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A Highlander and his Books
A Chat with Alan Axelrod

Young George Washington and the Battle that Shaped the Man
Interviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA, email:

Alan AxelrodI have interviewed many authors over the years and most have written more than one book. I have, however, never interviewed an author who has written or edited as many books as Alan Axelrod. Following this “chat” article, you will find a list of books by Mr.  Axelrod. If you are like me, you will be in for a treat and a surprise at the sheer number of volumes and their wide range of topics. To tell you the truth, I’ve never seen such prolific work in so many areas by any one author. It staggers the mind!

Alan Axelrod received his Ph.D in English (with emphasis on American literature and culture) from the University of Iowa in 1979. Alan taught at Lake Forest College in Illinois and, ironically, at my alma mater, Furman University – although I had graduated nearly 20 years prior to his arrival. Having served as associate editor with two of America’s great museums, Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware and Van Nostrand Reinhold in New York, Mr. Axelrod became senior editor at New York’s Abbeville Press from 1984-1991. He then joined Zenda, Inc. in New York, a consulting firm to museums and cultural institutions. He came south in 1994 to Atlanta joining a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc., as acquisitions editor for Turner Publishing, Inc. In 1997 Mr. Axelrod founded The Ian Samuel Group, Inc, a creative services and book packaging firm, and serves as its president.

Axelrod has consulted with numerous museums and cultural institutions including the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum (Rochester, NY), the Airman Memorial Museum (Suitland, Maryland), and the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum (Winterthur, Delaware). Alan has been a creative consultant (and on-camera personality) for The Wild West television documentary series for Warner Brothers, the Civil War Journal for the A&E Network, and the Discovery Channel.

We welcome Alan Axelrod to the pages of A Highlander and His Books.

Q: Blooding at Great Meadows is a gutsy little book that sets the stage for George Washington’s military career. How did you come to write on this man who was first in everything but married a widow?

A: It is true that Washington was the first to fight in the French and Indian War—this book is about how he started it—and was America’s first general-in-chief and president, yet he was, as his marriage to the rich widow Martha suggests, also a follower. He followed the examples of manly conduct presented by his father and by his beloved half-brother, Lawrence, and he followed the leading edge of the pioneers, buying up land just behind them. Washington was the right man at the right time—sometimes he was the first man, but sometimes he simply knew when to ride the crest of a wave or the leading edge of a trend.

Q:  What attracted me to the book was its title. How did you come up with it?

A: “Blooding” is what one does to hunting dogs, to get them accustomed to the scent of prey. One rubs their noses in blood. By analogy, the term is commonly used to describe the maiden battle of a soldier or an entire army. My book describes Washington’s “blooding”—his twin maiden battles—which, I suggest, made him the commander that he would become in the American Revolution.

Q: As prolific as you are, how long did it take you to research and write this book?

A: Well over a year. I do my research for one book while I write another—that way I get to read as well as write.

Q: Freemasonry provided an avenue for many Americans to participate in the Enlightenment. One would think that Washington, not a formally educated man, would have turned to Freemasonry, but he “was reportedly ambivalent about his membership, perhaps going so far in about 1780 as to call Freemasonry ‘Child’s Play’.” Why do you think he felt this way?

A: Washington was a Freemason, as I discuss in my book; yet it also seems clear that he joined the Craft more for the sake of social, economic, and political advantage and advancement than he did for philosophical reasons. Washington was always leery of anything that smacked of partisanship, which, he believed, got in the way of a man’s two most important loyalties: family and country—and probably in that order. So he could not take Freemasonry too seriously for too long.

Q: In the book, you describe an incident of an Indian leading Washington and his guide, Christopher Gist, astray in the Pennsylvania wilderness, only to have the Indian turn and fire on the two men from 15 feet away.  It is indicative to me of Washington’s calmness under fire when he shouted to Gist, “Are you shot?” What do you attribute this calm demeanor to in leading his men throughout the Revolutionary War?

A: That is a very good question, which I suppose can be answered in a single word that is as powerful as it is mysterious: character.

Q: At the young age of 22, Washington was called Caunotaucarius which means “Taker of Towns”. Why was this name given to him by the Indian Half-King, when I do not recall him taking towns at this time? Also, why had this same name been bestowed upon Washington’s great-grandfather?

