harris.
[–] “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith
(-) “The Unlikely Spy” (a novel) by Daniel Silva.
(-) “Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal” by Ben Macintyre
(-) “The Interpretation of Murder” (a novel) by Jed Rubenfeld
(-) “The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country” by Laton McCartney.
(-) “The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changes Their Lives Forever”
by Joe Layden.
(-) “The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958 and the Birth of the Modern NFL” by Mark Bowden.
(-) “Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family” by Joaquin “Jack” Garcia.
(-) “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer
(-) “Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi” by Neal Bascomb
(—) “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Goodwin.