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Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
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Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  2,117 ratings  ·  168 reviews
American History. In near fine condition, clean and unmarked.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 18th 2006 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published April 3rd 2006)
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The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard BailynAnti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard HofstadterThe Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon S. WoodThe Metaphysical Club by Louis MenandThe Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
US Intellectual History
53rd out of 127 books — 49 voters
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Best American History Books
336th out of 1,188 books — 1,601 voters

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Will Byrnes
Wood offers a chapter each to a slew of household names from the time of the Revolution. It is like getting to read a very well-informed mini-biography on each. One thing I found was that the turmoil of the post revolutionary period left me in a bit of a daze. There was not only considerable diversity among the founders in terms of their macro views (if not their gender or ethnicity) and when this is combined with the rapid and significant changes the foundling nation was undergoing, it makes th ...more
An excellent book that looks at the characters of the American Revolution & what made them different. The book assumes a working knowledge of the time period since it focuses on eight men & what their motivations were. Extensively documented, other readings are suggested as needed. His basic premise is that these men were revolutionaries that fought themselves out of a job. If he has a political axe to grind, he kept it out of his writing as far as I could tell, which I appreciated, espe ...more
I picked up this book at the library on July 3 so I could start reading it the next day. My plan was to spend most of the 4th trying to learn a little about some of the founding fathers. It was a great idea, however I probably should have picked something a little less daunting since this book was obviously intended for people who had paid more attention during their history classes and were already familiar with the founders. Nevertheless I kept at it and if nothing more it has proven that I am ...more
Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different is a series of essays covering each of eight different founding fathers: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and Aaron
Revolutionary Characters was a fun, easy to read book, that brought to life the characters of the American Revolution.

A common lament since the days of the founding fathers has been Where have such leaders gone? This book argues that these men were the product of a unique period of history, and a unique set of ambitions. For the most part, they truly tried to serve the greater good rather than their own self interest - not because they were of better moral fiber, but because that was the vogue
Ashley Nef
A series of essays essentially outlining just how different from us the founding fathers were as seen by the cultural standards of their day. Enlightening, and sometimes quite engaging. Overall, a good introduction to the founding fathers to get a sense of them, their times, and the attitudes behind the founding of America.

My favorite essay was on George Washington - he strongly argues that Washington was - without exception - the greatest president we have ever had, an opinion I eagerly share
Mar 01, 2009 Jon rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon by: Jim MacLachlan
I enjoyed listening to these essays during my daily commute. I learned many things about my American history and heritage. It also inspired me to read some of Thomas Paine's works. I think I have also found a way to get more non-fiction into my reading diet. It's definitely more enjoyable to listen to and focus on via an audiobook then overcoming the stigma of reading what amounts to a textbook.
Kiera Beddes
There was a chapter dedicated to each of the Founding Fathers: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr (although I don't know for the life of me why anyone would want to dedicate a whole chapter to stupid Aaron Burr). I appreciated that Wood took a honest look at each man, without all the hero worship that you find so often in history textbooks. All their virtues and faults were discussed as well as their ...more
While Gordon Wood is one of the leading historians of the 18th Century nascent American republic and his depth and breadth of knowledge is remarkably impressive, this book comes across as a pale version of Joseph Ellis's "Founding Brothers," with the essays on select founders. Too often does the author come across as lecturing the reader about these significant revolutionary men instead of simply weaving a binding and mesmerizing analysis that continually engages the reader upon each page turn. ...more
Wood sets the stage for his "biovignettes" of selected revolutionaries by describing their world. Each was influenced positively or negatively by the aristocracy of the old world.

The best essay on "character" (as I took the title) is that of Washington, probably because he had so much of it. GW not only rejects the opportunity to be like a monarch, he actually frees his slaves and provides for those too feeble to benefit from freedom. Washington worries about the propriety of this and that and i
Some of the poli-sci jargon was over my head, but I am glad I read this book.
After reading it, though, I am amazed that America has become what we are today--and that it took only 'four score and seven years' before we erupted into Civil War! --the Founders were as different and at times cantakerous as our modern day politicians and talking heads!

