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You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

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In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he's not quite the man we remember Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his sadd In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he's not quite the man we remember Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle. But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield—like espionage and propaganda. After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn't allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency—twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created. Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy—what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned—before succumbing to a brutal death. Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend.


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In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he's not quite the man we remember Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his sadd In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first—and finds he's not quite the man we remember Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down—even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle. But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield—like espionage and propaganda. After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn't allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency—twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created. Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy—what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned—before succumbing to a brutal death. Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend.

30 review for You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

  1. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    If only history class was this much fun! This is the first biography of George Washington written by a woman, and it's a rigorously researched yet witty exploration of his life. Fun facts and trivia are included, often in list form. Myths of Washington are dispelled. For instance, he did not have wooden teeth (although what he did have was unsavory). There was no cherry tree, nor did he say “I cannot tell a lie”. Most people are a mixture of good and bad, and Washington was no exception. Despite If only history class was this much fun! This is the first biography of George Washington written by a woman, and it's a rigorously researched yet witty exploration of his life. Fun facts and trivia are included, often in list form. Myths of Washington are dispelled. For instance, he did not have wooden teeth (although what he did have was unsavory). There was no cherry tree, nor did he say “I cannot tell a lie”. Most people are a mixture of good and bad, and Washington was no exception. Despite his stellar qualities, which includes dedicating years of his life to service to his country, the author is forthcoming about his faults, including an in-depth look into his troublesome slave ownership. He’s often seen as rather staid and boring, perhaps because many of his bios are boring. However, he was anything but. His many illnesses and his relationships with his mother, wife, and children made him relatable. We are also given a balanced view of his military skills, pointing out his failures as well as his successes. Highly entertaining, fascinating, and written in a way that makes history accessible to everyone, including those who think they don’t like history. This may whet your appetite for a deeper exploration of Washington’s life but it stands quite nicely on its own. At slightly over 6 hours, and narrated flawlessly, I highly recommend this on audio.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine Guillory

