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Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America
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Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  955 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
In this remarkable and elegantly written book, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Jack Rakove offers a new and revealing perspective on America’s revolutionaries. In his hands, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Hamilton were not pitchfork-wielding radicals or relentless power seekers. They started out as men of property and private affairs, tending to careers an ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published May 11th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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Bob Price
Jun 16, 2011 Bob Price rated it really liked it
How do 'simple' men go from being farmers and lawyers and businessmen in 1770 to the leaders of a new nation by 1793? That is the central question found in Jack Rakove's book Revolutionaries .

Rakove focuses on the period of time between 1770 and 1793 because in these years the foundational questions of what type of country we would become were decided by a relatively small group of individuals. These individuals' personalities, history, and charater became essential to the American founding.

I wish I could say I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I didn't. That isn't to say it isn't a good read, because it is, but it's much more informative than enthralling. I found it hard-going but worth persevering with, if that makes any sense!

It's very much a political history of the major characters involved in the Revolution and the creation of the fledgling United States, rather than a social or military history of the Revolution itself. I found myself learning far more than I'd ever intended
John Martindale
Jun 07, 2013 John Martindale rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, audiobook
I enjoyed this for the most part. The author showed how many of the American founders were not at all what we'd now think of revolutionaries before the war. Though there were some radicals like Samuel Adams and some extremist in Boston, most Americans were not looking for independence from their mother country. It was only after the over-the-top and harsh response of Great Britain to the Boston Tea Party, that many moderates felt thrust into politics, war, diplomacy and the forming of a new cons ...more
Mark Paul
Dec 03, 2010 Mark Paul rated it it was amazing
For the better part of a century, Americans have alternated between idolizing the nation's revolutionary generation and muckraking them. One moment they are portrayed as demi-gods, the instruments of Divine Providence; the next moment, they are reactionaries and slaveholders, fighting to protect property and slavery.

In Revolutionaries, Jack Rakove's beautifully written group portrait of the founding generations, they are placed where they belong: in their own time and their own place. Rakove sh
Frank Roberts
May 10, 2010 Frank Roberts rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The key distinction of Rakove's approach is to examine how the Revolutionary generation became revolutionaries. With the probable exception of Samuel Adams, these were not men who set out to start a war or declare independence. Though they all saw themselves as "Americans"--a key factor to their eventual choices, they also all considered themselves as subjects of the British King and they did not seek to change that, until they faced the intransigence of the British government and its heavy-hand ...more
Ed Eleazer
Aug 03, 2010 Ed Eleazer rated it really liked it
This book should be required reading in American history courses at the high school level, as well as in civics and political science courses (Do they still teach Civics in grade school?) Rakove's analysis of "The Founding Fathers" is nuanced and extremely well written. For those who have studied American history at the college level, the facts he presents are probably old hat, but he makes such perceptive correlations between the events of the Revolution/Early Federal period and the political d ...more
Jun 25, 2012 Raphael rated it it was ok
I admit that I actually didn't finish reading this book. I personally think highly of Dr. Rakove and I find the subject matter of the book interesting. I just couldn't finish the book before I had to return it to the library.
My main issue is that it is written by a professor, and it therefore has a very different style from comparable books written by journalists (in my opinion, not as accessible). Each episode is long and drawn-out, filled with a lot of detail. While the book is clearly thoroug
Marguerite Gray
Jun 28, 2016 Marguerite Gray rated it it was amazing
Great research material. A good rich volume of revolutionary characters.
Jul 10, 2010 Bookworm1858 rated it really liked it
Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
442 pages
History, US
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received for review through Netgalley

Summary: Covering approximately 1773 to 1792, this book aims to reveal the Founding Fathers as never before seen. They were private citizens who appeared on the public scene as leaders and thinkers as they shaped what would become the United States of America.

Thoughts: I had trouble getting in to this book, partly because it is an ebook and my preference is sti
Jul 21, 2010 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Jack Rakove offers a revealing perspective on America’s revolutionaries. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, & Hamilton started out as men of property & private affairs, tending to careers & families, making their way in a deeply provincial world. But when events in Massachusetts escalated out of control after the Boston Tea Party, they were swept up in the crisis, their private lives suddenly transformed into public careers. Rakove shows us how reluctant the revolutionaries were ...more
Jan 01, 2011 Andrew rated it liked it
An interesting but not a compelling read. The NY Times review criticized Rakove for the "whimper" of an ending and its failure to encapsulate important issues of the American revolution. Even worse, in this reader's opinion, the book ducks many key issues alive 200 years later. In addition, Rakove builds towards a climax by describing Washington's first term and the work of Alexander Hamilton to build a supporting financial infrastructure for the young government -- then abruptly stops without e ...more
Brian Manville
Jul 22, 2014 Brian Manville rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history
In turbulent times, the true character of people will often be revealed. Just as often, people will reveal the nature of their mental acuity. The American Revolution revealed that this collection of 13 colonies was equipped with some of the finest men that America has ever known. These men's collective efforts towards independence are chronicled in Jack Rakove's book.

