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George Washington Dealmaker-In-Chief
Drawing on substantial new material, Cyrus A. Ansary gives a riveting account of how George Washington sought to put in place in America an economic system that was the antithesis of what had existed in the colonies under British rule. The entrepreneurial economy – which nurtures and rewards innovation and inventiveness – did not sprout into being in the United States by sheer happenstance. It was put in place by our first President. He painstakingly laid the foundation for it, but it did not take root without a struggle. He needed extraordinary tenacity to overcome fierce opposition to his program. President Washington’s economic initiatives are the least well understood facets of Washington’s busy and productive life. They enlarged the dreams and opportunities of Americans, led to a flourishing entrepreneurial climate, and are an inspiring tale for our time.
Ansary’s comprehensive, eye-opening study and celebration charts the “entrepreneurial dealmaking” of the American Republic’s first president, and how this enterprising spirit powered both the specific choices and priorities of building a country and an economy in his two presidential administrations, but also the spirit of the nation itself, over two centuries later. Celebrating George Washington as a “serial entrepreneur” adept at “structuring and negotiating complex transactions,” Ansary’s lively, inviting account links Washington’s private commercial pursuits—coal, mills, land accumulation, ambitious real-estate projects, building a canal—to his initiatives in office. Washington, he argues, established an entrepreneurial economy whose genius only was understood generations later.

Writing with verve, clarity, and occasional expressions of awe, Ansary charts Washington’s colorful efforts at the pursuit of wealth “at a time when the private equity world was not even a gleam in the eye of the most farsighted financier.” The most arresting passages illustrate how that experience shaped Washington’s endeavors as the president of a new nation facing substantial debt, as his administration established transportation and communication infrastructure, the Bank of the United States, a commercial credit system, sources of government revenue, and more. Crucially, Washington strove to eliminate “disincentives built into the colonial system for entrepreneurial activity,” especially compulsory servitude and debtors’ prisons. (A supreme court justice languished in these in several states.)

With richly sourced insight and memorable in-the-moment scene-setting, Ansary digs deep into Washington’s presidential decision- and deal- making, offering in-depth accounts of the first president’s efforts to create a country without an aristocracy while also detailing foreign policy challenges, the planning and building of the capital city, and the highly contentious establishment of a a national bank and currency. Guiding readers through these complex matters, Ansary deftly establishes the stakes and stakeholders, plus Washington’s often inspired navigation of both, with subject and author both always keeping a welcome eye on the impact of these choices over centuries.

Takeaway: This thorough, inviting history of George Washington’s entrepreneurial spirit offers fresh insights.

Great for fans of: Edward G. Lengel’s First Entrepreneur, Germinal G. Van’s The Economic Policy of Thomas Jefferson.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A