Wednesday, January 27, 2021

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe


You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe
Published: February 4th, 2020 by Viking
Genre: Biography, Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover, 261 Pages, Library
Rating: 4 stars

Publisher's Summary:

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.

My Thoughts:

This is definitely the biography I needed of George Washington! I've had Ron Chernow's ginormous bio on my shelf for years and have never even cracked it open. Coe brings up some issues on all these men writing the bios for Washington...his mom never gets a fair shake and apparently they are all hung up on how manly and athletic he is...she ends up calling the 'Thigh Men.' I laughed out loud! Coe has a whole chart on of some of the descriptions Chernow uses to describe Washington's mother Mary: shrewish, thwarting, stubborn, whining, crude, coarse, feisty, crusty, difficult, plain, homespun...just to name a few. In the early 19th-century Mary Washington was the epitome of motherhood itself, but historians turned on her by the late 19th-century...the narrative of Washington as a self-made man and one who thwarted his overbearing mother was the perfect story for America. Men get braver and the women around them get shrewder...

Washington also helped kickstart the French and Indian War! "If the American Revolution had not taken place, Washington would probably be remembered today as the instigator of humanity's first world war, one that last seven years." But it was the war that allowed colonists to realize their goals and values did not align anymore with the British crown.

Washington's greatness in the Revolutionary War was not his great military ability but his ability to be both a diplomat and a skilled political strategist for a fledgling government. "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."

Random tidbits: He survived a ton of diseases throughout his life! He was of sturdy stock. He probably became sterile from one of his childhood diseases or was born that way. He never had any biological children and raised Martha's children from her first marriage as his own. 

He kept hoping other people and other things would hasten the end of slavery, but nothing did. He never let any of his slaves go until his death. (I now want to read more about Ona Judge and her husband and how they got away.)

Washington loved hoecakes and Coe provides a recipe for them. It was his favorite breakfast drowned in honey and butter.

Martha Washington inherited most of Washington's slaves after his death but they were to be freed upon her death if she didn't do it earlier...she lived in fear of her slaves after that and eventually out of self-preservation she freed them on December 15, 1800.

And no wooden teeth...lots of teeth shaved down from exotic animals, cows, and he even paid some of his slaves for their teeth...yikes.

And his death was pretty gruesome. He basically suffocated to death for a day from virulent bacteria that caused epiglottitis, an inflammation of the upper windpipe. Sounds like a terrible way to go.

I had a lot of fun reading this. I got to know a little more about Washington, good, bad, and the in-between. I highly recommend this one! And if I ever read Chernow's book, I'll have a bit more of a critical eye while being entertained by his manly Washington stories.

This book also completes the biography prompt from the 2021 Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by Book'd Out.


  1. I'd like to read this one, I think. I'll see if I can find a copy.

  2. My daughter really liked this one, too. I've added it to my list!

    1. Oh good. Glad she liked it too. I hope you also enjoy it!

  3. I still need to finish the Hamilton book but this sounds good too.

    1. I also need to read Hamilton! It's so big, I get intimidated and then put it down. lol.


Thanks for reading my posts and for letting me know what you think!

Due to heavy spamming, I am now moderating all comments. Thanks for your understanding.