A: Clearly, it was Half-King’s attempt at flattery. And it worked quite nicely. The great recent historian of the pre-Revolutionary era, Francis Jennings, has amply shown that many of the Indian leaders were extraordinarily sophisticated politicians—hardly the “noble savages” of white-invented mythology.

Q: Many are not aware that George Washington was accused of murder by the French and, due to a mis-translation of the surrender terms offered by the French, he signed papers acknowledging his guilt. You go into great detail to show how all of this came about and how it caused him great concern for his reputation. In your research, did you run across a reference as to how Washington felt about those signed papers later in life? If so, please give us a brief description.

A: This incident does not seem to have haunted Washington beyond the immediate aftermath of the Battle in the Bower and the Battle of Great Meadows. I like to think this is because he felt that his conscience was clean.

Q: Fort Necessity, a/k/a Great Meadows, proved to be not only a defeat for the young Washington, but it was the only time in his life he actually surrendered to the enemy. Why was he given the honors of war and allowed to march out of the fort with his men if he was considered a murderer/assassin of a French officer?

A: Another good question. My guess is that the French commanders felt that letting Washington and the remnant of his command go free would carry a powerful message back to Dinwiddie and his fellow Virginians. That message was not a declaration of war—(I don’t think the French thought they could prevail in war against the English)—but a warning not to trespass.

Q: Many Scottish Americans (and this is a website with 2.25 million hits a month) are not aware of the part that the “Butcher” of Culloden played in the battle that became known on this side of the pond as the French and Indian War and the Seven Years War on the other side. Why do you think Cumberland felt the necessity to send two regiments, the 44th and the 48th, to America?

A: Well, as events showed, he should have sent more—and sent them sooner. Like our own recent leaders, Cumberland hoped to fight a war on the cheap. It was a bad mistake. And not only did he send an inadequate force, he sent a mediocre one—garrison troops, who were entirely unsuited to wilderness warfare.

Q: What are the five favorite books that you cannot live without, and what are you reading now?

A: I’ll limit it to history—The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman; The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes; The Second World War by Winston Churchill; The Fifties by David Halberstam; and Empire of Fortune by Francis Jennings. Right now I’m reading The General and the Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa in preparation for a book about the maiden battles—the blooding of—George S. Patton Jr.

Q: Can you tell us what book or books you are currently working on and when we can expect to find it or them in the bookstores?

A: I have just completed a biography of Omar Bradley in “The Great Generals” series, which is edited by General Wesley Clark for Palgrave-Macmillan. It will be out in January 2008 and is my second book for the series—the first was Patton (2006). I am just completing a book called Profiles in Folly, for Sterling Publishers, about some of the stupid things even great men and women have done. It will be coming out in June 2008.

Q: Thank you for your courtesies to me. Is there a final word you would like to leave with our readers?

A: I really do hope that many of you will look into Blooding at Great Meadows, which takes a rare view of Washington—as a very vulnerable young man, a very human human being.  (FRS: 8-23-07)


Management and business titles include:

! When the Buck Stops with You: Harry S. Truman on Leadership (Portfolio, forthcoming 2004)

! My First Book of Business Etiquette (“An Executive Board Book”; Quirk, forthcoming 2004)

! My First Book of Business Ethics (“An Executive Board Book”; Quirk, forthcoming 2004)

! Nothing to Fear: Leadership Lessons from FDR (Portfolio, 2003)

! The Go-Getter: The Classic Story That Tells You How to Be One (updated revision of the 1921 classic by Peter B. Kyne) (Henry Holt/Times Books, 2003)

! Profiles in Leadership (Prentice-Hall Press, 2002)

! Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Monopoly (Running Press, 2002)

! How to Say it from the Heart: Communicating with Those Who Matter in Your Personal and Professional Life (Prentice-Hall Press, 2001)¶

! Elizabeth I, CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built an Empire (Prentice-Hall Press, 2000)  A Business Week bestseller

! Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare (Prentice-Hall Press, 1999)  A Business Week bestseller

! How to Say it at Work: Putting Yourself Across with Power Words, Phrases, Body Language, and Communication Secrets (Prentice-Hall Press, 1998) ¶

! 201 Ways to Manage Your Time Better (McGraw-Hill, 1997)

! 201 Ways to Deal with Difficult People (McGraw-Hill, 1997)

