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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary…

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2001)

by Joseph J. Ellis

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,092601,308 (3.93)119
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    It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann (themulhern)
    themulhern: Compare and contrast the party politics of the late 1700s and early 1800s with the party politics of today. Is it really that much worse today? Josep Ellis says that it is, but his "The Founding Brothers" describes some very cynical party maneuvers and some deep philosophical divides. Maybe those founding brothers did it with a bit more grace, and that's the only difference.… (more)
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    Burr by Gore Vidal (themulhern)
    themulhern: This is a fictional account of Aaron Burr's career told mostly via his fictionalized reminiscences. He also appears, now a very old man, with a legal practice in New York. Vidal's take on the founding brothers seemed deeply caustic to me when I read this book many years ago. The same events crop up in both books, since Aaron Burr was an officer in the Revolutionary Army and then a prominent politician through the early 1800s.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
An excellent review of some of our earliest leaders. Great information your standard history book does not reveal. Ellis is a great writer and brings his characters to life in a vibrant and informative style. ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Apr 2009; read it in 2000):
- I borrowed this originally from a friend and was eager to read it. It was just okay. This title could have been "Things You Didn't Know About the Founders". It's not a bathroom book, but it's also not an in-depth study into any of the anecdotal subjects he covers.
- ..very accessible, certainly appropriate down to grade 8 or 9 even. I prefer full blown, comprehensive narratives and biographies to this style. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Sep 25, 2018 |
It is human nature to romanticize events in history, to elevate the players above the level of human. Ellis uses 6 different vignettes from the founding of the United States to illustrate that the Founders were human, with opinions, sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Instead of trying to write a comprehensive history, he writes a balanced narrative showing how the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix... they all knew one another personally...they managed to take the most threatening and divisive issue off the political agenda.
My favorites of all the sections were The Farewell, about George Washington's farewell and the peaceful transfer of power, and The Friendship, about the falling out of Adams and Jefferson and the eventual reconciliation.
One quote I particularly liked illustrated the reality (as Adams saw it) of the American Revolution, and lends some perspective to the political battles of today:
As Adams remembered it, on the other hand, "all the great critical questions about men and measures from 1774 to 1778 were desperately contested and highly problematic occasions, usually decided by the vote of a single state, and that vote was often decided by a single individual." Nothing was clear, inevitable or even comprehensible to the soldiers in the field at Saratoga or the statesmen in the corridors at Philadelphia: "It was patched and piebald policy then, as it is now, ever was, and ever will be, world without end." The real drama of the American Revolution, which was perfectly in accord with Adam's memory as well as with the turbulent conditions of his own soul, was its inherent messiness. This meant recovering the exciting but terrifying sense that all the major players had at the time - namely, that they were making it up as they went along, improvising on the edge of catastrophe." ( )
1 vote nittnut | Aug 30, 2018 |
This is another outstanding book dealing with the Revolutionary Period. Ellis has become one of the more well known authors of the period and for good reason. He writing style is more formal than the popular McCullough, but he makes countless insights and has a logical method of looking at the great moments of history. This book breaks the time period into a handful of separate stories, each with the major players of the day. I appreciated the detail and readability of the stories. This is a good book to read if you have interest in the period as it is written more as a collection than a single narrative. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
This took me a very long time to finish. For some reason my mind kept wandering, meaning I had to go back and reread paragraphs multiple times before they stuck. And it's not that it was boring - just not especially engrossing. Each chapter can more or less stand on its own, covering different events: the Hamilton/Burr duel, the Jefferson/Adams friendship, etc. It was interesting to read about America's uncertain beginnings, and to be reminded that partisan politics have been entrenched since Washington stepped down, but it didn't go into enough depth for me to really get a lot out of it. ( )
  melydia | Jun 23, 2017 |
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No event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375705244, Paperback)

In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic.

Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. In a fascinating chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future generations would rely.

In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:06 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

An illuminating study of the intertwined lives of the founders of the American republic--John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. During the 1790s, which Ellis calls the most decisive decade in our nation's history, the greatest statesmen of their generation--and perhaps any--came together to define the new republic and direct its course for the coming centuries. Ellis focuses on six discrete moments that exemplify the most crucial issues facing the fragile new nation: Burr and Hamilton's deadly duel, and what may have really happened; Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison's secret dinner, during which the seat of the permanent capital was determined in exchange for passage of Hamilton's financial plan; Franklin's petition to end the "peculiar institution" of slavery--his last public act--and Madison's efforts to quash it; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address, announcing his retirement from public office and offering his country some final advice; Adams's difficult term as Washington's successor and his alleged scheme to pass the presidency on to his son; and finally, Adams and Jefferson's renewed correspondence at the end of their lives, in which they compared their different views of the Revolution and its legacy. In a lively and engaging narrative, Ellis recounts the sometimes collaborative, sometimes archly antagonistic interactions between these men, and shows us the private characters behind the public personas: Adams, the ever-combative iconoclast, whose closest political collaborator was his wife, Abigail; Burr, crafty, smooth, and one of the most despised public figures of his time; Hamilton, whose audacious manner and deep economic savvy masked his humble origins; Jefferson, renowned for his eloquence, but so reclusive and taciturn that he rarely spoke more than a few sentences in public; Madison, small, sickly, and paralyzingly shy, yet one of the most effective debaters of his generation; and the stiffly formal Washington, the ultimate realist, larger-than-life, and America's only truly indispensable figure. Ellis argues that the checks and balances that permitted the infant American republic to endure were not primarily legal, constitutional, or institutional, but intensely personal, rooted in the dynamic interaction of leaders with quite different visions and values. Revisiting the old-fashioned idea that character matters, Founding Brothers informs our understanding of American politics--then and now--and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.… (more)

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