    What an engaging, fascinating, funny, educational book! I wish more history was written like this — entertaining, accessible, and deeply researched all at the same time. I learned so much about George Washington (who I wasn’t particularly interested in; turns out he had a fascinating life!) and I particularly appreciated the level of detail the author put into discussing the people he enslaved. Highly recommend to any history buff or just anyone who wants to know more about how and why America c What an engaging, fascinating, funny, educational book! I wish more history was written like this — entertaining, accessible, and deeply researched all at the same time. I learned so much about George Washington (who I wasn’t particularly interested in; turns out he had a fascinating life!) and I particularly appreciated the level of detail the author put into discussing the people he enslaved. Highly recommend to any history buff or just anyone who wants to know more about how and why America came to be and is the way it is.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    "He is a complete gentleman . . . He is sensible, amiable, virtuous, modest and brave." -- Massachusettes delegate Thomas Cushing, regarding Washington commanding the new Continental Army, in 1775 When's the last time you read a biography on George Washington? If you're like me, it was possibly way back in elementary or primary school - with a book listing the usual wooden teeth and chopping a cherry tree fabrications - which then dovetailed with a segment that would focus on Abraham Lincoln. (An "He is a complete gentleman . . . He is sensible, amiable, virtuous, modest and brave." -- Massachusettes delegate Thomas Cushing, regarding Washington commanding the new Continental Army, in 1775 When's the last time you read a biography on George Washington? If you're like me, it was possibly way back in elementary or primary school - with a book listing the usual wooden teeth and chopping a cherry tree fabrications - which then dovetailed with a segment that would focus on Abraham Lincoln. (And I even love reading about U.S. history, although my presidential bio tastes veer more towards the 20th-century figures like the Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon.) With You Never Forget Your First, author/historian Alexis Coe breaks from a sort of tradition - that being the older male academics who usually pen these sorts of biographies, which tend to resemble bricks in weight and size - to present a well-researched yet swift and streamlined (only about 200 pages) portrait of the Revolutionary War military commander and very first U.S. president. She speaks of the bad - the slavery on his estate, losing more battles than any modern general, health issues - AND the good - respect from colleagues and citizens, a successful first term - along with an amusing 21-century slant on the proceedings (such as the line "Great love stories don't often begin with dystentary" at the start of chapter 5). In fact, the details on the days leading up to Washington's death - with the (now) backwards medical 'help' provided to him, including repeated bloodlettings (!) - were eerily fascinating. I'd like to see Coe again take on another POTUS as a book subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    "What is history, but a fable agreed upon?" ~Napoleon Bonaparte I'll admit it. I'm not a fan of early US history. It bored me in school.... though that has a lot to do with it having just been a bunch of names and dates to memorize rather than a deeper discussion.  Perhaps disliking it in school left a bad taste in my mouth. But it just seems like a bunch of wars fought by a gang of slave-owning white dudes who were overly full of themselves.  This is the first biography I've read of George Washing "What is history, but a fable agreed upon?" ~Napoleon Bonaparte I'll admit it. I'm not a fan of early US history. It bored me in school.... though that has a lot to do with it having just been a bunch of names and dates to memorize rather than a deeper discussion.  Perhaps disliking it in school left a bad taste in my mouth. But it just seems like a bunch of wars fought by a gang of slave-owning white dudes who were overly full of themselves.  This is the first biography I've read of George Washington, first president of the USA. I feel guilty about not reading more but like I said, this stuff just bores me. Also, I don't feel like we get the real picture because white dudes also wrote the history books so it's written through their eyes, is their version of events.  Alexis Coe, author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington decided to write this book for that very reason. Looking at her vast collection of GW bios one day, she realized that not one of them was written by a woman. Women are expected to write about other women, as though we cannot possibly do justice to a man, or maybe are not worthy enough.  As Ms. Coe was working on this book, she frequently was asked what her book was about. Her answer that it's about George Washington led to: "His marriage?" (no), "His wife?" (no), "His... social life?" Fuck no! Well, her reply was not so vulgar: "No. It's a biography. Like a man would write." Except that, refreshingly, we are given a biography of the first president of the United States of America that is not man-splained.  And ya know what? I actually enjoyed it! I appreciate that Ms. Coe strives to tell the truth about Mr Washington and this period without white-washing history, as is almost always the case when books are written by white people. History is skewed through the lens of the history writers. (That said, I cannot promise there is not some white-washing in this book that I didn't notice because, while the author strives not to do that, it is still written by a white person.) Ms. Coe talks about the fact that Washington owned many slaves, and part of the reason for the War for Independence from Britain was because the colonists wanted to continue to own slaves. That was a big part of it. A 1772 decision from the Court of the King’s Bench in London held that "chattel slavery was neither supported in common law nor authorized by statute in England and Wales". As the author notes, "If slavery was outlawed in America, their profits would plummet, as would the power they derived from bondage—including the luxury of rebellion." Who wants that to happen?? Not these slave owners who needed free labor to build their fledgling country. George Washington inherited ten slaves, ten human beings to do with as he pleased, at the age of eleven. Eleven years old and he became the owner of other human beings.  Let that sink in. Historians like to point to the fact that Washington asked in his will that his slaves (317 at the time of his death) be freed.... but that was only to be after his wife's death when she would no longer need them. He also had no qualms about abusing them: "Washington did not just give others permission to physically abuse people he held in bondage; he sometimes assaulted them himself." He frequently stated that his slaves were better off being owned by him than being freed. No one can write his history and say he treated all fairly. He did not. Historians who want to say he was against slavery must acknowledge that if he truly was, he would have freed every single slave he owned DURING his lifetime. He would have worked to abolish slavery in the young States. Instead, he upheld it. When he spoke of freedom of mankind, he excluded "mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, along with millions of slaves". The United States of America, from its very inception, was built on the backs of slaves.  Built on the backs of people stolen from their homes, brought in horrendous conditions across the Atlantic Ocean. Human beings who were then brutalized into submission and a life of forced and heavy labor.  Is it any wonder we are where we are today? We need to remember that a war was started, one that lasted seven years, in large part to allow the colonists to continue owning slaves. Our country was created to uphold white supremacy. When white people speak out about Black people looting and rioting (which very few of the protestors even do), we need to remember that early (white) Americans went to war, killing many people, so that they could own slaves. They were fighting for their freedom, yes, but not for their right to live and not be persecuted by the British. They were fighting for their freedom to own other human beings (and to not have to pay taxes). Remember this next time you feel like saying, Well, I would support BLM but look at how they're acting, and other such bullshit.  Ok, moving along... I promised myself I would stick to writing only about the book..... but some things just need to be said. Ms. Coe doesn't just tear down Mr. Washington in her book; she points out his positive traits and the good he accomplished in his lifetime. She is fair in her assessment of him. But it's time we stop pretending there was only good. We need to look at history honestly and without blinders of white superiority. George Washington was a family man who deeply loved his wife, step-children, mother, and step-grandchildren. He was also a terrific spymaster. As the author says, "His ability to manage large-scale combat while also running spy rings and shadow and propaganda campaigns in enemy-occupied areas is a significant—and often overlooked—part of the Revolutionary War". There are many interesting facts in this book, both about Mr Washington and about the formation of the USA. The author quotes extensively from letters and diaries of the time, which adds authenticity. It is interesting to note that Mr. Washington predicted political partisanship would "reduce the government to a crowd of bickering representatives who were very good at thwarting each other but got very little accomplished for their constituents". Insightful and true, especially today.  Anyone interested in early US history will enjoy this book (white supremacists excepted). Very well written and researched, and interesting even to those of us who aren't normally interested in this period.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mari

    I picked this up on a whim after I was looking at a list of recent releases. I've always had a vague interest in reading presidential biographies, and I loved the way that this one was framed. I was not disappointed. Why you may not like this book: It is a breeze of a biography that skips over chunks of Washington's life, specifically the details of the Revolution. If you want something a bit more comprehensive, this may leave you feeling wanting. The degree to which this will feel like "I'm not I picked this up on a whim after I was looking at a list of recent releases. I've always had a vague interest in reading presidential biographies, and I loved the way that this one was framed. I was not disappointed. Why you may not like this book: It is a breeze of a biography that skips over chunks of Washington's life, specifically the details of the Revolution. If you want something a bit more comprehensive, this may leave you feeling wanting. The degree to which this will feel like "I'm not a regular biography, I'm a cool biography," will be super personal. It felt that way just a couple of times to me, but I can see it being more annoying for other readers. Finally, I listened to this on audiobook. The narrator did a good job, but Coe uses lists or tables in order to quickly convey information in a fun/funny way. It doesn't translate well to audio and it felt like it took something away from the experience. Why I liked this book: I loved the idea of exploring how a gendered bias has informed how we see Washington as an important figure. The focus on Washington as manly and viral and above reproach has informed so much of American history and feels to me like so indicative of general pro-America sentiment. There was a really great emphasis in this on the women in Washington's life and on the fact that through his entire life-time, Washington was a slave owner. I don't think I've ever read anything that explained so well the role that slaves played in Washington's daily life. There is no such thing as unbiased writing or reporting, but I appreciated the way this was more clear about it's intention and how often it presented what we knew with less interpretation. It was very readable and super interesting. It left me wanting to read more about Washington, and I think if and when I do, I'll be a more discerning reader.

