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What Would the Founders Do?by Richard Brookhiser
Synopses & Reviews
A lively, timely, and surprising exploration of how America's Founding Fathers would handle the most controversial issues facing the nation today — from the acclaimed popular historian Richard Brookhiser
Why do Americans care so much about the Founding Fathers? After all, the French don't ask themselves, "What would Napoleon do?" But Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams built our country, wrote our user's manuals — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution — and ran the nation while it was still under warranty and could be returned to the manufacturer. If anyone knows how the U.S.A. should work, they did and they still do.
Richard Brookhiser has been writing, talking, and thinking about the Founders for years. Now he channels them. What would Hamilton think about free trade? What would Franklin make of the national obsession with values? What would Washington say about gays in the military? Examining a host of issues from terrorism to women's rights to gun control, Brookhiser reveals why we still turn to the Founders in moments of struggle, farce, or disaster — just as Lincoln, FDR, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bill Clinton have done before us.
Written with Brookhiser's trademark eloquence — and a good dose of wit — while drawing on his deep knowledge of American history, What Would the Founders Do? sheds new light on the disagreements and debates that have shaped our country from the beginning. Brookhiser challenges us to think and act with the clarity that the Founders brought to the task of making a democratic country. Now, more than ever, we need these creators of America — argumentative, expansive, funny know-it-alls — to help us solve the issues that threaten to divide us.
"[Signature] Reviewed by Michael Lind It might be thought that nothing new could be said about America's founding fathers, in the midst of the contemporary avalanche of tomes about Washington, Jefferson and other early American leaders. But Rick Brookhiser, inspired perhaps by a Christian motto — 'What Would Jesus Do?' (WWJD) — has come up with a way to describe the views of the architects of the American republic that is as entertaining as it is informative.' Americans have been asking what the founders would do since the founders died,' writes Brookhiser, a journalist and historian (Alexander Hamilton and The Way of the WASP). Combining the skills of a first-rate writer with those of a medium at a séance, Brookhiser channels the spirits of eminent early Americans in discussing contemporary public debates. At times, Brookhiser has to stretch to find an analogy between the era of the founders and today, such as his comparison between stem cell research and the old practice of robbing graves for medical research.In other cases, however, the conceit works to shed light on present and past alike. Should the U.S. attempt to spread democracy around the world? Brookhiser makes a case for the caution of Alexander Hamilton rather than the optimism of Thomas Jefferson. The war on drugs? 'The founders would not have fought a war on drugs,' but would have taxed them instead, Brookhiser declares, reasoning from the excise tax on whiskey imposed by the federal government. What would the founders do about Social Security? 'Social Security follows none of their models (family provision, charity, reward for service, investment).' The book reveals that many of the public policy questions confronting the early American republic are similar to challenges Americans wrestle with today. The values of 18th-century Americans, by contrast, were radically different and benighted by modern standards. Jefferson, while opposing slavery, argued that blacks were inferior and should be expatriated from the United States. The founders took a male-dominated society for granted, though Hamilton was willing to consider sweatshop work for women: 'It is worthy of particular remark, that, in general, women and children are rendered more useful... by manufacturing establishments than they would otherwise be.'With a rare union of wit and scholarship, What Would the Founders Do? presents history as a source of continuing debates, rather than as a set of answers. Comparing the founders to present-day Americans, Brookhiser concludes: 'We can be as intelligent as they were, and as serious, as practical, and as brave.... We can; as they said, all men are created equal.' Michael Lind, the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Brookhiser uses the Founders' written and oral statements to imagine their thoughts concerning contemporary issues ranging from stem cells and terrorism to censorship and gay marriage." Library Journal
"[As] an intellectual exercise, this is an enjoyable, stimulating work." Booklist
A lively, timely, and surprising exploration of how America's Founding Fathers would handle the most controversial issues facing the nation today--from the acclaimed popular historian Richard Brookhiser.
From an acclaimed popular historian comes a lively, timely, and surprising exploration of how America's founding fathers would handle the most controversial issues facing the nation today.
About the Author
Richard Brookhiser is the author of Rules of Civility, Founding Father, The Way of the WASP, Alexander Hamilton, America's First Dynasty, and Gentleman Revolutionary. He was the curator of the critically acclaimed Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the New York Historical Society. He is a columnist for the New York Observer, contributes regularly to the National Review, and has written for the New Yorker and the New York Times. He lives in New York City.
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