Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide: “Mr. President” by Harlow Giles Unger

Would it even be the holidays without a political biography for dad from Harlow Giles Unger (Lion of Liberty, John Qunincy Adams).

“Mr. President”: George Washington and the Making of the Nation’s Highest Office (DaCapo) is a very good book in a series of them. In his typically lucid and conversational style, Unger paints a never-before-seen portrait of Washington as a surprisingly beleaguered leader whose challenges in many ways echo those of the current occupier of the White House.

Though much has been written about that first presidency, no one has ever looked at it in quite this way before. But Unger has that gift and also that advantage, having done serious research on men whose presidencies touched this one.

Unger shows us a Washington early in his presidency, a figurehead at the head of a country but without much power at all. Then, slowly but steadily, Washington manages to wrest more and still more power for his office, including the “executive privilege” Presidents expect today.

Though some of Washington’s tactics in gaining power for his office expose a single-minded determination to his mission and even, on occasion, a deadly intelligent cunning, Washington emerges as a good and even worthy President. Unger has said that it is his opinion that Washington was “probably the most selfless, self-sacrificing president in American history.” ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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