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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

By Joseph J. Ellis (Author)
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Item description for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis...

Outline ReviewIn retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic.

Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. In a fascinating chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future generations would rely.

In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney

Product Description
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.

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Item Specifications...

Format: Unabridged
Studio: Recorded Books
Running Time: 765.00 minutes
Pages   5
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 6.78" Width: 5.16" Height: 1.52"
Weight:   0.76 lbs.
Binding  CD
Release Date   Sep 12, 2001
Publisher   Recorded Books
ISBN  1402505396  
ISBN13  9781402505393  
UPC  807897002625  

Availability  0 units.

More About Joseph J. Ellis

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JOSEPH J. ELLIS is the author of many works of American history includingFounding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; andAmerican Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, which won the National Book Award. He recently retired from his position as the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife and their youngest son.


Joseph J. Ellis currently resides in South Hadley, in the state of Massachusetts. Joseph J. Ellis has an academic affiliation as follows - Mount Holyoke College.

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Product Categories

1Books > Audio CDs > History > United States
2Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > General
3Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > Unabridged
4Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
5Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical
6Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
7Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Revolution & Founding > General
8Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary
9Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General
10Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > History & Theory

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Reviews - What do customers think about Founding Brothers?

I just cant decide.  Jun 7, 2008
I'm giving this book 4 Stars. I was going to go with 3, but based on the works readability and style I believe that there is something to be taken away by everyone. The information presented by Ellis will interest the scholarly historian as well as the casually curious reader. The former of the two readers may busy themselves more with disputing some of the poorly cited, questionable material presented within the pages of this book.
If I have it right, Ellis was attempting to portray the founders as a group of thoroughly human participants that possessed the omniprescence to grasp the scope of what their actions meant to history. This fundamental paradox of presentation left me scratching my head in search of the authors true motives. Was Ellis attempting to unite us with the men and politics of the Founding generation or was he furthering the mystification of these men, by adding to the accumulated material that presents them as histoical deities.
Regardless of the overall impression the book leaves on you, I am sure, the reader will find themselves entertained from start to finish.
A tasteful look into each of those fascinating men  May 2, 2008
In the afterglow of the HBO series on John Adams, I grew interested in some of the founding fathers, many of whom had seemed boring to me ever since I read their bios in grade school. Ellis does a highly intelligent and readable job of laying out the personalities, conflicts and battles of the whole group during the first years of the nation. I particularly like the chapter on the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Also great is the chapter about George Washington, who had seemed a cardboard character to me until my interest was piqued by the TV series. Ellis is more than a little inclined to repeat himself in that particular way academics have, although his ruminations are likely to advance the story, although a bit wordily. That aside, this book is worth digging into by anyone who wants to know what those guys were really all about and who doesn't want to be told by some ideologue what to think about them.
A Superb and Excellent Book  May 1, 2008
If I had to recommend one book to read in a year, I would recommend The Founding Brothers.

Joseph Ellis recounts the early stages of American history with six historically-based tales about the Founding Fathers or, as he thinks of them, the Founding Brothers. The stories of Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin (more of a Founding Grandfather, Ellis asserts) highlight how the period after the Revolutionary War was the most politically treacherous in our nation's history. It was the Founding Brother's talents and foresight that allowed them build a country out of a revolution which, in most cases, falls short of ideals because of personal ambitions.

The stories of the Founding Brothers is completely factual, however, the stories are written so that the reader can see the emotional and personal character aspects that the Brothers experienced during the early years of our nation. The stories are interconnected and woven so that even though each of the stories highlight different facets of the nation's early history (the ratification of the Constitution, the question of slavery, the infamous duel at Weehawken, the location of the new republic's capitol), the major players remain the same. Their personalities are built together to create interesting and insightful history.

This book won the Pulitzer Prize. After reading, I found that to be no surprise at all. It's an excellent read with a blend of wit, conviviality, learnedness, and intelligence.
Details...  Apr 26, 2008
Others have commented upon Ellis' problems with the truth in his personal life, and I will not revisit those issues here. However, while this book is a good read and tells interesting stories, there are factual problems here when you get down to the details. First, the book is poorly documented. Only direct quotes seem to be cited with footnotes. Thus, when the author makes questionable assertions, his sources are unidentified. For example, he claims that the idea of political parities was new in the 1790s. Anyone with a fundamental knowledge of colonial or British politics knows this claim to be false. Second, Ellis claims that Jefferson's affair with Sally Hemmings has been proven by DNA evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. Again, this claim is false. The DNA testing has only proved that a member of the Jefferson family fathered Hemmings' children. Personally, I believe it was Thomas Jefferson, but the DNA evidence has proven nothing beyond a reasonable doubt. Third, Ellis claims that Hamilton's pamphlet against John Adams had no major impact on the election of 1800, which is a fact others would certainly dispute. These are some examples of Ellis' weakness with details and facts. His interpretations are often made, it seems to me anyway, to fit his preconceived agenda. George Washington, for example, is portrayed as the father of big-government liberalism.

This book is very readable, but the stories seem disconnected to me and some statements of fact and assertions are highly questionable. I cannot even see very clearly what the overall argument is in the book. I almost wonder if these stories were bits and pieces left over from other works that Ellis threw into a book he thought would easily sell to the general public. If you read this book, read it critically and do not take it at face value. I'm really not sure why this book won a Pulitzer. It must have been for the writing itself. This book is a good read, but it is often very bad history.
Easy and entertaining to read, yet profound and insightful  Apr 25, 2008
Ellis presents this as if it were a light little book: a collection of vignettes about the Founders that will give us some random insights into the Revolution and the early Republic. It certainly reads like a light, little book. The pages turn easily, and it is a very entertaining read.

But, beneath the very decorative surface, this is a very serious book. It is nothing less than a prolonged series of explorations into the contradictions at the heart of the Revolution and of America. The fundamental contradiction which Ellis sees is between the spirit of the Revolution -- which opposed all authority of any kind -- and the needs of the new Republic to have effective leadership. This is why the unity of the Washington period gave way to the extraordinary bitterness of the partisan warfare during the Adams Administration. Washington, Hamilton and Adams focused on the need to build a nation with effective institutions of leadership. Jefferson and Madison saw any strong leadership -- until THEY won the White House -- as a betrayal of the Revolution.

It would be easy for Ellis to see Jefferson as essentially a hypocrite. The great exponent of freedom who kept slaves. The merciless attacker of the shoemaker's son (John Adams) as an aristocrat when he inherited his wealth. The leader of the slander and defamation against both Washington and Adams, who served as a high official in both of their Adminstrations.

All of this is true, and Ellis examines it, but there is more to Jefferson than just hypocrisy, and Ellis sees that as well. As he explains, Jefferson had a great talent for creating stories, which fit grand narrative lines. Unlike Adams, who insisted on seeing reality as a mass of messy contradictions, Jefferson also saw the world as playing out the simple and inspiring lines of the great Englishtenment melodrama in which reason and freedom marched to their inevitable victory over superstitution and feudalism.

This, of course, speaks to Jefferson's ability at self-delusion -- of which he was a master -- but there is more. The new Republic needed a founding story. People need a simple narration, to use to make sense of their world. Adams was quite unable to giving one to America; he insisted there there was no simple story line. Jefferson was so incredibly effective as a leader, precisely because he could create these story lines and make people believe them. More than all of the other Founders, Jefferson was able to create a new iconography for the new Republic. Ellis sees, and lucidly explains, all of these levels of Jefferson, the self-deluding hypocrite who flattened out the messy parts of reality to fit the story line in his head, but then made that story line THE story line which inspired the new nation. Very complex stuff, and Ellis does full credit to it.

The insights into the individual leaders are just extraordinary. Ellis simultaneously is deeply sympathetic to, yet harshly critical of, nearly all of the Founders. He understands them, and he sees into their souls. He loves and admires them, yet no one is more aware of their failings. This is not a book with easy answers. Instead, it is a book

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