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Realistic Visionary

A Portrait of George Washington
Peter R. Henriques

BUY Paper · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813927411 · $19.95 · Feb 2008

In Realistic Visionary the renowned George Washington scholar Peter Henriques seeks to humanize the first president without diminishing him. Henriques’s Washington makes mistakes, is sensitive to criticism, and is slow to accept blame, but he is also the greatest man of his age, a relentless pragmatist who could nonetheless envision what a free and united America could be for "millions unborn."

Rather than revisiting Washington’s life in its entirety, Henriques constructs a biographical portrait by addressing the vital themes and events through which Washington the man is revealed. What emerge most clearly in Realistic Visionary are Washington’s successful struggle to channel his monumental personal ambition into public service and his unrivaled ability to turn his ambitious visions for the fledgling nation into reality.


Should Washington receive censure from posterity for being a slaveholder or approbation for freeing his slaves? Did he marry the richest widow in Virginia out of affection or avarice? Henriques opines as evidence allows (the Washingtons destroyed their correspondence), eliding from the speculative to the more concrete in addressing the better-documented public Washington.... Writing in straightforward style free of scholastic hairsplitting, Henriques helps meet the current fascination with Washington.


[Henriques] is fair-minded and thoughtful, and because he possesses no other agenda than a desire to uncover the real man, he is convincing when he concludes that ‘if one defines "Christian" as the evangelicals do... George Washington cannot be properly referred to as a Christian.’

New York Times Book Review

A deeply thoughtful appraisal of Washington’s career and character. The chapters on slavery and religion are especially beguiling. Henriques’s approach allows him to zoom in on the most salient and controversial issues with a focused clarity not possible in a conventional biography

Joseph J. Ellis, Mount Holyoke College, author of His Excellency: George Washington

Make space on the groaning shelf of Washington scholarship for a fine new volume. Peter Henriques has illuminated the often elusive first president by tackling some of the thorniest issues in his life—his religious views, his ambivalence toward slavery, his marriage to Martha, his ardor for Sally Fairfax, his friendship with Hamilton, his ultimate feud with Jefferson—and he has handled these delicate topics with such erudition, sound judgment, and penetrating insight that the reader comes to trust him as a valued guide on every page.

Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton

If you’re a fan of history, this is a quick, informative read that you’ll enjoy.


About the Author(s): 

Peter R. Henriques, Professor of History Emeritus at George Mason University, is the author of The Death of George Washington: He Died as He Lived.

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