  6. 5 out of 5

    The Colonial

    George Washington stands near the beginning in a line that features a continuous number of biographies on famous and infamous historical figures, though his latest chronicle from historian Alexis Coe perhaps may be the most unique and divisive to date. With a stirring and comical opening that mocks a few misconceptions on “His Excellency,” Coe sheds light on what she calls his greatest hits—noting his likes, dislikes, frenemies, beverages of choice, a fascinating look at the diseases he survived George Washington stands near the beginning in a line that features a continuous number of biographies on famous and infamous historical figures, though his latest chronicle from historian Alexis Coe perhaps may be the most unique and divisive to date. With a stirring and comical opening that mocks a few misconceptions on “His Excellency,” Coe sheds light on what she calls his greatest hits—noting his likes, dislikes, frenemies, beverages of choice, a fascinating look at the diseases he survived throughout life, and even down to his favorite animals and authors. This leads into a preface that highlights the many plights female historians face in the industry (especially when writing a full-scale biography on a male subject), all the while explaining some of the myths and aggrandizing made by Washington’s prior biographers. This continues into the introduction, where Coe hits on many fallacies—yet at times puts too much emphasis on setting her work apart from those completed by other men in the field (Chernow, Unger, Brookhiser, among many others). This comes off as rather overstretched and nitpicky, especially when criticizing the very titles previously used such as “A Life” or “A Biography,” which loses the audience’s overall focus on her subject. Nonetheless, she makes a sound argument in favor of not putting Washington on a pedestal, primarily when these men describe his physical characteristics or conveniently leave out his faults as if he were an inconceivable god above humankind. Indeed, Coe justifiably points out that they often tend to place some of his perceived negative attributes (infertility) on his wife or his “whining” mother Mary. Broken into four parts on each of his life stages, the second chapter is fundamental in finally shedding new light on young Washington’s time spent in Barbados with his older halfbrother Lawrence. Upon setting the world ablaze with the start of the French and Indian War, Coe relates the disaster at Monongahela among his other expeditions, yet also gives proper attention to his courtship and marriage to Martha Custis. Coe’s writing is engaging and flows evenly with her overall familiarity of George, bringing the less discussed and oft-overlooked research material to the forefront—such as his relationship with his two stepchildren. There are however random tangents that would seem more suitable as a separate chapter, when for example she randomly introduces the tight quarters of the slaves at Mount Vernon, and yet immediately carries on to the causes and first shots of the Revolutionary War. The chapters are short and highly comprehensible, with subchapters and breaks littered throughout—allowing for the ease of retaining each of the facts on George’s remarkable life. The second part opens with Coe summarizing every major battle Washington took command in during the entirety of the war—all in an effort to discuss his life away from the battlefront in the next chapters. It’s here that she recollects the commander-in-chief’s role in using propaganda (both real and embellished alike), his groundbreaking undertaking into espionage including a concise overview of the Culper Ring, as well as the constant fear of disease (smallpox and typhus) and the British confiscating his slaves and estate: If Washington had tried to match the Howe brothers in experience or armed forces, the war would not have been the second longest in American history. There likely wouldn’t be an American history. To pigeonhole him as a military leader is to underestimate how much the fledgling government needed Washington as a diplomat and political strategist. His ability to manage large-scale combat while also running spy rings and shadow and propaganda campaigns in enemy-occupied areas is a significant—and often overlooked—part of the Revolutionary War. Coe discusses Washington’s relationship with his slave and chalet William Lee in vivid detail, and gives an in-depth look at his frustrations with his cousin Lund Washington’s management of Mount Vernon during the course of the war. Also a unique and welcoming feature to her biography is the succinct breakdown of those friendships that either lasted, or were unfortunately broken entirely (sometimes to the point of downright hostility) during his presidency. His choice cabinet and their respective dinners, dealings, and compromises are showcased, and Coe scrutinizes both monumental and detrimental policy alike—from his dealings with the Genet Affair, the fleeting Whiskey Rebellion, and onto the controversial Jay Treaty. Before moving to his retirement years, Coe traces the Washingtons’ futile pursuit of their runaway slave, Ona Judge, where she relates the darker side of George’s life in conjunction with the hypocrisy of slavery. This final part that follows feels rather rushed and lacking in substance, with only two chapters that feature some musings on George’s step-grandchildren, the drafting of his last will and testament, and an unflattering yet apt portrait of Martha as widow and slave owner. Perfect for the casual and academic reader alike, Coe’s biography is well-researched and reads smoothly from beginning to end—leaving out his battlefield experiences, but capturing the intimacy and blemishes of the first President of the United States. Apart from the magnificent and entertaining cover, illustrations are unfortunately not provided, though an index is included. Read the Full Review and More

