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Ode to the Indispensable Man

| March 01, 2018
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If you are below a certain age, the moniker ‘Indispensable Man’ may not be familiar to you. But, for those of us grew up in the 1950’s and earlier, the title is synonymous with the name George Washington.  (I attended Washington Elementary School, but nobody names their school Washington anymore.  Indeed, somewhere in America some nut is probably taking a sledgehammer to a statue of Washington at this very moment.)  But, I digress –sorry.  Because tomorrow (February 22) is the 286th anniversary of his birth, I want to recommend a sweet little book about America’s first president that I think you should read and share.

The Education of George Washington: How a Forgotten Book Shaped the Character of a Hero was written by a man uniquely qualified to author such a biography.  Austin Washington is George Washington’s great, etc. grand-nephew.  He grew up in the house owned and occupied by one of George Washington’s brothers.  Beyond his familial ties to the George Washington estate, he is also a delightful scribe.  With humor, and love, and no small amount of patriotic pride, Austin Washington provides insights you’ll not find anywhere else.  I say that, having read Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life (2010), and John Marshall’s The Life of George Washington (1838), among others.  I’m currently tackling Douglas Southall Freeman’s magisterial seven volume biography of Washington, published from 1948-1954. 

I came across this book in the modern way.  Last weekend, I was thinking, “I wonder what made George Washington George Washington, the indispensable man.  Known for his virtues – the character traits that made America possible - how did he acquire them?”   So, I googled the question.  Two or three clicks later I had the answer; or at least the way to learn the answer - this book.  And, the book referenced in the title to this book was George Washington’s guide to becoming a great man. 

Austin Washington found an obscure note in George Washington’s own handwriting regarding the importance to him of A Panegyrick to the Memory of His Grace Frederick, Late Duke of Schonberg, a book published in London in 1690. (That story is told in the Prologue.) The Panegyrick then forms the topical outline for The Education of George Washington, and as a bonus, it’s reprinted in its entirety as an Appendix.

George Washington, sadly, is not revered as he was even fifty years ago, and many of the lessons of his life are now mocked as old fashioned. (My own great-grandfather, born in 1854, was named George Washington Harvey, so maybe I’m biased.)  Anyway, I agree with Austin Washington that despite all our economic and technological progress over the past two hundred plus years, we have a lot to relearn about the connection between character and human greatness. 

I want you to read this book for the sheer pleasure you’ll derive from it; but also, please share it.  It’s an important contribution to America’s future.  mh

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

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