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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generationby Joseph J Ellis
2001 Pulitzer Prize for History
Synopses & Reviews
In 1997, Joseph Ellis received a National Book Award for his elegant meditation on the life of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx. Four years later he capped that success with a Pulitzer Prize for a second book about the Revolutionary period. In Founding Brothers, Ellis broadened the scope of his previous work to explore not just one of our nation's founders, but the core group of men — Hamilton, Burr, Franklin, Washington, Adams, Madison, and, yes, Jefferson — who not only invented the United States of America, but also defined the competing visions of the country that remain central to our national debate to this day. Employing the same searching intellect and graceful style demonstrated in American Sphinx, Ellis sheds fresh light on such crucial episodes in our history as the creation of the Constitution, the complicated friendship between Jefferson and Adams, the influence of Abigail Adams on Revolutionary politics, the inability of Congress early on to successfully deal with the issue of slavery, the incipient sparring between advocates of states' rights and proponents of a strong central government, the causes and impact of the duel between Burr and Hamilton, and much more. With Founding Brothers, Ellis has cemented his reputation as our greatest living historian about the Revolutionary period. Farley, Powells.com
In a landmark work of history, the National Book Award-winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed men — Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison — set the course for our nation.
Joseph Ellis illuminates the profoundly deep bonds and the often fractious, sometimes blind, efforts of the Founding Fathers — re-examined here as Founding Brothers — to realize strikingly different visions of America. During their own time, and even more so in ours, the Founding Fathers were perceived as demigods no more tainted than marble statues by the stain of imperfect humanity. Ellis?s penetrating analysis of six fascinating historical episodes, including Hamilton and Burr?s deadly duel, Washington?s Farewell Address, and the correspondence between Jefferson and Adams, brings these statues to life and their visions into focus.
"Compelling...lively and illuminating...[Ellis] has written a shrewd, insightful book." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"In lesser hands the fractious disputes and hysterical rhetoric of these contentious nation-builders might come across as hyperbolic pettiness. Ellis knows better, and he unpacks the real issues for his readers, revealing the driving assumptions and riveting fears that animated Americans' first encounter with the organized ideologies and interests we call parties." Joyce Appleby, Washington Post Book World
"It is the miracle of the founding brothers that they took [the] raw materials of human character and molded them into something bigger than themselves into an idea that endures...It is the enduring achievement of Joseph J. Ellis that he was able to portray that process, all the more remarkable for its improbability, in a vivid and unforgettable fashion." David M. Shribman, Boston Globe
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.
In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award winning
Includes bibliographical references (p. 249-278) and index.
About the Author
Joseph J. Ellis is the author of several books of American history, among them Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams and American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, which won the 1997 National Book Award. He was educated at the College of William and Mary and Yale University and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and three sons.
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