Last week we had the honor of talking with General George Washington the new commander of the Continental Army and also an avid reader. Currently he has over 900 books at his Mt. Vernon estate and credits much of his leadership and wisdom to self directed reading.
One interesting note of history is that is contemporaries such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did not view him as well read. This may be because General Washington lacked a formal education, but his practical reading more than made up for any educational deficiencies. He was a lifelong practical reader and focused on topics that could provide a direct impact to his work of building an Army, fighting an Army and building a Nation.
General Washington’s Favorite books.
- Treatise of Military Discipline by Humphrey Bland — This was a hand book for me which helped lay down the principles of the Continental Army and the relationships and expectations that we demand from our officers and soldiers.
- Don Quotie — An amazing story of chivalry, romance and adventure, this is one of my goto books as I spent the cold winter sitting by the fire at Valley Forge.
- Platos Republic — How does a society define justice? And can we create a society to do the right thing? Plato’s discussions of these issues were instrumental to me and our first continental congress as we put together the Constitution in the summer of 1774.
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius — This must be one of my top favorite books of all time. Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of Rome during 161 and was also known as the “last good emperor”. His book “Meditations” is essentially his personal journal of his struggles, successes, and practical ways to deal with those struggles. Nearly 2000 years later I am still able to use his advice nearly daily.
Why is Reading Important for our new Nation?
Reading is critical because it is one of the primary ways to develop your mind after one leaves primary school. Just like a muscle your mind needs to be introduced to new ideas, thoughts and stimulus. Well developed minds need to have a constant stream of new concepts that allow them to think through and struggle with in search of the truth.
Can you provide a specific example where reading has helped you?
Yes, I have many but will just provide two here. A few years ago before took command of the Continental Army I had been reading Herodotus and his account of the Greco-Persian wars. I’m sure you remember Herodotus from your primary school days; he is known as the father of history since he was the first to treat history as a method of investigation rather than stories. I learned about the military and political tactics the the Persians were using in their attempt to invade Greece, and I gained a better understanding of the damaging infighting of the Greek city states. I used these 2000 year old lessons in my quest to keep the colonies together as I fought the invading British forces.
The second example happened on June 15th, 1775. On that day, at the age of 43 after being a farmer for 15 years and only attaining the rank of Major I was asked to lead the Continental Army and fight the world’s strongest Army; the British. At that moment I became totally overwhelmed, lightheaded, and had to excuse myself from the room to gather my emotions. Knowing that failure meant being hung for treason I knew there was no choice but to educated myself quickly. Later that day I walked down to the bookstore, purchased the only 5 books on military strategy the bookstore sold and devoured those books until I took command of the Army on July 3rd 1775. Those books were the foundation of my unconventional strategy and initial success.
Any Final Words?
Yes, your new Nation needs you, sign up with your state militia today. The Army is marching up to Yorktown this week to meet General Cornwallis and we need all the soldiers we can muster.
George Washington is a farmer, statesman and accidental General. Once the Revolution is over George plans on going back to Mt. Vernon to farm, spend time with his wife and grand kids, and fox hunt with his many dogs. General Washington can be reached at: