Thursday, February 1, 2024

Bacon Presidential Library Vol. 12: First & Always

 First and Always: A New Portrait of George Washington

  • Peter R. Henriques

University of Virginia Press

240 Pages

I considered writing the review of this book in tandem with Realistic Visionary. They were both by the same author, and both relatively short. However, after some contemplation, I decided that the two books were different enough to warrant separate reviews. First and Always by Peter R. Henriques is a fine stand alone book that I breezed through in my long list of Washington biographies.

I would tend to think of this book as less a traditional biography and more as a collection of essays on the life of George Washington. As stated in the previous review, Henriques has the resume to be able to pull off the feat. The tedium of a project like this means that sometimes you get tired of reading, which is not something I’m used to. Additionally, with my promise to write a review of these books as I make my way through each president, the reviews cause burn out. How much can you write about the same subject?

In this case, readability is one of the two main focuses when I’m reviewing these books. How easy is it to read? The second focus is on the biography itself. No matter how easy it is to read, what am I learning that I haven’t learned in the previous dozen or so books? Am I learning more about things that were touched upon in earlier publications, or is it the same information presented and interpreted in new ways?

First and Always, with its simplicity, excels in giving the reader a bit of new insight on the life of George Washington. Most importantly, he has a bit less hero worship in this publication than he had in the previous selection. He also touches upon the subject of Washington’s mother, who has been much maligned in most other biographies of our first president. He acknowledges that new research and new interpretations of old research will show a softer Mary Washington than what earlier generations have posited.

Henriques shows Washington as a man who made mistakes, but also as a man who took the lessons from those mistakes to improve himself as he moved forward. His drive and determination would overcome those missteps and ultimately put him on a path where he could nurture the infant nation. All this is explained in great detail in this book.

Like Realistic Visionary before it, First and Always by Peter R. Henriques would be a great introduction to learning about the basics of the life of George Washington, although, my personal opinion would be to place First and Always over Realistic Visionary. Coming in at only 240 pages, this should be a fine book for most casual readers.

Craig Bacon is still playing catch up on this project. Don’t worry; the Washington biographies will soon be moving to John Adams.

NEXT UP: The Ascent of George Washington by John Ferling