A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington

A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington

A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington

A Powerful Mind: The Self-Education of George Washington

Synopsis

His formal schooling abruptly cut off at age eleven, George Washington saw his boyhood dream of joining the British army evaporate and recognized that even his aspiration to rise in colonial Virginian agricultural society would be difficult. Throughout his life he faced challenges for which he lacked the academic foundations shared by his more highly educated contemporaries. Yet Washington's legacy is clearly not one of failure.

Breaking new ground in Washington scholarship and American revolutionary history, Adrienne M. Harrison investigates the first president's dedicated process of self-directed learning through reading, a facet of his character and leadership long neglected by historians and biographers. In A Powerful Mind, Harrison shows that Washington rose to meet these trials through a committed campaign of highly focused reading, educating himself on exactly what he needed to do and how best to do it. In contrast to other famous figures of the revolution--Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin--Washington did not relish learning for its own sake, viewing self-education instead as a tool for shaping himself into the person he wanted to be. His two highest-profile and highest-risk endeavors--commander in chief of the Continental Army and president of the fledgling United States--are a testament to the success of his strategy.

Excerpt

George Washington and I go back a while. My obsession with everything related to Washington’s life and world began years ago when as a child I was captivated by the 1984 miniseries George Washington, which was sponsored by the General Motors Corporation and starred Barry Bostwick and Patty Duke. I’m sure my parents quickly came to regret their choice of programs to record on their shiny new VCR because I was instantly hooked and soon watched the six-hour series over and over again, nearly wearing out the tapes in the process. My parents probably assumed at the time that this newfound interest would pass, much as any fad that captures the attention of a five-year-old. Little did they know that George Washington would remain at the center of my scholarly interests from kindergarten through graduate school and beyond.

When I was young, the stories of Washington’s dangerous exploits in the wilderness and on the battlefield were the most captivating. The details about how Washington survived a plunge into an icy river only to then escape a would-be assassin while returning from his first-ever military mission, how he had four horses shot from under him during Braddock’s defeat, and how he personally led his army across the Delaware River one fateful Christmas morning — all were endlessly fascinating and made him seem larger than life. As I grew older, my interests and questions about Washington continued to evolve. Over time I became more interested in how he rose to such prominence in his lifetime and how his popularity endured long after his death. When . . .

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