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Edward G. Lengel

Subject History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00002.x


James Thomas Flexner thought that there would be little left to learn about George Washington after the publication of the fourth volume of his biography of the Great Man in 1972. “I was confident that almost all papers directly of importance to the study of Washington had already come, one way or another, into my ken,” Flexner wrote in his autobiography. “It would take a discovery of blockbuster impact – it was hard to conceive where it could come from – that would do more than change details in a study like mine already grounded on so various an accumulation of evidence” (Flexner (1996) 405). Curious historians might as well move along, Flexner declared like a policeman at the scene of a crime. The action had ended; there was nothing left to see. Fortunately, few historians have taken Flexner at his word. Since the revival of interest in the Founding Fathers over the last quarter of the twentieth century – due in part to the popularity of Flexner's biography – dozens of new books about Washington have appeared in print. Most recently, Ron Chernow's magisterial Washington: A Life ( 2010 ), along with works by distinguished historians such as Joseph J. Ellis, John Ferling and others have given the lie to the idea that there is nothing new to learn about George Washington. The relative value of the plethora of recent books about Washington greatly depends on the extent to which ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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