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The Best George Washington Biographies

Schoolchildren may delight in the fable of our first president’s confession of arborcide, but for more serious scholars, George Washington has proved an irresistibly elusive subject. Despite leaving behind enough papers to fill 87 volumes (and counting), Washington revealed little of himself as a man in his writing, leaving plenty of blank spaces for biographers to fill in according to their prejudices and predilections. And the public’s appetite for scraps of gossip and insight about GW has not waned since his first biographer, Mason Weems, predicted his 1799 life of Washington would ‘sell like flaxseed’ (presumably the hot cakes of the 18th century). Since then, nearly every biographer and historian has taken a shot at old George, earning several Pulitzers for their efforts along the way.
  1. 1

    His Excellency

    Ellis, who won the Pulitzer for Founding Brothers, claims Washington was a deeply emotional man, despite his chilly and aloof appearance. According to Ellis, Washington was reluctant to accept Congress’s unanimous election as president, and devoted his political career to maintaining a strong central government.

    His Excellency Book Cover Picture
  2. 2


    Among the Washington tidbits revealed by Chernow in this Pulitzer prize-winner are the facts that while the president never had wooden teeth, he did try ivory dentures, as well as human teeth from the mouths of his slaves; that his wife, Martha, spent half the Revolutionary War at her husband’s side, despite her fear of battlefields; and that George established his own spy network during the war, using espionage and double agents.

    Washington Book Cover Picture
  3. 3

    George Washington’s Secret Six

    When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York.

    George Washington's Secret Six Book Cover Picture
  4. 4

    Washington’s Circle

    Written with energy, wit, and an eye for vivid detail, Washington’s Circle is the fascinating account of the people who met the most formidable challenges of the government’s earliest hours with pluck, ability, and enviable resourcefulness.

    Washington's Circle Book Cover Picture
  5. 5

    Washington’s Revolution

    Focusing on Washington’s early years, Bancroft Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist Robert Middlekauff penetrates his mystique, revealing his all-too-human fears, values, and passions. Rich in psychological detail regarding Washington’s temperament, idiosyncrasies, and experiences, this book shows a self-conscious Washington who grew in confidence and experience as a young soldier, businessman, and Virginia gentleman, and who was transformed into a patriot by the revolutionary ferment of the 1760s and ’70s.

    Washington's Revolution Book Cover Picture
  6. 6

    George Washington: Selected Writings

    Ron Chernow presents a revealing portrait of Washington through his own words. A young officer leading an attack that triggered a global struggle for empire. Commander of the ill-equipped and undermanned Continental Army in the War of Independence. Presiding delegate to the Constitutional Convention. First President of the United States. George Washington, the indispensable founder of the American republic, was at the heart of events of worldwide importance. This career- spanning selection includes detailed notes, an essay on the selection of texts, and a chronology of Washington’s life.

    George Washington: Selected Writings Book Cover Picture

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