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I had high hopes for this book. By the end, however, I was regretting the money I’d spent on the e-book. There’s $13.99 I will never get back. It probably didn’t help that the author starts off by insulting anyone who has ever read and enjoyed the more academic and thoroughly researched presidential biographies on Washington, including Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life.” She derisively dismisses them as thousand-page books that “will always appear as if they are for men of a certain age, intended I had high hopes for this book. By the end, however, I was regretting the money I’d spent on the e-book. There’s $13.99 I will never get back. It probably didn’t help that the author starts off by insulting anyone who has ever read and enjoyed the more academic and thoroughly researched presidential biographies on Washington, including Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life.” She derisively dismisses them as thousand-page books that “will always appear as if they are for men of a certain age, intended to be purchased on Presidents’ or Father’s Day.” I personally am very tired of seeing presidential biographies and certain kinds of historical narratives referred to as “Dad books.” My father does not read these books. My husband, who is also a father, does not read them either. I, most assuredly not a man or a father, read them. I love these kinds of books. Can we please stop generalizing books and making assumptions about the people who are reading them? Coe says she thinks too many books about white men in history are written by white men today. OK. I agree. I'd love to see more books by woman historians researching and analyzing our Founding Fathers from a female perspective. But the problem with this book? Coe’s work doesn’t rise to the same level of scholarship and academia. To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen (another historical figure – look him up), I have seen Ron Chernow’s works. I have read Ron Chernow’s work. You, Ms. Coe, are no Ron Chernow. Coe berates these white-male biographers for making assumptions and supposedly perpetuating myths about Washington (like the oft-told tale of his chopping down the cherry tree). And then she goes right into her text and does exactly that very same thing. As the mother of two boys I found this example particularly egregious. In one section she makes a claim – based on nothing other than a few words in a letter from Washington’s colleague that asks him if he’s been “enchanted by charms even stranger to the Ciprian Dame” (this being 18th-century slang for “a woman you are having sex with other than your wife”) – that this insinuates “it is therefore possible Washington had a sexual relationship with a woman other than Martha, and that possibility includes nonconsensual sex with an enslaved woman.” Um, what? It’s quite a leap from “Washington may have had a mistress” (a theory for which there is actual physical evidence in the form of several randy and flirtatious letters to and from Sally Fairfax, the wife of Washington’s friend) to “Washington was probably raping his female slaves.” Is it possible? Sure. Washington had the means (a penis) and the opportunity (he enslaved nearly 300 human beings, including many women). But that’s a huge assumption to make. And it's offensive. It’s like saying every college male who has ever been in a fraternity has more than likely committed date rape because they are a) men and B) in a fraternity. Is it possible? Yes. It is definite fact? Not even a little bit. For all that, the worst part of this book might actually be the brevity of it. In Chernow’s book, you delve into Washington’s life and actions and—yes, flaws—in depth with a greater understanding. This book, which clocks in at just over 200 pages of text, stays on the surface only and skims over pretty much every event or fact of Washington’s life. His daring and heroic crossing of the Delaware River on the night of December 25–26, 1776, which raised the flagging spirits of the American colonists who feared that the Continental Army was incapable of victory and were just about to throw in the towel? Less than half a page. Yes. Just a few sentences. In the end, I am giving this 2 stars (mostly because my bar for 1-star read is “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and very few books are THAT bad). If you don’t have the time, patience, intellectual ability or attention span to read an excellently researched and superbly written 900+-page book like Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life,” then go ahead and pick this up. It’s a quick read and includes short lists and amusing text boxes. You won’t learn a whole lot about George Washington, but you might retain a few factoids that can help you win trivia night at the bar the next time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    This may be the only presidential biography I will ever read. As the author rightly noted, who has the time for 1,000-page tomes written by white men about white presidents? This book is only, mercifully, 300 pages. I liked some of it - the length (dah!), the format (lists, etc.), the fact that it tried to dispel some myths about George Washington, especially slavery-related. But even being so short, this biography had way too much battle info, and ultimately wasn't cohesive and deep for me to u This may be the only presidential biography I will ever read. As the author rightly noted, who has the time for 1,000-page tomes written by white men about white presidents? This book is only, mercifully, 300 pages. I liked some of it - the length (dah!), the format (lists, etc.), the fact that it tried to dispel some myths about George Washington, especially slavery-related. But even being so short, this biography had way too much battle info, and ultimately wasn't cohesive and deep for me to understand this presidency and politics of the time. I feel like I need to read a few more books to get a fuller picture. Which defeats the whole purpose of this work.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    Won this in a goodreads giveaway. Wonderful book! Extremely interesting and shows how old history books need to be rewritten

  10. 5 out of 5

    laurel [suspected bibliophile]

