From Publishers Weekly
In a short biography, Henriques (The Death of George Washington
) weighs in on many debates surrounding America's first president. Born-again Christians like to claim that Washington was an evangelical, but Henriques says it wasn't so: the Virginia Anglican was sporadically involved in his local church, but he was not theologically "orthodox" and his interest in religion was "perfunctory." Henriques is extremely generous when describing his subject's attitudes toward slavery. While acknowledging that Washington owned slaves all his life, Henriques emphasizes the ways Washington's views on slavery evolved and insists that the master of Mount Vernon "be judged against the standards of his day, not ours." The women in Washington's life also come under scrutiny. Washington was happily married to Martha Dandridge Custis, but he may have carried a torch for his friend Sally Cary Fairfax. In a strained psychological argument, Henriques suggests that Washington "channeled" whatever "passions" he had for Fairfax into the founding of America. Throughout, the prose is clunky ("The story of... Washington and slavery has much material in it for those desiring to engage in the 'ecstasy of sanctimony' "). And Henriques's ultimate conclusion—that Washington was a man of great character, always willing to do his duty, even when it cost him his privacy and an easy retirement—is anodyne. 15 b&w illus. (Apr.)
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First in war, first in peace, and first in the revival of popular interest in the Founding Fathers, George Washington has inspired numerous recent titles by David McCullough, Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and others. Henriques pitches in with 10 essays on specific topics in Washington's life and career. Derived from lectures he delivered in a historic Alexandria, Virginia, tavern, Henriques speaks to readers conversant with the basic biography and inclined to debate it. 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. An emphasis on Washington's protection of his reputation links Henriques' interpretations about Washington's battlefield courage, generalship, and relations with Jefferson and Hamilton, and thematically unifies these accessible essays. Writing in straightforward style free of scholastic hairsplitting, Henriques helps meet the current fascination with Washington. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved