Book Review: You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe (four stars)

Book Review: You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe (four stars)

Washington was rich enough to pay his own way … but devoted enough to the cause to risk it all.

Better essential biography than larger, duller, more famous tomes. Coe eschews details for the larger picture. Her broad brush portrait is adequate for all purposes but the most academic.

Great love stories don’t often begin with dysentery, but had George Washington not contracted the disease during his final year of British service, he would never have met Martha Dandridge Custis.

That said, skip the Preface and Introduction: Coe patting her own back and indulging in the same banal gossip of which she accuses other biographers.

After defending Washington, the Thigh Men usually turn their sight on Martha, blaming her for the couple’s childlessness.

Most biographers agree George was probably the reason he had no children. For which generations of Americans should probably be grateful.

He was most likely a deist.

Not true. Even Cox infuses her volume with many GW quotes which refer to a caring, intervening God. (“I shall rely therefore, confidently, on that Providence which has heretofore preserved, & been bountiful to me.”) Thomas Jefferson was a deist; George Washington was a quiet, conventional Christian of the mainstream denomination.

“Washington did not really outfight the British,” the British spymaster Major George Beckwith said, “He simply outspied us.”

Cox holds the magnifying glass to both Washington’s successes and his failures, among the later his not emancipating his many slaves while he lived.

The figurehead of American liberty was never far from a representation of its (and his own) deep-seated hypocrisy.

Love the cover art. Frequent use of tables summarizes and oversimplify key details. Side bars break up the text in a modern, casual style.

Unbridled partisanship was his greatest fear, and his greatest failure was that he became increasingly partisan.