    The first biography of George Washington written by a female historian in...damn near forever, Alexis Coe seeks to accomplish three things: 1. Break down the myths and reverence surrounding and clouding our first president 2. Bring Washington's life to life in a way that shows him as a dude like...um, some of us 3. Write a biography of the first president that can't be successfully used as either a doorstop or a bludgeon ...and she mostly succeeds. Things I Liked I felt like the irreverent tone was mo The first biography of George Washington written by a female historian in...damn near forever, Alexis Coe seeks to accomplish three things: 1. Break down the myths and reverence surrounding and clouding our first president 2. Bring Washington's life to life in a way that shows him as a dude like...um, some of us 3. Write a biography of the first president that can't be successfully used as either a doorstop or a bludgeon ...and she mostly succeeds. Things I Liked I felt like the irreverent tone was mostly successful, and I liked that she highlights Washington's relationship with his mother and wife in a healthy, normalizing way, and mentions Washington's stepkids in a way that's...also normal. And is like, "Get the fuck over his sterility. He had two kids, fuck off blood isn't everything." I also liked that Coe dives right into the most controversial aspects of Washington's life—primarily how the Foundingest Father of Life, Liberty and (Property) the Pursuit of Happiness was a slaveholder with few qualms about being a slaveholder. He wasn't the worst, but he definitely wasn't the best (spoiler: there are no good slaveholders), and he actively rotated the people he had enslaved in and out of free Philadelphia to ensure that they didn't ever meet the six month freedom rules. And all the ooooooooh but Washington ~freed~ his slaves upon his death from the people who give him a leg up? Welp, that was kinda a back-handed freeing that came with Terms and Conditions, because he freed his enslaved people upon *Martha's* death, and only his own enslaved persons not those that came as part of her dowry (so gross) and not even taking into account the fact that the Custis and Washington enslaved persons had intermarried and that marriage was a way to bind people further into slavery and make them less likely to run away and that any children born to an enslaved woman would be born into slavery, which is just so fucking evil. I also liked that Coe points out Washington's failures along with his successes, and notes that much of his legend occurred while he was alive, but that much of it was regained after his death—particularly because of the cluster-fuckery that was his second presidency. Yes, he established many of the etiquettes and expectations of the presidency through precedence, but he also failed to mitigate or rein in his cabinet members, which created the first political parties and threatened to dismantle the nascent country. And I had no idea that he was um, so accident and illness prone. Let's celebrate the dude solely because of the fact that he somehow survived pretty much everything that killed everyone. Things I Was Less Fond Of Honestly, I felt like I walked away less with a comprehensive knowledge of Washington's life, although I knew a lot about his relationship with the people he kept enslaved (putting it this way sounds a lot ickier than just slaves, amiright? That's why I did it—slavery was a blight upon our past and the systems of oppression that resulted from it a blight on our present) and I knew more about his failures. But did I know the man himself? I dunno. I felt like something was missed that I can't just place my finger on. The writing style was fun and fresh, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I kinda wanted an in-depth dive into Washington's life and I felt that much of this book missed out on the context that peppers many Revolutionary-era biographies (although it does place many of the maligned portions of Washington's life into much-needed context). It also felt like it jumped and skipped parts of his life, although I'm glad to learn of his many retirements to life as the owner of a slave-run farm. Things That I Am Eternally Grateful For Well, just one Thing: Coe's apt mockery of previous (male) biographers who all tend to be obsessed with 1. Washington's height (dude was tall. Tall is not a personality) and 2. Washington's apparently thiccccc thighs and calves. And thus, the term thigh-men was born, and I thank Coe forever for it, and the shade she gleefully throws out at Chernow and other biographers for their obsession with Washington's legs and the way he could ~ride~ a horse. Which, when you think of it, brings their ridiculous obsession with sterility into something more sensical?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    I never thought I'd answer the question "So what are you reading?" with "A biography of George Washington." But I did, and am so glad I picked this one up! I was first drawn to it because of the title, the hilarious cover and the fact that it is written by a woman. It's hard to find historical non-fiction written by women, especially when it comes to Colonial/Revolutionary history (though there are some amazing female authors out there!). And as I started reading, Coe did not disappoint. This ac I never thought I'd answer the question "So what are you reading?" with "A biography of George Washington." But I did, and am so glad I picked this one up! I was first drawn to it because of the title, the hilarious cover and the fact that it is written by a woman. It's hard to find historical non-fiction written by women, especially when it comes to Colonial/Revolutionary history (though there are some amazing female authors out there!). And as I started reading, Coe did not disappoint. This account of Washington's life is amusing, yet pointed (critiquing both Washington and even other biographers of him), succinct yet detailed where it needs to be. It is clear Coe did her research and examined the works of others as well. And while her approach or interpretation of history may not be 100% accurate (I am not one to judge this, as this is the only book about Washington I've ever read, and I am no fact-checker) but I really appreciated reading her perspective. She is not afraid to pick apart myths and inconsistencies that we hold about our first president, and lays out her argument and evidence in a convincing yet readable manner. The book is structured chronologically, following Washington from his youth growing up in Virginia to his death at Mount Vernon. My favorite parts of the book were actually in the beginning, when Coe examines the portrayals of Washington's mother, Mary, from other biographies. She points out where others may have gone wrong, and gives depth and life to a character who is often pushed to the sidelines in order to focus on her illustrious son. Coe's research into Washington's childhood was also quite interesting, and one might have assumed he grew up wealthy. But it seems as if he grew up just above what was considered poor (he still had a horse, albeit a very hungry one), and his family often struggled to make ends meet after his father passed away. Throughout the work, Coe's writing looses some of its humorous flair as we focus more on details of Washington's military and presidential career. Even so, her tone is engaging and readable—even if I wasn't grinning about a line, I still found myself making steady progress and enjoying my time reading. Who knew that reading about a military battle could be actually kind of nice and interesting?? Not me! If you're new to reading history/biographies, or just want a different take on such an esteemed historical figure, then definitely pick this one up when it come out in early February! You'll get feminism, myth-busting, a variety of jokes AND some hot historical knowledge. What could be better? I am super curious to read Coe's first book, which I hear is being made into a movie (or tv show?? I can't remember). Thank you so much to Viking & Edelweiss for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. :) So happy to read this one!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 thought soon.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Did I need a George Washington biography in my life? No. But did I need one written by a woman? Yes. I learned about Alexis Coe via No Man's Land, the podcast by The Wing. I learned Alexis is a woman American historian, of which there are few. This book is great. It's like having your smartest friend tell you about our first President. Whatever you've heard or learned about Washington, you've undoubtedly heard it from a male perspective. Trust me, you want to hear a woman's recounting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sahitya

