British scholar Cunliffe studied, did research, and taught on both sides of the Atlantic. In this book, he objectively presents a thoroughly knowledgeable portrait of Washington that was generally well received by critics and historians upon its publication. His contribution to Washington literature continues to be recognized.
For young adult readers, the impact of Cunliffe’s biography lies in its sincere revelation of the individual as well as the myth, although the two ultimately became conjoined. Washington is portrayed by Cunliffe as a good rather than a saintly figure, a competent rather than a great soldier, an honestly administrative rather than a brilliant diplomat, and a prudently conserving rather than a radical reformer. Yet there stands forth overall a figure of exceptional character, and praiseworthy reputation reflecting the eighteenth century classical virtue of gentlemanly restraint. The author shows that attempts to disparage Washington have largely failed, submerged by a country’s regard of him not only as its savior but also as the classical hero who is concomitantly a symbol of the nation itself. Compressing much into a short book and playing down the adulatory tradition while clearly establishing its basis, Cunliffe clarifies the figure of Washington in a broad historical perspective, creating an eminently readable work for the young general reader or scholar.