Since 1971's advent of President's Day as the all-purpose holiday to honor those who have served this country in its highest office, the individuals have sometimes gotten lost in the shuffle. Today is the actual birthday of our first President, George Washington, who was, in the words of General Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee "First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Your Abilene Public Library has some wonderful interpretations of Washington's life that may bring you to a new appreciation of the man and the history you learned as a youngster.
George Washington: The Founding Father by Paul Johnson presents a concise and vivid look at our first president. Johnson, a British historian, doesn't have Americans' natural inclination to deify Washington, but he does have a great deal of respect for his subject, setting out both the good and the bad in Washington's character.
Washington: A Life by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow has been heralded as "the definitive biography" of Washington. Rather than "a lifeless waxwork," Chernow presents Washington as "a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. At the same time, Washingtong is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people." Truly a work intended to take the reader beyond the stereotypical textbook treatment.
General George Washington: A Military Life opines that Washington was not a great general. Author/historian Edward Lengel believes many of Washington's shortcomings, including impulsiveness, overconfidence, misjudgment of his enemy, and his being a poor tactician, were demonstrated in his first major engagement at Fort Necessity (Pennsylvania) in 1754 and were to be repeated throughout his military career. Lengel says despite these shortcomings, Washington possessed the perfect combination of personal, social, political, and leadership skills to win the war with England...a unique combination that made Washington a truly great man and the only leader of that period who could have accomplished what he did.
The title Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge is a bit misleading, since the information in Thomas Fleming's book is neither new, nor hidden. However, Fleming's point is that Washington was not simply fighting the elements and attacks by the nearby British, he was also reckoning with backstabbing members of the Continental Congress and fellow army officers who deemed him inadequate. Readers will find this "an original and provocative reinterpretation of a critical period in the struggle for independence."
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis and An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America by Henry Wiencek both present fresh, but not revisionist, portraits of "the Foundingest Father of them all." Both books deal with Washington's character and his position on slavery, an apt discovery during Black History Month. Ellis determines that Washington's decisions on slavery were driven more by economics and posterity than purely by morality, while Wiencek stands out for depicting Washington's deep moral struggle with slavery and his gradual "moral transfiguration" after watching some young slaves raffled off. Both Wiencek and Ellis do an excellent job of infusing a sometimes remote national icon with breath and life, so that readers are able to see the human Washington.
There are just a few of the many books we have on Washington. Views of history change daily, and while one may not agree with new interpretations of long held beliefs, fresh ideas and discoveries only bring the past closer and make it more understandable. Thus is history, at your Abilene Public Library, there for your entertainment, education and enlightenment. Come enjoy!
Article Contributed by Janis C. Test, Information Services Manager at the Main Branch of the Abilene Public Library