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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary…
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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2001)

by Joseph J. Ellis

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5,428661,315 (3.93)121
An analysis of the intertwined careers of the founders of the American republic documents the lives of John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
Recently added byBillKlippert, agacioch, MitchR, farragutpubliclib, creeleelee, CindyGraham, scottyn73, Gl0rfindel, private library
Legacy LibrariesTim Spalding
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    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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    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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» See also 121 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
I had to read this in university for a history course. It was an impressive book that made it clear the ideas and challenges facing the men that helped to create the U.S. ( )
  tamara.fowler23 | Mar 30, 2020 |
An excellent, illuminating read delving into the lives, personalities, idiosyncrasies and deep abiding links between the revolutionary generation's founding brothers, especially the long-time friendship between Jefferson and Adams. "Founding Brothers" should be on every serious scholar's reference shelf. Beautifully written. ( )
  Renzomalo | Jan 6, 2020 |
This book consisted of several longish essays on significant events. I enjoyed it, but not as much as his other books which went into more detail about their subjects. ( )
  gbelik | Dec 7, 2019 |
I've owned this book for ages, and it's been on my "priority" shelf for over a year now. But it took my oldest son's obsession with Hamilton to get me to finally take it down and open it. This book us framed around six events/relationships/conflicts -- three of which are explicitly major events in the musical. So there were definitely plenty of little bonus moments of "Oh, *that's* what that one little line meant!" It was enough to make me even a little happy that I put off reading this until I had a major portion of Hamilton lyrics living in my head.

While there were some moments of authorial opining that irritated me here and there, in general, I appreciated Ellis's approach -- which is generally to remind us of the stakes of the American Revolution. While those involved in the creation of America certainly felt that they were engaged in a great endeavor -- for which history would certainly be watching them -- it was never a foregone conclusion that their experiment on democracy would be successful, which is easy to lose sight of from our vantage point.

I don't think that this would serve as a great introduction to the Revolution, but it was a fascinating addition. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on The Duel, John and Abigail Adams's partnership, and the late in life letter-writing of Adams and Jefferson. (The least enjoyable was the chapter on Washington's farewell, which dragged terribly.)

Glad I finally read it. ( )
1 vote greeniezona | Oct 22, 2019 |
An excellent one volume history on the founding fathers, with an emphasis on the years 1789-1800. I came to the book looking for an easy read, which it definitely is not (in the sense that it's relatively scholarly, and portrays a very nuanced view).

The form of the book is interesting, at first I assumed it to be a series of anecdotes about the Founding Fathers, but it actually is a deep analysis of certain events that epitomize certain themes that Ellis wants to get across. Chief of those themes is how fragile and uncertain the American project seemed to the founders, the complexities of the Founding men, and the unprecedented improvisations the Founders had to made do with. Ellis tries to put us at the time, without the benefit of hindsight. For example, when analyzing the famous Burr-Hamilton Duel, Ellis looks at why that duel occurred, past simple moralistic condemnations of the barbaric practice and simple pettiness. For Ellis, the duel occurred because Hamilton was afraid that a man such as Burr, an opportunist at heart, could wreck the Union with his self seeking nature (in particular by encouraging the New England/New York secessionists). The Founding Fathers had to deal with the opposing ideologies between the spirit of '76 (that the revolution was a radical break with tradition and would herald in global egalitarianism) and the pragmatic needs of nation building (such as a centralized government and Anglophile treaties). At the same time, the American project was unprecedented. Respected theorists of the day thought that large polities such as the colonies could never become republics, let alone 13 colonies that did not have a history of cooperation. A lot of the interest and friction comes from the fact that the founders were trying something that had never been tried before. Of particular interest to me is the formation of party culture in the US. Political parties were essentially new ideas. The idea of a loyal opposition did not exist. Retrospectively, we talk about the Federalist, Republican divide but at the time they wouldn't have seen themselves as political parties. The Federalists would have seen themselves as the government, and the Republicans as a subversive threat, while the Republicans saw themselves as a temporarily faction formed to oppose the Federalists who hijacked the government at the expense of the spirit of '76. Such a telling of history explains the apparent absurdity of the first three presidents not campaigning openly for election, and the fact that the runner up became vice president. Such a world is so foreign to modern day lfie, but the friendships, rivalries and jealousies are not.

I applaud Ellis's attempts to deeply analyze and discuss the contradictions and difficulties of the founding era. Chief of the issues is slavery, Ellis is no apologist but delves into the difficulty of feasible solutions, i.e. how to compensate owners and what to do with the freed population and the potential for the issue to wreck the entire constitutional project by inflaming sectional conflict. Ultimately, Ellis concludes that it would have been difficult to resolve the issue, but that the founders had solved other difficult issues before (I agree with Ellis here that the Founders more or less dropped the ball). It was interesting that after 1776 many prominent observers thought that slavery would be on a natural path to extinction, and how post revolutionary war how stupid this prediction seemed. It's become a cliche but ultimately, it took a civil war to resolve the can that the Founders kicked down the road.

Finally, I appreciated the complexities that Ellis brings to light. Ellis discusses the difference between Jefferson and Adams. Jefferson tended to see history, in a simple narrative way between neat factions and categories while Adams thought that history tended to be written by people after the fact, and chooses simple icons and stories to fit a neat fiction. Adams thought historians ignored the edges and nuances of events that did not fit their story, and obscure the truth by presenting a simple story. Of course, this was a related to the fact that Adams thought himself often neglected by historians since he did not neatly fall into any particular pose. I believe that Ellis had Adam's conception of history in mind when he wrote this book. It makes for a more complex story, but likely one more reflective of the truth. ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
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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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Book divided into section: 1- the duel between Hamilton and Burr, 2- the dinner where the location of the capital is chosen, 3- the overriding conservation about slavery, 4- Washington's long farewell in all its manifestations, 5- the celebration of establishing an independent entity, 6 - friendship of Adams and Jefferson through rough patches and till the end
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