Founding Brothers (Ellis)

Book Reviews
As 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.
Michiko Kakutan - New York Times


A splendid book—humane, learned, written with flair and radiant with a calm intelligence and wit. Even those familiar with 'the Revolutionary generation' will [find much] to captivate and enlarge their understanding of our nation's fledgling years.
Beson Bobrick - New York Times Book Review


(Starred review.) This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery). Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make a ... hit.
Publishers Weekly


Ellis holds the Ford Foundation Chair in American History at Mount Holyoke College and is the author of American Sphinx, a National Book Award-winning study of Thomas Jefferson. His new book contains six chapters on unconnected events in the formation of the American republic, featuring Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington as principal characters. Ellis is deeply steeped in the literature, and his style is crisp and full of subtle ironies. He brings fresh insights into such well-worn topics as the Hamilton-Burr duel and Jefferson's feelings about slavery. If there is a central theme that runs through the chapters, it concerns the fragility of the early years of the republic. Ellis calls the 1790s one long shouting match between those, like Hamilton, who championed the power of the central government and those, like Jefferson, who defended the rights of states and individuals. The question of slavery was so explosive that most Founding Fathers avoided discussing it at all. Ellis clearly admires the irascible John Adams. Perhaps surprisingly from the author of American Sphinx, however, the Founding Father who comes off least well here is Jefferson himself. Highly recommended for all academic and large public libraries. —T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ.
Library Journal


An outstanding biographer of Jefferson (American Sphinx, 1997), Ellis takes up new lines in this exploration of the "gestative" 1790s.... Palpably steeped in a career's worth of immersion in the early republic, Ellis' essays are angled, fascinating, and perfect for general-interest readers. —Gilbert Taylor
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