With that said, though, these were some pretty amazing men--one thing that was really interesting, for the Enlightenmnet period--only six (I think th
After reading several books about the Revolutionary period, I doubted whether this book would be able to offer anything new, especially considering its size when compaired to Gordon Wood's other massive tomes on the subject. However I was thoroughly surprised when I discovered that the author lived up to his name and delivered a fascinating new take on the founders. While the stories he tells about them were familar, his interpretations of events, their causes and results, and their effects on m ...more
Stan Lanier
A very good introduction to some of the leading characters of the American Revolution. (I found it particularly enriching to read this in conjunction with Joseph J. Ellis's Founding Brothers.)Two caveats that may deter some readers: 1) The book is a reworking of earlier individual essays (thus, no narrative flow,as such);2) It is clearly a work in academic prose rather than the language of a storyteller. The portraits drawn are interesting and much can be earned when compared with one's own unde ...more
William Thomas
what seemed to me to be more of a retort to gore vidal's book of the same kind, and in by far a more academic endeavor than gore's, this book comes off without bias, detailing in a short and direct way, the personal lives and intimacies of the founding fathers. bravo to gordon wood for including Thomas Payne in this book as a father of America, as well as to his detailing the individual mindset, theories, philosophies, mannerisms and quirks of each of the different men, showing us that they were ...more
This was a very fascinating biography on the founders of our nation. I really enjoyed the chapter on George Washington. The information that was presented about him was something that I was not aware of in the past. I am glad that the author chose to encompass the entire life of the founders instead of just focusing on one area. He presented each of the men as just that, men. They were not perfect, divine or overtly horrible. They were flawed and imperfect, but they were leaders and forgers of o ...more
Todd Stockslager
Wood's argues that the difference is that these Revolutionary leaders (the usual phalanx, plus Paine and Burr as exemplars of contrast) were set apart by the first-generation gentility, expressed in 18th Century Enlightenment terms, on the outskirts of the empirical centers in London and Paris, in the formation of their public character in a country where the government became not a derivative of the populace but a lent lease from the populace who retained it.

In this way, expanding literacy and
Wood's book Revolutionary Characters has some interesting history and provocations in its biographical chapters on American founding fathers, but overall I found it to be verbose and full of itself, kicking against criticism of the Founders by academics, and trying to provide hidden knowledge. Wood claims Washington was the greatest president, but often succeeds in making him seem petty. He tries to abstract Jefferson from his hypocrisy and fails. He just does not seem to like John Adams. He rea ...more
Michael A
This seems to be a book written along the lines of Joseph Ellis' earlier work in which the point seems to be to analyze the characters and personalities of major founding figures in American history -- in addition, he often critically discusses their ideologies and political thinking.

It therefore reads a bit like the writer's personal glosses about the founders and why they were "so different" as his title puts it.