    I think of myself as someone who likes reading historical stuff, but I’m also too impatient to read biographical tomes of historical figures. So I usually stick to articles or any relevant items I come across during some other endeavor. So this book would ideally not even be on my radar, but I stumbled upon it when I saw that the first biography of GW by a woman historian in a long time is being criticized a lot, and I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I also really enjoyed readi I think of myself as someone who likes reading historical stuff, but I’m also too impatient to read biographical tomes of historical figures. So I usually stick to articles or any relevant items I come across during some other endeavor. So this book would ideally not even be on my radar, but I stumbled upon it when I saw that the first biography of GW by a woman historian in a long time is being criticized a lot, and I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I also really enjoyed reading the author’s interview and wanted to know more of her writing style. And I’m so glad I picked up this book because I was in a slump and this might just have pulled me out of it. The first thing I want to say about this book is that it’s fun and accessible and once you start reading it, you will want to continue. Also unlike Chernow’s biography or any of the others which have been written about Washington, this one is not intimidating and and is comfortably just around 300 pages. That makes it definitely much more enticing to a rare history/biography reader like me who just wants to gain some basic knowledge about the subject but doesn’t need to do a deep dive into their entire life. The author has also been criticized for not being sufficiently reverential towards GW, and while I understand the place Washington has in American hearts, I don’t know why she is expected to be reverential when she is in actuality not writing a hagiography. The author spends a good amount of page time into aspects of Washington’s life that we probably are not very familiar with (or maybe just I am not) like his relationships with his various family members, his worries about leaving a pristine legacy, his later estrangement with many of the members of his first cabinet, his handling of criticism during the presidency and ultimately his handling of the people he enslaved, and never actually freed. I thought the author managed to give a well rounded picture of the person behind the myth that is Washington and she makes it very enjoyable to read, and I never wanted to put the book down. I also thought she was very objective in her writing, never overly praising nor criticizing where it wasn’t due. But she does reserve a bit of criticism for the previous famous (male) biographers who are largely responsible for creating exaggerated stories about Washington, making him into a larger than life figure and she rightfully calls them out for being obsessed about his virility and athletic prowess, and some even misrepresenting his treatment of his enslaved people. She has a table listing all the derogatory terms various historians have used to describe Washington’s mother, which left a lasting impression on me and it brought to mind one of my recent reads, Pretty Bitches, where many women authors talk about all the words that are used as weapons against women - I thought it was appalling that these biographers found it necessary to put Mary Washington down to elevate his stature. To conclude, if you want to get started with some light historical reading about our first President but don’t really want to begin with award winning large tomes, I promise you can’t go wrong with this one. The writing is very easy to read, it’s fun and very enjoyable while also being informative, and with a huge list of sources. I really loved reading it, but I think I would recommend it to readers unfamiliar with the subject rather than history nerds who are looking for more in-depth accounts.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    Biography is generally not my favorite nonfiction genre, but this is the best book EVER. If, like me, you love Revolutionary War and founding fathers stuff but could really do without hundreds of pages of battle strategy and lionization of imperfect men, then this is the Washington bio for you. Coe’s honest, unsentimental account of the life of our first President is fun, funny, and fascinating, dense without being dry and respectful without being either naive or hit with a case of the anachroni Biography is generally not my favorite nonfiction genre, but this is the best book EVER. If, like me, you love Revolutionary War and founding fathers stuff but could really do without hundreds of pages of battle strategy and lionization of imperfect men, then this is the Washington bio for you. Coe’s honest, unsentimental account of the life of our first President is fun, funny, and fascinating, dense without being dry and respectful without being either naive or hit with a case of the anachronistic outrage that so commonly besets us modern liberals. Come for the Culper Ring intrigue and stay for the “thigh men” jokes. This book is at once immensely informative and loads of fun, and I’ll be recommending it to absolutely everyone I know.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    Alexis Coe's You Never Forget Your First is a fresh examination of what is a myth and what is a truth about our first president. I have to admit just knowing that someone would actually critically look at Washington the man rather than the "humble, military genius" that most authors take really excited me. This book did not disappoint. Coe explores Washington's ambitious and often tunnel vision style approach to getting what he wanted while also maintaining the reputation a social climber strive Alexis Coe's You Never Forget Your First is a fresh examination of what is a myth and what is a truth about our first president. I have to admit just knowing that someone would actually critically look at Washington the man rather than the "humble, military genius" that most authors take really excited me. This book did not disappoint. Coe explores Washington's ambitious and often tunnel vision style approach to getting what he wanted while also maintaining the reputation a social climber strives to maintain. This is not an attack of Washington, but more an in-depth look at who the man really was outside