Friday, January 26, 2024

Bacon Presidential Library Vol 11: Realistic Visionary

 Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington

  • Peter R. Henriques

University of Virginia Press

284 Pages

Among the biographies of George Washington that I’ve read, the two books by Peter R. Henriques (next week will have the second book review) have, by far, been the shortest books in the project thus far. After struggling with Marshall’s The Life of George Washington, these books were a welcome relief.

Realistic Visionary by Peter R. Henriques is less of a full biography and tends to simply highlight some of the defining moments of the man’s life and career. While it is not as deep as the other biographies that I’ve read, Henriques offers an intimate look at each of those moments. This gives the reader more of the man, so to speak. How would Washington react in a given situation? What were his struggles? Washington was a proud man who hated to show weakness, and often worked very hard to keep his temper under control. 

Washington’s ambitions drove him to overcome his weaknesses and become a leader of our infant nation. He often relied on his family, friends, and advisors before coming to a decision. Sometimes, that gave the illusion that he was indecisive, which was not the case at all. Once he made his decision, he was steadfast in supporting the route he had chosen.

Peter R. Henriques is a professor emeritus of history at George Mason University. He has written many books about the life of George Washington. He is a member of the editorial board for the George Washington Papers and on the Mount Vernon Committee of George Washington Scholars. He has the pedigree to write about our first president’s life.

Sometimes, Henriques does fall into some hero worship with Washington. He makes some overgeneralizations that mask certain parts of Washington’s life. In one weird moment, the author posits that his alleged, unrequited love with Sally Fairfax was channeled into fighting for and forming the new United States of America. This seems strange, especially considering all evidence shows a very loving relationship with his wife, Martha, while the “love affair” with Sally is mostly conjecture. Additionally, Henriques has an unhealthy obsession with Washington having an infallible character, and almost places him in a pantheon of gods.

Despite these shortcomings, Realistic Visionary by Peter Henriques will interest the casual readers as they start on their own presidential reading project. I will say that anyone who is truly interested in the life of George Washington should take the chance to read better biographies, most notably, Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life

Craig Bacon is still toiling away at the imposing list of presidential books he has compiled for himself. Someday…

NEXT UP: First and Always - Peter R. Henriques