Book Review: You Never Forget Your First

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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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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: You Never Forget Your First

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  1. Historic books are always one of my favourite books, whether they are fictional or non-fiction. I will surely check this book out!
    Btw I too blog @ The Confessions Of A Music And Book Addict and would appreciate some support!
    Stay safe,
    -Prutha xoxo

    Like

  2. You’ve always delved into all things historical so I’m not even surprised by your choice. However, I am impressed that you chose to pick up a book that’s gotten a certain kind of criticism. Am I the only one wary of reading something that’s so widely generated opinions? Your brave lady, you. 🥰
    As always it’s lovely hearing your opinion because I love the things you think to point out. Talking about women being put down to elevate the status of a man, or how you spoke about the author’s writing style being a good balance between praise and critique. ♥️

    I’m glad this pulled you out of your slump! be safe love! And DM me whenever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would generally not pick up a book that’s criticized but in this case I had to because it was blatantly obvious that they were criticizing the author because she was a woman writing history about Washington. It was totally sexism. And I read one of her interviews and was very impressed, so I had to give it a try. And I found it so much fun. She proved that you can entertain even when you are writing a biography of such an important person.

      And frankly she did a good job of calling out how the other historians have unfairly written about Washington’s mother and other women. So everything you are praising me here for Ahana, total credit to the author 😍😍😍

      You too be safe darling !!!! And happy reading !!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OHHH! Now I get it! Damn I didn’t realize the reason for the criticism. :/ I’m glad you read it!
        ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️

        I’mma praise you too. 😍😘 You can’t stop me 😘😘😘😘

        Like

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