of what propaganda and even Washington himself strove to portray to the world. I think this book is one of the first biographies I have read of Washington that didn’t seem afraid to say “okay, he did do a lot, but he was far from the perfect, never tell a lie, god-like figure most of us learn about in history class and from reading other biographies.” Coe’s writing style is easy, engaging, and follows a narrative flow that makes this a great book for anyone interested in learning more about the USA’s first president. Even if you, like me, have read numerous books about Washington, the American Revolution, and the founding of our nation, you can find something new in Alexis Coe’s newest book. *Thank you NetGalley and Viking Press for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Alexis Coe's new biography of our country's first president had me wishing that more women could take a stab at rewriting history. In the first 50 pages of this book, Coe dives into some solid rhetorical criticism about how Washington and his family have been portrayed by men in previous biographies written about them. I was SO there for that kind of dish and was really captivated by her writing. But within a few chapters, the book settled into a pretty standard biography (albeit a great one at t Alexis Coe's new biography of our country's first president had me wishing that more women could take a stab at rewriting history. In the first 50 pages of this book, Coe dives into some solid rhetorical criticism about how Washington and his family have been portrayed by men in previous biographies written about them. I was SO there for that kind of dish and was really captivated by her writing. But within a few chapters, the book settled into a pretty standard biography (albeit a great one at that) and I struggled (ie, started to nod off in bed) a few times while reading it. This was mostly due to the fact there were a lot of 18th century personalities mentioned whose names were immediately forgotten soon after coming across them. Also, whenever Coe included sample text from an article/journal/letter of the period, I had to re-read it because the writing of yore was SO different. I think my greatest takeaways from this book were 1) the attention Coe paid to covering Washington and his treatment/attitude to his slaves and 2) learning specific details about the great rivalries that existed among our Founding Fathers—proof in historical form that this Nation has ALWAYS struggled with a political divide.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    I’ll give this 3-1/2 stars Alexis Coe approaches George Washington’s life and accomplishments from a decidedly twenty-first century perspective. Using primary sources from George Washington’s writings (journals, letters, and accounts) and those of his contemporaries, Coe weaves together a biography of our first President. In the introduction, Coe states that she’s the first female biographer of Washington who writes on the man himself. I learned a few things about Washington’s life before the Amer I’ll give this 3-1/2 stars Alexis Coe approaches George Washington’s life and accomplishments from a decidedly twenty-first century perspective. Using primary sources from George Washington’s writings (journals, letters, and accounts) and those of his contemporaries, Coe weaves together a biography of our first President. In the introduction, Coe states that she’s the first female biographer of Washington who writes on the man himself. I learned a few things about Washington’s life before the American Revolution, with Coe pointing out his failures rather than successes during the French & Indian Wars. In fact, Coe spent lots of energy on the negative or failures injecting her comments with today’s attitudes. Part of Coe’s approach is to strip away myths and dig down to the dirt or bedrock revealing and sometimes reveling in Washington’s relationships with his slaves and servants. Coe frequently points to Washington as a slaveholder and discusses that point at much length and seeming distaste. In the end, I grew tired of Coe’s approach and attitudes. Despite my disaffection with her writing style and bias, I’d say she does an adequate job of describing Washington and his career(s). There’s not a lot of analysis so while this is biography is, perhaps, written for teens, it is written from a definite bias with today’s attitudes and distaste for colonial slavery and indentured servants. There are some factual errors in the section about Washington’s accomplishments as President, so fact-checking is in order. Now I want to read other biographies of our first President written by the male authors she’s trying to upstage. Thanks to the BookLoft of German Village (Columbus, OH) http://www.bookloft.com for an ARC to read and review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a fresh look at Washington and/or want to read a biography of Washington, but are intimidated by the many enormous biographies of our first president. In 2012, I began a "presidential biography" reading plan, in which I read a biography of every president (including Obama).. I finished this project in 2015. Biographies of presidents has always been an interest of mine--going back to childhood--but after that undertaking, there has to be something unique about a president's biog Read if you: Want a fresh look at Washington and/or want to read a biography of Washington, but are intimidated by the many enormous biographies of our first president. In 2012, I began a "presidential biography" reading plan, in which I read a biography of every president (including Obama).. I finished this project in 2015. Biographies of presidents has always been an interest of mine--going back to childhood--but after that undertaking, there has to be something unique about a president's biography in order for me to pick it up. The title and marketing for You Never Forget Your First was appealing, so I sent in my request to review. Alexis Coe has an irreverant, but not obnoxious, view on Washington (and on his previous biographers!), which will appeal to those who are interersted in reading a Washington biography, but find the 700-900+ page tomes daunting. She also doesn't sugercoat Washington's opinions on slavery and his treatment of the enslaved African-Americans at Mount Vernon. Many thanks to Penguin Group Viking and Netgalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jason Diamond

