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George Washington, by Willard Sterne Randall, Henry Holt, New York, 1997, $35.

Painstakingly documented, masterfully detailed and narrated in a brisk, vivid style, George Washington, by Willard Sterne Randall, is an original and compelling portrait of the first American commander in chief during the first 44 years of his remarkable life.

Washington was an idealist, a rugged individualist and a strong-willed executive, yet he also emerged as “a master of discretion and deception” in his dealings with allies and foes alike. The author says that Washington saw himself–as did the British–as the Oliver Cromwell of the American Revolution. Like Cromwell, he regarded the struggle as a civil war, with the virtuous colonies oppressed by a corrupt, bullying ministry in the service of an errant king. Also like Cromwell, Washington saw that his army, including its generals, must be subservient to the elected politicians.

His enemy, King George III, said that if Washington could give up power, he would be remembered as the greatest man of the 18th century. In that respect, the English monarch proved to be remarkably prophetic.

Michael D. Hull