! 201 Ways to Say No Gracefully and Effectively (McGraw-Hill, 1997)

! The Lifetime Guide to Business Speaking and Writing (Prentice-Hall Press, 1996) ¶

! The Do-It-Yourself Business Promotions Kit (Prentice-Hall Press, 1995) ¶

! How to Say It Best (Prentice-Hall Press, 1994) ¶

! The Business Speaker’s Almanac (Prentice-Hall Press, 1994) ¶

! Speaking Up: What to Say to Your Boss and Everyone Else Who Gets on Your Case (Adams Communications, 1993)§

! The New Handbook of Business Letters (Prentice-Hall Press, 1993); reissued as The Complete Handbook of Model Business Letters

¶ Published under the pseudonym “Jack Griffin”           
§ Published under the pseudonym “Mark Ruskin”

Trade reference, popular history, and biography titles include:

                                              Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

! Encyclopedia of Wars (3 volumes, Facts on File, forthcoming 2004)

! Minority Rights in America (CQ Press, 2002)

! America’s Wars (John Wiley, 2002)

! The Concise Van Nostrand Reinhold Encyclopedia of Science (with Christopher DePree) (John Wiley, 2002)

! Encyclopedia of Historical Treaties and Alliances (with Charles Phillips) (2 volumes, Facts on File, 2001)

! The Penguin Dictionary of American Folklore (Penguin Reference, 2000)

! Congressional Quarterly’s American Treaties and Alliances (CQ Press, 2000)

! The Macmillan Dictionary of Military Biography (Macmillan, 1998)

! Miss Nomer’s Guide to Painfully Incorrect English: An A-to-Z Handbook of Common Errors —and How to Avoid Them  (Berkley, 1998)

! Encyclopedia of the American West, four volumes (with Charles Phillips)  (Macmillan General Reference, 1996)

! The Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders (Facts On File, 1996)

! Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: A Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement (Facts On File, 1995)

! Dictators and Tyrants (Facts On File, 1994)

! The Environmentalists: A Biographical Dictionary from the 17th Century to the Present (Facts on File, 1993)


! Recent Advances and Issues in Astronomy (with Christopher G. DePree and Kevin Marvel) (An Oryx Book/Greenwood Press, 2003)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to Criminology (with Guy Antinozzi) (Macmillan/Alpha, 2002)

! Thomas Jefferson (Alpha “Critical Lives” series biography, 2001)

! Benito Mussolini (Alpha “Critical Lives” series biography, 2001)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to World War I (Macmillan/Alpha, 2000)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to the 20th Century (Macmillan/Alpha, 1999)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to the American Revolution (Macmillan/Alpha, 1999)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jazz (Macmillan/Alpha, 1999)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy (with Christopher DePree) (Macmillan/Alpha, 1999; Second Edition, 2001)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Civil War (Macmillan/Alpha, 1998; Second Edition, 2003)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mixing Drinks (Macmillan/Alpha, 1998; Second Edition, 2003)

! Complete Idiot’s Guide to American History (Macmillan/Alpha, 1996; Second Edition, 2000; Third Edition, 2003)

! My Brother's Face: Portraits of the Civil War (with Charles Phillips) (Chronicle Books, 1993; reissued as Portraits of the Civil War, Barnes and Noble Books, 1998)

! What Everyone Should Know About the 20th Century: 200 Events That Shaped Our Time (with Charles Phillips) (Adams, 1993)

! Songs of the Wild West (Simon and Schuster/Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992)

! The War between the Spies: A History of Espionage During the American Civil War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992)

! A Chronicle of the Indian Wars: From Colonial Times to Wounded Knee (Prentice-Hall Press, 1992)

! What Every American Should Know About American History: 200 Events That Shaped the Nation (with Charles Phillips; Adams, 1992; Revised Edition, 2003)

! Art of the Golden West (Abbeville Press, 1991)

! The Colonial Revival in America (W. W. Norton, 1985)

! Charles Brockden Brown: An American Tale (University of Texas Press, 1983)


Study Guides

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: Introduction to Psychology (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: U.S. History (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: Fundamentals of Mathematics (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: Introduction to Physics (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: Introduction to Biology (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

! Ace Your Midterms and Finals: Principles of Economics (McGraw-Hill/Schaum, 1999)

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