    Excellent! Teach this book in schools. It's one of the most engaging and honest biographies on a founding father I've read maybe ever.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    a fun read *day 7, final day of reading a book a day for a week

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    A very readable, lighthearted, with plenty of detail look at George Washington’s life (also full of fun and interesting facts like the names of all his animals!). It looks unflinchingly at the figure of Washington- his strengths and weaknesses and most of all hypocrisy (especially when it comes to owning slaves and not freeing them until his death). This is a look at the man behind the legend and I ended up liking him as a real person who made mistakes and got angry but seemed to try hard and wh A very readable, lighthearted, with plenty of detail look at George Washington’s life (also full of fun and interesting facts like the names of all his animals!). It looks unflinchingly at the figure of Washington- his strengths and weaknesses and most of all hypocrisy (especially when it comes to owning slaves and not freeing them until his death). This is a look at the man behind the legend and I ended up liking him as a real person who made mistakes and got angry but seemed to try hard and who can’t relate to that?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    I don't read a lot of non-fiction, so when I do, it has to have a quirky or unusual premise. That's why I picked this up - a short book about our nation's Founding Father, offering new details about a man mythologized and idolized in our country and in our history books. I enjoyed the author's honest take on George Washington, and the title: You Never Forget Your First really jumps out at you and grabs your attention. I appreciated the author's take on previous biographers' approach to Washingt I don't read a lot of non-fiction, so when I do, it has to have a quirky or unusual premise. That's why I picked this up - a short book about our nation's Founding Father, offering new details about a man mythologized and idolized in our country and in our history books. I enjoyed the author's honest take on George Washington, and the title: You Never Forget Your First really jumps out at you and grabs your attention. I appreciated the author's take on previous biographers' approach to Washington and distinct similarities she noticed among them. Ms. Coe's copious research shines through as she writes honestly about Washington as a slave owner, debunks many myths we've all heard (and kids are probably still being told in schools), and describes the man's real reason for leading the Revolutionary War, and his reluctance in becoming our nation's first president and Founding Father. I just wished there was. I had hoped for more insight into Washington as a general, how he kept his soldiers' spirits alive, and most of the action is briefly summarized in a few paragraphs and the author moves on to other subjects. I would have loved to hear more about the first spy ring Washington organized. One of the myths debunked was that Washington wasn't a great general, but a brilliant strategist and politician. He knew how to play the game and outwitted and outspyed the Brits. More info about this, please! I would have liked more information about Washington as a man, father, and husband. When his country didn't need him and he was a gentleman farmer, how did he interact with his family? The author mentions Washington and Martha didn't have any biological children, but he loved his stepchildren like his own and took in the children of relatives as his wards. This bio was short and sweet, and offered insight into a man we don't know much about, but this left me wanting more.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    Never Forget Your First. More like. You never forget you're interspersed. For better or worse, this is a highly episodic biography of George Washington. The upside is that if you're not in it for the thousand plus page tome treatment, this little ditty will get you there in just under three hundred. The downside is that you really breeze through events, jumping in at high water marks. Of course, a lot of the received history of George Washington is apocryphal and exaggerated folklore, and Alexis Never Forget Your First. More like. You never forget you're interspersed. For better or worse, this is a highly episodic biography of George Washington. The upside is that if you're not in it for the thousand plus page tome treatment, this little ditty will get you there in just under three hundred. The downside is that you really breeze through events, jumping in at high water marks. Of course, a lot of the received history of George Washington is apocryphal and exaggerated folklore, and Alexis Coe puts paid to these myths. At the same time, in the preface and introduction, Coe makes a big ado about her work being a biography just like her largely, almost exclusively, male counterparts. The thing is she has done something different than them. So we can justly say don't believe everything you're told. In this case, either by folk history or in a preface. In large measure, You Never Forget Your First addresses blind spots and lacunae left by Coe's counterparts. Be it conscious or unconscious, she has largely told a tale of George Washington's domestic life as it was colored by his historic journey from being reared by a second generation widow to leader of the continental army and first president. Given the interest taken in his domestic life, the journey unfolds with a particularly salient look at Washington's relations with his widow mother Mary, elder half brother Lawrence, courtship of Martha, rearing of his stepchildren Jacky and Patsy and grandchildren Nelly and Washy, and his troubling status as a slaveholder all along the way. In the end, looking back on the whole, you never forget that the episodes are interspersed. The Never Forget Your First treatment perhaps serves as antidote to the hero worship and cult of masculinity that so marks biographers up to David McCullough and Ron Chernow. Side note, her calling them "thigh men" for their infatuation with Washington's physique and virility is laugh out loud funny. At the same time, the more episodic nature of this well-nigh alternative or counter biography, leaves you feeling that you need both to get a fuller picture. You need David McCullough or Ron Chernow to get the picture of the journey. In the same breath, you need an entry like this to take a deeper look at his personal life and problematic relationship to slavery.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ann

    This is not, as some reviews have claimed, a comprehensive biography and is not going to replace Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow and others. It is more of a selective examination of parts of Washington's life, character, and personality which are not emphasized in most other works-his relationships with the women in his life, his lifelong health problems, and perhaps more importantly, his views on slavery and his interactions with his own enslaved people. Coe's short narrative is kind of breez This is not, as some reviews have claimed, a comprehensive biography and is not going to replace Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow and others. It is more of a selective examination of parts of Washington's life, character, and personality which are not emphasized in most other works-his relationships with the women in his life, his lifelong health problems, and perhaps more importantly, his views on slavery and his interactions with his own enslaved people. Coe's short narrative is kind of breezy, very readable, and laced with humor; it's also carefully researched with 59 pages of source notes. She brings a distinctly female voice and perspective while being no less admiring of Washington than the "Thigh Men" as she terms his numerous male biographers who seem to her somewhat obsessed with his physical strength, military exploits, and almost unassailable moral behavior. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    After hearing the author Alexis Coe on two podcasts (Call Your Girlfriend and maybe an episode of Marketplace?), I was excited to get this biography from the library. I was excited because it was written by a woman and, with that perspective, wrote about the first U.S. President with a different lens than most other biographies. The thing I forgot is that it is still presidential biography, which generally is not my genre. I recommend for folks even more interested in that area - it was written After hearing the author Alexis Coe on two podcasts (Call Your Girlfriend and maybe an episode of Marketplace?), I was excited to get this biography from the library. I was excited because it was written by a woman and, with that perspective, wrote about the first U.S. President with a different lens than most other biographies. The thing I forgot is that it is still presidential biography, which generally is not my genre. I recommend for folks even more interested in that area - it was written in an approachable way, but, aside from the funny title, I think the content is only as exciting as it gets for historical non-fiction about an old, white man. I do recommend the CYG podcast though and hopefully got that hyperlink above correctly formatted. Enjoy that and continue to be critical of history and the stories you know!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeanneb

    The best part of this book is the title. I expected to learn a lot more about GW. I learned a few new things, but overall it was kind of light. I might give it 2.25 stars, but no more.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Short, refreshing, and interesting. It pays tribute to Washington and his ideals, while pointing out that those ideals were often bad and he was not the paragon of virtue and virility we might remember in our histories.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Allison Sesame

    An engaging read. It wasn’t the usual overly long and dry biography that can put one to sleep.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I didn't know alot about George Washington honestly. This biography was incredibly engaging and kept me interested. I learned a great deal about our first president and surrounding politics. A great read for any history buff or people just wanting to know more.

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