The most interesting essays for me were about Burr and Tom Paine. I've often wonde
This is another popular look at the Founding Fathers. This book is a collection of essays written by the famous author, Gordon Wood, each a short biographical sketch. There are many interesting insights and I think this book is a great start for anyone to read about the great characters of the period. There is also enough information here that any student of history would enjoy the read.
Corey Knight
In this book, I learned more about each founding father than I ever did before. I learned that there is more to them than meets the eye. Also, It explains why Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were not founding fathers. Both played major roles to developing the government and country we have today. It talks about what each had done before, during, and after the war. I learned that Ben Franklin was extremely loyalist up until 1775 when he got fired as the British postmaster. Everyone outside of A ...more
Matt Sparling
A unique perspective on the Revolutionary men (including some of the lesser known) and how their personalities and beliefs shaped their politics. A good book for someone interested in either revolutionary war history or political history.
That old rascal Aaron Burr warned us about historians, who always distrusted the prejudices of historians who shade their studies in a particular direction. Professor Wood, while as brilliant a researcher as ever opened a diary or letter, is so in love with the egalitarian and "republican" attitudes of the likes of Jefferson and even Paine's philosophy, that this effort annoyed my 18th Century attitudes and Tory nature to its roots. Ah, for such skills, and a truly objective and "disinterested" ...more
The best chapters were written about Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, and Aaron Burr- all revolutionary "characters" in their own right...along with Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton,and Washington. This book is not just a series of short biographies. The basis of this book is to explain why such men as these, from the late 18th century, have never existed again in American history. That is not to say that these men were "gods." What they began as revolutionaries developed into future eras in which men such ...more
David R.
Wood has set down biographical portraits of several of the Founding Fathers. This isn't a complimentary one. While Wood claims to depart from the 20th Century "debunk" movement among historians, he nevertheless brings down most of these characters a few notches, most especially John Adams ("irrelevant"), Thomas Jefferson ("shallow"), and James Madison ("warped"). Washington comes off pretty well as, in a way, Aaron Burr. This book doesn't help, I'm afraid. In our day and age we need to rediscove ...more
Wood argues that the “Founding Fathers” were set apart by their common dedication to preforming the role of eighteenth century gentleman. These men were not necessarily born aristocrats, but elevated their social status through education and virtuous behavior. Wood furthermore argues that the founders’ belief in the virtue of the common man and public opinion contributed to a transformation in the American intellect and culture that was contrary to their intentions and which resulted in the demi ...more
I very much enjoyed this book. The author attempts to tell the story of the founders of America in mini-bios which are easily readable and very entertaining.

A couple of words whose meaning has changed over the course of history are “character” and “disinterested.” The founders had character but in the sense of the meaning during revolutionary times which pertains more to the face that you show the world. In that sense the founders were truly characters. They did not let their personal lives be s
Justin Tapp
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon Wood is a great history of several of our Founding Fathers. Pulitzer prize winner Wood has compiled a lot of information from essays and other sources over the years and condensed them into neatly packaged chapters on each founder.

I enjoyed the explanation of what it meant to be a "gentleman" in the 1700s, and how public service was something seen as a voluntary burden to bear on behalf of the people (ie: the foresaking of priv
Steven Peterson
Gordon Wood is a well reputed historian. Here, he examines some of the more important (and interesting) of the Founders and those interacting with them. Wood's main point is that character was a matter of great importance for the leaders of the new government. When those with great potential--such as Aaron Burr--raised questions about their own character, it led people to doubt them.

The opening chapter of the book places this volume in context. Wood discusses the context in which the Founders d
Katie Beth
This book was a hard read if you have favorite founding fathers. Because it's separated into chapters, one for each founding father, there are obviously going to be chapters you enjoy and chapters that make you grind your teeth. The author builds up on the back ground information of each founder, implying that most of them started lower in society and rose to the top, like Franklin and Hamilton, and another started at the top and fell, like Burr. That sets up this "they aren't your typical guys" ...more
Evan Brandt
Found this while looking for something else and forgot I had it.
About halfway way through this series of profiles of the major founders which were published separately and have now been put together in this easily readable collection.

OK, so just wrote a whole goddamn review of this and lost it, so I won't be writing it again, especially seeing as I don't think there is anyone else on this list likely to read this book.

OK, I'm over it now. Damn annoying though.
Anyway, what I said before is that t
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Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .
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“Although he trusted the good sense of the people in the long run, he believed that they could easily be misled by demagogues. He was a realist who had no illusions about human nature. “The motives which predominate most human affairs,” he said, “are self-love and self-interest.” The common people, like the common soldiers in his army, could not be expected to be “influenced by any other principles than those of interest.” 0 likes
“As Oliver Ellsworth, the third chief justice of the United States, declared, “As population increases, poor labourers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country.”42 The leaders simply did not count on the remarkable demographic capacity of the slave states themselves, especially Virginia, to produce slaves for the expanding areas of the Deep South and the Southwest.” 0 likes
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