An Audio-Book Review: No Cherry Trees Were Chopped Down in the Making of This Book!


His Excellency: George Washington

By Joseph J. Ellis
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Nelson Runger

The Book:

I am not sure why this audiobook was released through Audible Kids. It is not what I consider a children’s book, although I believe any serious student of history in grade school should be able to read and understand it. Doctor Ellis has written clear and interesting biographies of various founders and of the founding of the United States of America and in this book he turns to the life of the one man who might well have been the one indispensable figure of the entire Revolutionary generation. He follows Washington’s career in detail from his early life through his experiences during the French and Indian War (a period my own high school history class glanced over) and then went into detail of the period leading up to the establishment of the First and Second Continental Congresses and Washington’s appointment as Commander in Chief. After a well-detailed description of the war itself, we follow Washington into retirement at Mount Vernon and then back into the political fray as he is drafted to chair the Constitutional Convention. We also get the ups and downs of his term as President and finally his second retirement and eventual passing at Mount Vernon. Throughout the book, Doctor Ellis writes in an engaging manner that kept me interested from cover to cover (even if I did keep humming melodies from the play “1776” as I listened) and I must admit that I learned quite a bit that was left out of my previous history classes. If I had any disappointment it was that by the end of the book I wanted to know what came next and perhaps a brief description of how foundations set by George Washington colored what happened during the next few presidencies leading up to the War of 1812 might have been interesting, but to tell the truth, this is hardly the only book Doctor Ellis has written and if I want to move on to the next chapter I can buy his other books too. Besides this book is a biography first and then a history, so it is right to stop with Washington’s death. In any case I seriously recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history, the beginnings of American politics (some things have not changed) or who just like to read a darned good biography.

The Audiobook:

I felt this was a good book, but the reading of it lacked something. I mentioned above that I kept humming songs from “1776,” and part of that is that Nelson Runger just did not hold my attention. I tended to drift away at times. The sound of him breathing between lines at times was similarly distracting although for that I blame the editors who could easily have filtered such extraneous noises off the track. However, what bothered me the most was his use of accents for the various historical characters. There were frequently overdone, the worst of which might have been when reading quotes from Thomas Jefferson in a thick southern accent that sounded more like something from backwoods Carolina than the educated speech I would expect from a graduate of William and Mary College at that time. It also emphasized the stereotypical regional accents used for some of the other people being quoted (although not Washington himself who sounded like he was from Cleveland or Chicago, is that because he owned so much land in the Ohio territory?). The inconsistent accents verged on my usual complaint by some readers, “Funny voices,” and I found that sort of reading singularly inappropriate in a biography. It is good that Mister Runger was inconsistent in applying accents because had each person quoted been given a funny voice (like Jefferson’s high, nasal drawl) The book would have been completely ruined. To me, at least, nonfiction should be read, not performed. So, we have an interesting and engaging bio of George Washington and a mediocre, at best, reading of the book. Worth a read or a listen, but if listening go in prepared!

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