The nation's latest best-seller: There's nothing so dumb that it won't be hailed within our upper-end press corps, just so long as it flogs a currently popular theme.
Consider Alexis Coe's remarkable book, You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington.
We first encountered this very strange book when the Washington Post let Coe write a Sunday Outlook piece, Five Myths About George Washington.
We thought that piece was perhaps a bit odd. A few of its links were comically "hinky."
The very next day, Coe wrote an op-ed column in the New York Times. We thought this seemed even more odd:
COE (2/17/20): For nearly two and a half centuries, most of the stories Americans have told themselves about their country’s past have been by and for white men—and it shows, particularly when it comes to presidential history. When female historians have managed to elbow their way in, however, they often remind us that we don’t always know what we think we know.That sounded a little bit odd. Were all of Washington biographers really "obsessed with his body?" We decided to take a look at Coe's book.
My own preoccupation with Washington began with an attempt to read between the lines of his major biographies. All of his biographers are obsessed with his body; Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life,” to take just one example, sometimes reads like a romance novel: Washington, Mr. Chernow writes, was “powerfully rough-hewn and endowed with matchless strength. When he clenched his jaw, his cheek and jaw muscles seemed to ripple right through his skin.”
We proceeded to do so. In the Introduction, we found some peculiar claims about Washington's male biographers. We include Coe's actual title:
IntroductionThose are paragraphs 3 and 5 of Coe's Introduction. We thought her claims seemed possibly odd.
The Thigh Men of Dad History
First, his biographers stick a portrait of the man [Joseph] Ellis calls America's “foundingest father" on the cover. Many favor Washington's most iconic image, his rigid and gloomy face on the one-dollar bill, but most prefer a painting that shows his whole body, because his thighs drive them wild. [Richard] Brookhiser, examining a portrait from 1792, can't help but notice how “well-developed” they are. Ellis admires how they "allowed him to grip a horse's flanks tightly and hold his seat in the saddle with uncommon ease." For [Ron] Chernow, Washington's "muscular thighs" were just the beginning. He was a “superb physical specimen, with a magnificent physique...powerfully rough-hewn and endowed with matchless strength. When he clenched his jaw, his cheek and jaw muscles seemed to ripple right through his skin."
The Thigh Men, as I came to think of these kinds of biographers over the years, are a decidedly "size matters" crowd. Chernow's book on Washington, which won the Pulitzer Prize, clocks in at almost a thousand pages, a record among single-volume editions on our first president—in no small part because it takes every opportunity to remind readers that the great general was very, very manly...After a while, it begins to feel as though there's something hinky behind these biographers' repetitive insistence on Washington's conspicuous masculinity—because there is.
Really? Do Washington's thighs actually "drive [his biographers] wild?" (The italics belong to Coe.) Do they drive his biographers wild in a way which involves "something hinky?"
Can Washington's traditional and recent biographers—"The Thigh Men," as this borderline crackpot dubs them—sensibly be described as "a decidedly 'size matters' crowd?" And just how "repetitive" is their "insistence on Washington's conspicuous masculinity?"
Meanwhile, is Chernow's book really so long—allegedly, "almost a thousand pages"—because "it takes every opportunity to remind readers that the great general was very, very manly?"
(For the record: excluding endnotes, Chernow's book ends at page 817.)
Coe's claims struck us as possibly odd. We decided to check them out. We started by checking to see how often the words "thigh" or "thighs" appear in the three books Coe specifically cites.
We'll tell you what we found next week. But this is an extremely strange book, and it's being hailed by various flyweights across our upper-end press corps.
We still can't show you what Brian Williams said when he interviewed Coe on February 20. We can tell you this—he specifically identified the passage about "The Thigh Men" and their "hinky" attractions as his favorite part of the book.
We're not sure we've ever seen a dumber or stranger book. But because it flogs a currently popular theme—those white male historians screwed everything up!—the children want to affirm it.
It seems to us that significant chunks of this (extremely slender) book have imaginably been "borrowed" from the very sources its author is constantly sliming. But so what? Doris Kearns Goodwin blurbs this very strange book on the back cover, perhaps in admiration of one of the statements about Washington which grace the start of the book:
"I heard that motherfucker had like thirty goddamned dicks."The next statement (there are four in all) is rather tangy too. Does anyone know if Doris Kearns Goodwin has ever set eyes on this book?
BRAD NEELY, COMIC BOOK ARTIST, YOUTUBE VIDEO (2009)
Personally, we have no views about George Washington. Beyond that, we have no views about Ron Chernow, Coe's number-one target, or about his various books, none of which we've read.
We do have a view about people who peruse this very strange book and feel they want to affirm it.
This very slender, highly padded, rather derivative book is very strange and highly peculiar pretty much all the way down. We'd say its author could use some help—and needless to say, she got it!
Coe's book is now a New York Times best-seller! A remarkably credulous New York Times editor delivers the good news here.
More on this peculiar matter next week. But a major nation can't run on such fuel. If you doubt that, just take a look around.
Donald J. Trump is now in the White House. Such are the wages of the inanity unto death.