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Revolutionary Characters: What Made the…

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006)

by Gordon S. Wood

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This is another popular look at the Founding Fathers. This book is a collection of essays written by the famous author, Gordon Wood, each a short biographical sketch. There are many interesting insights and I think this book is a great start for anyone to read about the great characters of the period. There is also enough information here that any student of history would enjoy the read. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Going in, I didn't know what to expect from this book, except that it was authored by Gordon S. Wood, who I vaguely perceived as some sort of respectable historian of the early republic. I have a typical American education and enjoy history and listened to McCullough's John Adams and have seen my share of documentaries, but this was a lot of new material for me. And Wood wasn't even trying to be exhaustive, but just to depict the political character of several early prominent personalities from the American revolution. How did they establish their legacy? How did they shape American political traditions in their own images? How did they differ sharply? How does historical tradition remember them, and how should it remember them? How are they co-opted anachronistically by modern political movements? This isn't their life stories, it's how they made American political identity.

At first, Wood sets the stage with the rise of revisionist historians (often in the early 20th century) eager to inappropriately bash the founders as corrupt or overestimated. I was worried that Wood was preparing to refute such critics by heaping praise on the founders as paragons of virtue and intellect. But his tone turned out nicely balanced. They were great men in their times; after all, there are reasons they are remembered. But they were products of their times, steeped in class culture and monarchical systems and keenly aware that they were launching a wild experiment in government, fraught with risk and without clear consensus. They were complex and contradictory, and seem to have left a country equally complex and contradictory (though perhaps the stronger for it). Despite their personal flaws, infighting, and cultural limitations, they worked to be servants in the cause of progress. They were bold and inventive, and the book concludes how their generation out of the enlightenment was unusually prolific, published heavily, thought deeply, and ultimately set the stage for a new culture that elevated the common man, making this kind of elite nobleman unlikely to ever reappear. ( )
  richjj | Apr 9, 2016 |
Good book for history buffs. Great narrator (audiobook). Basically the book is a (very long) chapter on each "character" that the author considers integral part of the revolution, and it describes how both the general public and the "intellectuals" viewed these characters in revolutionary times.

The best part of this book IMO was learning word definitions used in the 1700s vs. now: for example, the author explains how "disinterested" nowadays tends to mean "uninterested" but back in revolutionary days someone "disinterested" was thought of as above the common man, that person not beholden to interests and therefore could ponder topics and have sophisticated enlightened opinions on those topics. Kinda funny, I don't think we can use that word in its original meaning today because it's impossible nowadays to be disinterested. ( )
  marshapetry | Sep 16, 2015 |
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon Wood is a great history of several of our Founding Fathers. Pulitzer prize winner Wood has compiled a lot of information from essays and other sources over the years and condensed them into neatly packaged chapters on each founder.

I enjoyed the explanation of what it meant to be a "gentleman" in the 1700s, and how public service was something seen as a voluntary burden to bear on behalf of the people (ie: the foresaking of private wealth for an impoverished life as a public servant).

The most intriguing biographies for me were those of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Madison was once a proponent of a strong federal government until he saw what that was meaning in the new U.S. and later became a staunch advocate of states' rights.

Alexander Hamilton envisioned an America with a larger land mass, large government with large debts, large military force, and a modern economy with a prominent central bank. Hamilton is likely the only Founder who would be at home in America today.

This book would have been perfect without the Epilogue. I find introductions and epilogues to be ways that authors slide their own personal sermons in.

4.5 stars out of 5. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
I enjoyed listening to these essays during my daily commute. I learned many things about my American history and heritage. It also inspired me to read some of Thomas Paine's works. I think I have also found a way to get more non-fiction into my reading diet. It's definitely more enjoyable to listen to and focus on via an audiobook then overcoming the stigma of reading what amounts to a textbook. ( )
  mossjon | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143112082, Paperback)

In this brilliantly illuminating group portrait of the men who came to be known as the Founding Fathers, the incomparable Gordon Wood has written a book that seriously asks, ?What made these men great???and shows us, among many other things, just how much character did in fact matter. The life of each?Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Paine?is presented individually as well as collectively, but the thread that binds these portraits together is the idea of character as a lived reality. They were members of the first generation in history that was self-consciously self-made?men who understood that the arc of lives, as of nations, is one of moral progress.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:31 -0400)

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The author offers a series of studies of the men who came to be known as the Founding Fathers. Each life is considered in the round, but the thread that binds the work together is the idea of character as a lived reality for these men. For these were men, Wood shows, that took the matter of character very seriously. They were the first generation in history that was self-consciously self-made, men who considered the arc of lives, as of nations, as being one of moral progress. They saw themselves as comprising the world's first meritocracy, as opposed to the decadent Old World aristocracy of inherited wealth and station. Historian Wood's accomplishment here is to bring these men and their times down to earth and within our reach, showing us just who they were and what drove them, and that the virtues they defined for themselves are the virtues we aspire to still.--From publisher description.… (more)

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