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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generationby Joseph J. Ellis
2001 Pulitzer Prize for History
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"... as the historian Joseph J. Ellis points out in his compelling new book, the achievement of the American Revolution was considerably more improbable at the time....a lively and illuminating, if somewhat arbitrary book that leaves the reader with a visceral sense of a formative era in American life." The New York Times Book Review
"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
"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
?Splendid....Revealing....An extraordinary book. Its insightful conclusions rest on extensive research, and its author?s writing is vigorous and lucid.? St. Louis Post-Dispatch
?Masterful....Fascinating....Ellis is an elegant stylist....[He] captures the passion the founders brought to the revolutionary project....[A] very fine book.? Chicago Tribune
"Compelling...lively and illuminating...[Ellis] has written a shrewd, insightful book." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Founding Brothers is a wonderful book, one of the best...on the Founders ever written....Ellis has established himself as the Founders' historian for our time." Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books
"Vivid and unforgettable...[an] enduring achievement." The Boston Globe
"Learned, exceedingly well-written, and perceptive." The Oregonian
"Lively and illuminating...leaves the reader with a visceral sense of a formative era in American life." The New York Times
"Splendid....Revealing....An extraordinary book. Its insightful conclusions rest on extensive research, and its author's writing is vigorous and lucid." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
An illuminating 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 and explains how their encounters transformed their era and shaped the history of the United States. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Reprint. 200,000 first printing.
No event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution. On the inevitability side, it is true there were voices back then urging prospective patriots to regard American independence as an early version of manifest destiny. Tom Paine, for example, claimed that it was simply a matter of common sense that an island could not rule a continent. And Thomas Jefferson's lyrical rendering of the reasons for the entire revolutionary enterprise emphasized the self-evident character of the principles at stake.
Several other prominent American revolutionaries also talked as if they were actors in a historical drama whose script had already been written by the gods. In his old age, John Adams recalled his youthful intimations of the providential forces at work: "There is nothing . . . more ancient in my memory," he wrote in 1807, "than the observation that arts, sciences, and empire had always travelled westward. And in conversation it was always added, since I was a child, that their next leap would be over the Atlantic into America." Adams instructed his beloved Abigail to start saving all his letters even before the outbreak of the war for independence. Then in June of 1776, he purchased "a Folio Book" to preserve copies of his entire correspondence in order to record, as he put it, "the great Events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing." Of course we tend to remember only the prophets who turn out to be right, but there does seem to have been a broadly shared sense within the revolutionary generation that they were "present at the creation."
These early premonitions of American destiny have been reinforced and locked into our collective memory by the subsequent triumph of the political ideals the American Revolution first announced, as Jefferson so nicely put it, "to a candid world." Throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, former colonies of European powers have won their independence with such predictable regularity that colonial status has become an exotic vestige of bygone days, a mere way station for emerging nations. The republican experiment launched so boldly by the revolutionary generation in America encountered entrenched opposition in the two centuries that followed, but it thoroughly vanquished the monarchical dynasties of the nineteenth century and then the totalitarian despotisms of the twentieth, just as Jefferson predicted it would. Though it seems somewhat extreme to declare, as one contemporary political philosopher has phrased it, that "the end of history" is now at hand, it is true that all alternative forms of political organization appear to be fighting a futile rear-guard action against the liberal institutions and ideas first established in the United States in the late eighteenth century. At least it seems safe to say that some form of representative government based on the principle of popular sovereignty and some form of market economy fueled by the energies of individual citizens have become the commonly accepted ingredients for national success throughout the world. These legacies are so familiar to us, we are so accustomed to taking their success for granted, that the era in which they were born cannot help but be remembered as a land of foregone conclusions.
Despite the confident a
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.
Table of Contents
Generation — Duel — Dinner — Silence — Farewell — Callaborators — Friendship.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Biography » Historical