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Washington: The Indispensable Man by James…

Washington: The Indispensable Man (1974)

by James Thomas Flexner

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"Washington: The Indispensable Man" is full of great information. Based on the author's 4-volume set (!) this covers the main points of most of Washington's life. Unfortunately, I found a good bit of Flexner's writing to be oddly worded and somewhat stuffy. I'm all for not ending sentences in prepositions, but many of his sentences seems to work very hard to follow that rule. There's little casualness to his style which can make for a more arduous read. ( )
  Jarratt | Dec 31, 2017 |
Perhaps Washington was not necessary. Perhaps we would have muddled through without him but it is hard to see how.
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
In his bibliography in the back, Flexner divides published biographies of Washington into "three major categories--the historically sound, the goody-goody, and the debunking." Flexner's four volume biography of George Washington won a Pulitzer Prize citation and a National Book Award. This one volume version of that work seems to strike a good balance between the critical and admiring and, based on primary sources, from what I can tell, deserves to be put among those "historically sound." It's certainly well-written, fascinating and made me appreciate why Flexner subtitled this biography of Washington "The Indispensable Man" and why he claimed in his Introduction Washington was a "great and good man."

I thought I knew fairly well the basic outline of George Washington's life and of the Revolutionary and Federal period, but this book gave me a new appreciation of all that is owed to Washington--not just by Americans, but by all who support a republican form of government. I had known that people urged Washington to become America's king and he refused. I knew he had defused an officers' rebellion that could have "groomed and saddled the horses of fascism" and I knew his refusal to accept a third term of office meant he ensured an orderly transition and republican form of succession rather than dying in office and creating a kind of elective monarchy--and that ever after his example of staying only two terms in office was followed by every American president thereafter until breached by Franklin Roosevelt--and that the limitation was then grafted unto the US Constitution so Washington's precedent couldn't again be violated. Presented here again and again are traps Washington avoided that could have destroyed the embryo republic. Among the things I didn't know was just how turbulent were Washington's two terms of office as he set precedents that put flesh onto the skeleton of the Constitution. Certainly Flexner's account doesn't reflect well on either Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson, each of whom formed around him the first nascent political parties.

From time to time you can tell this book's origins as a more succinct account gathered from Flexner's expansive four-volume biography. For instance, Flexner calls Washington's stepson John Parke Custis a "monster" but doesn't really give us the details to justify that statement. Some of the chapters definitely feel sketchy. As he says in his introduction, in this one-volume work he just wanted to hit the highlights, although this book is far more than an outline, and Washington's character and personality does come through, especially in frequent quotes from letters and diaries and other first-hand accounts. Although admiring on the whole, Flexner doesn't pass over the man's flaws. There is an entire chapter dealing with "Washington and Slavery" and Flexner depicts both Washington's foolish youthful mistakes and sad mental decline in his old age. My next reads are biographies of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and it will be interesting to see how those books complicate the picture. ( )
3 vote LisaMaria_C | Aug 27, 2012 |
An important Washington biography based on the author's 4 volume set. Essential for the study of Washington. Good photographs and maps for the size of the book. In his introduction Flexner warns the reader he will be learning about a very different Washinton from his past perceptions. He is really right. Flexner's quotations from Washingon's own writinhg leave the impression this frontiersman, soldier, politician wrote very well. One wonders how Washington gained this skill. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Nov 6, 2010 |
A very good readable summery of his 4 volume set, but seems a little too brief. So I bought the four volume set and it reads well. Lots of details and Flexners view of what Washington was thinking based on Washingtons correspondance and journals. Should be read with Randall's George Washington for complete picture ( )
  ShyGuy | May 3, 2009 |
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A "distillation" of the author's fourvolume work on the life of the first president of the United States.

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