Coe moves past the well-worn tropes we’ve come to associate with George Washington. Her nuanced portrait paints a man torn between service to country and family ... Washington’s story is as well documented as anyone’s in American history. Yet Coe finds fresh angles from which to examine him. And she doesn’t shy away from the most troubling aspect of Washington’s legacy: When he died, he owned 123 slaves ... Despite the heavy subject matter, Coe writes with style and humor ... reminds us of the importance of public service and diplomacy, and Coe makes colonial history not just fascinating but relevant.
In her form-shattering and myth-crushing book...Alexis Coe does more than deal with the low-hanging fruit of the Washington cherry tree. She provides a fresh look at the first president and, just as important, at the first precedents he set ... Coe examines myths with mirth, and writes history with humor ... There is something engaging in this breezy book, and something efficient, too ... While this surely should not be the only biography of Washington students of our founding should read, it is an accessible look at a president who always finishes in the first ranks of our leaders. It is, moreover, a reminder that, in a slight revision of an unfortunate phrase, we should never forget our first.
No one would describe Alexis Coe’s unconventional biography of conventional biographical subject George Washington as boring ... a wink of sorts, at Washington biography and at the ways that Americans have very consistently misremembered the first president. Coe sets herself apart from the historians she refers to as the 'Thigh Men' of history: biographers like Joseph Ellis, Harlow Giles Unger, and Ron Chernow, esteemed writers in their own rights but ones who seemingly focus on Washington as a marble Adonis (with impressive thighs—we’ll get to that), rather than as a flawed, but still impressive, human being ... just 304 lively pages...still a full biography, covering birth to death and the highlights of his life and career between.
... a brisk and uncommonly brief biography of Washington that showcases both heroics and shortcomings, in the first president and in those who surrounded him, in public and in private ... Historians familiar with Washington’s life will find few surprises, but for the uninitiated, there is much to savor and enjoy ... Coe does not shy away from the warts ... If Coe is playful with her text, she also experiments with format. The book contains numerous charts that run from the whimsical to the weighty ... Compressing Washington’s life into just 200 pages of text necessitates leaving out context. For those who find their appetite whetted by this delicious bite and want to know more about Washington as a slave owner, a son or a 'Devourer of Villages,' as a Native American leader called him, recent books dish up larger helpings.
... spirited and provocative ... [Coe's] lively opening pages raise expectations of an irreverent, and distinctly feminist, approach. Yet despite the occasional digression upon subjects that take the author’s fancy, the narrative of You Never Forget Your First is surprisingly conventional ... written in chatty and accessible prose ... Ms. Coe offers a brisk and breezy take on the first president that will likely satisfy her intended readership, with a modest page count and considerable space taken by lists and compendiums of information. Yet simply tracing Washington’s eventful lifetime poses a formidable challenge: There’s a good reason why those 'dad books' are so thick. Here, compression of dense source material leads to some skewed chronology ... In addition, while Ms. Coe is at pains to unpick some of the hoariest yarns woven around Washington, she is not above spinning others.
... an important achievement. [Coe] has cleverly disguised a historiographical intervention in the form of a sometimes cheeky presidential biography...she demonstrates that just because more conventional presidential biographies sometimes approach the length of the Bible , that doesn’t mean they are an infallible or unfiltered record of events. History, this book argues, is always an interpretation of the past and an argument about what it means ... readers keen to hear about Washington’s military heroics, for instance, will be disappointed. I was relieved to be spared play-by-plays of Revolutionary War battles, and much preferred to hear about Washington the spymaster and propagandist. But the particulars of war deserve more careful consideration than Coe gives them: I had to listen to her description of how Washington allegedly started the French and Indian War several times, and I’m still confused ... Also puzzling is the lack of detail surrounding Washington’s time as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the First Continental Congress. If he didn’t leave a lot of writing behind about it, that would have been good to know. As it is, the impression is that he had no thoughts at all about politics until he became president.
Coe makes a compelling case that George Washington, esteemed for his part in the Revolutionary War and for becoming the first U.S. president, is more of a historical giant than a knowable persona. Based on primary sources, this accessible, humorous work casts Washington in a personal light. Coe details significant events in Washington’s life while debunking long-held myths ... Coe strikes the ideal balance in her representation of Washington: Neither god nor devil, he was a man who made mistakes as well as strong decisions, and both were often on a grand scale ... An adept, highly approachable read that will appeal to history buffs and anyone seeking a compact overview of the man and the myth.
Relying on primary source research, here Coe narrates Washington’s life to give greater depth to his personality and decisions. Focusing primarily on Washington’s life off the battlefield, she emphasizes his interactions with the people he enslaved, his deep love for his family, and his reluctant decision to accept the nomination for presidency. Co-host of the podcast Presidents Are People, Too!, Coe blends excellent storytelling with a fascinating look at how history is told and who gets to tell it.
Because this book avoids the male-centric viewpoint, it should make for interesting reading even for those who think they know Washington’s story. Coe shares the unvarnished truth about the man, exposing many of the myths about him ... The author has clearly done her homework, evident throughout the text in the letters and documents she quotes and the numerous sidebars and charts she incorporates, including a listing of the numerous animals housed at Mount Vernon. Coe juxtaposes her portrait of Washington’s political and leadership traits with a softer side of him as stepfather to Martha’s children, but she also shows his negligence toward his own mother ... Evenhanded and engaging, this biography brings fresh insight to one of America’s most written-about leaders.
... [a] breezy yet fact-filled revisionist biography ...Eschewing a lengthy recap of Washington’s Revolutionary War battles, Coe focuses on his role as spymaster and propagandist ... 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.