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You never forget your first : a biography of George Washington
2020
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Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this breezy yet fact-filled revisionist biography, historian and podcast host Coe (Alice + Freda Forever) takes George Washington's previous—predominantly male—biographers to task for obsessing over his virility, enshrining myths about his military prowess and moral exactitude, and mischaracterizing his relationship with his mother. Coe threads her narrative with charts listing Washington's "frenemies" (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison) and the diseases he survived (diphtheria, malaria, dysentery). She describes how Washington's widowed mother kept him out of the British Royal Navy and details his involvement in the 1754 skirmish that sparked the French and Indian War. Eschewing a lengthy recap of Washington's Revolutionary War battles, Coe focuses on his role as spymaster and propagandist. She recounts his reluctance to serve as president and sketches the era's partisan divides. While others have praised Washington for freeing his slaves, Coe notes that he actually left it to his widow to sign the deed of manumission, and that she likely did so out of fear for her life. The book's brisk pace and contrarian perspective leave significant gaps (Washington's two presidential terms take up less than 40 pages), but it succeeds in humanizing the Founding Father. Readers who like their history with a dose of wry humor will savor this accessible account. (Feb.)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Annotations

A whimsically irreverent portrait of America’s first President includes coverage of Washington’s entitled upbringing by a single mother, his dog “Sweetlips,” his numerous military defeats and the partisan nightmares that spun from his back-stabbing cabinet. - (Baker & Taylor)

"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 must confront his greatest hypocrisy--what to do with the men, women, and children he owns--before he succumbs to death. Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend."-- - (Baker & Taylor)

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
AN NPR CONCIERGE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

“In her form-shattering and myth-crushing book….Coe examines myths with mirth, and writes history with humor… [You Never Forget Your First] is an accessible look at a president who always finishes in the first ranks of our leaders.” —Boston Globe


Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first--and finds he is not quite the man we remember


Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, 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.

After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War cast him as the nation's hero, he was desperate to retire, but the founders pressured him into the presidency--twice. When he retired years later, no one talked him out of it. He left the highest office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created.

Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty must confront his greatest hypocrisy--what to do with the men, women, and children he owns--before he succumbs to death.

With irresistible style and warm humor, You Never Forget Your First combines rigorous research and lively storytelling that will have readers--including those who thought presidential biographies were just for dads--inhaling every page. - (Penguin Putnam)

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