Books: He Cannot Tell a Lie

A historian who stretched the truth about his own life writes a candid biography of George Washington

Three years ago, Joseph J. Ellis, one of the most widely read American historians, ran into a career crisis of his own strange devising. Just months after his book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation won the Pulitzer Prize and planted itself for a long run on the best-seller list, it emerged that Ellis, who spent the Vietnam War years doing graduate work at Yale and teaching history at West Point, had been offering his students at Mount Holyoke College wholly invented accounts of his days as a platoon leader in Vietnam. After his tall tales were exposed in the Boston Globe, Ellis...