Dr. Rakove - currently a professor at Stanford - writes a book that is part history, part biography. This unique attempt at illust
Igor Faynshteyn
Sep 06, 2013 Igor Faynshteyn rated it it was amazing
The great scholar and historian of the early American history, professor Jack Rakove, has succeeded in writing a history about the American Revolution and its major, although some lesser well-known, revolutionary characters. The success of this dense and scholarly, though a very much readable work, lies in its successful fusion of a serious political and historical interpretation, and narrative. It is therefore at once a fast-paced and lively narrative, coupled with an interpretive study of the ...more
Jul 08, 2015 Joe rated it did not like it
Shelves: history

Revolutionaries tackles the well-tilled ground of the Revolutionary War and America's journey to independence. Chronicling the men, the times, events and ultimately the breach with "Mother England" resulting in the birth of our nation, the author attempts to distinguish whether our Founding Fathers drove the circumstances or the circumstances drove them. (The answer is yes to both depending on the individual.) One may wonder if we need another book on these historically poignant t
Mark Stidham
Jan 27, 2016 Mark Stidham rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This was a fabulous read. But then, I am somewhat of a fanatic about this subject. The 'New History' reference in the title is the provision of the backstories and contexts for the famous participants and the events. With excellent pacing and detail, the reader can sense how the Revolution was at once a miracle and inevitable. A miracle because so many human beings acted in unwitting concert towards this conclusion. Inevitable because of the composition of the colonies as disenfranchised British ...more
Apr 10, 2011 Marie rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-books
This took me six months to finish. I don't read slowly, so it wasn't that. Nor is the book particularly long (340 pages). It is however, very boring. I'm sure it's interesting to some people. It was nominated for the George Washington Book Prize, so many people clearly liked it. I was just not one of them. I can't say that I hated it either, because there was nothing to hate, it was just... beige.

To me, this is not a history book. It contained pieces of history. Each chapter was ostensibly on on
Jay Perkins
Jun 02, 2012 Jay Perkins rated it really liked it
This is a great bok on the revolutionary era with an emphasis on important personalities, rather than events. Rakove covers a good deal of information about well known as well as lesser known American Founders. He handles each man objectively but fairly.
One of the best part of this book was his chapter on Henry Laurens and his son John (or Jack). John Laurens' bravery in the war and desire to emancipate slaves to form an army to fight the British in the south is regrettably one of the least kno
Jun 28, 2010 Scott rated it liked it
Met Rakove at the Coe Workshop at Stanford in the summer of 2010, and his discussion was quite shocking and rambling, as he holds some fairly strange positions on the revolution (economics doesn't help explain the revolution etc) and his book is no different. Erudite and chock-full with interesting discussions about how normal, well-bred/read gentlemen of the Revolution found themselves as leaders with a terrific opportunity to revolutionize the way we live, this guy could use an editor with a b ...more
Doug DePew
Apr 30, 2011 Doug DePew rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People interested in the founding fathers of the United States
Recommended to Doug by: History Book Club
"Revolutionaries" by Jack Rakove is unlike any other book I've read on the founding of the Republic. It is very well written and held my interest from beginning to end. It explores the founders in a way that I don't think has been done complete people. He takes us from the build-up to war through the early years of the US covering both famous founding fathers such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington, but also little known founders who were no less important. Many of the personal v ...more
Aug 05, 2013 Christine rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All citizens of the US
This was a thorough account of how provincial colonists became revolutionaries. I highly recommend it
for all citizens of our country. My favorite part is the last chapter, which details the rise of political parties, due to the animosity between Jefferson and Hamilton. It is rich in detail and well- written.
Although written by a renowned historian, it is not just for history buffs! As a teacher of history, I plan to keep this book at hand in the classroom for easy reference.
And as good books u
Aug 13, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
Our Constitution had a rocky start as Rakove's "Revolutionaries" describes. Rakove's work does more by giving the reader and understanding of the motives and character of the Founders. Though Washington, Adams, Jefferson, played formative roles in building the new nation, it is James Madison who is the real architect of the Constitution. Although quite dry at time, the problems of representaion, defining and empowering the branches of government, and states rights v. a strong federal gove ...more
May 08, 2012 Sandy rated it it was amazing
This author's previous works are heavily academic. This book, though clearly the result of a scholar's research and discipline, is very readable. The insights into what our Founding Fathers brought to the debate about independence, the form of government and the rights of all men in the new America are fascinating. Rakove so recreates collective and individual thinking of the times that one sees the magnitude of the political and economic revolutions as I never viewed them before. The portraits ...more
Dec 13, 2010 Dave rated it liked it
Whether this is a 'new' history of the American revolutionaries or a rehash of previous known facts can certainly be debated. Rakove does bring together a LOT of information, much discussing the personalities of many of the major (and some of the minor) characters of the period. His approach is certianly a change from the usually historical presentation of the era - at times I found the reading too detailed and a little tedious; the book could have been shorter and the prose a little more entert ...more
May 10, 2014 Ryan rated it liked it
Jack Rokove writes a deeply compelling and exacting account of the "Revolutionaries." His analysis is precise and thought-provoking as he dissects the many dimensions of these larger than life characters. However, the book tends to sputter from the author's academic perspective and style of writing that makes the reading experience oftentimes dauntingly complex and less than enjoyable.

I would recommend this book only for serious minded students of history. While it is very informative and intell
May 22, 2013 Craig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding history, considering the number of subjects.

The only minor quibble is that the Revolutionary War section is weaker than those on the constitution and the formation of the government; choosing to frame the chapters by individuals rather than events slightly hamstrings the flow of recounting an international war (for example Jack Laurens is the subject of a whole chapter but the chronology of his life means that his death is dealt with much later and is therefore recounted in mere
Jason Vanhee
Jun 23, 2011 Jason Vanhee rated it it was ok
Interesting in places, but poorly focused and without much of a central theory or argument. Even as history it doesn't do very well. In his afterword, he thanks his editor for constantly making him realize that he has to approach a book of this sort from the perspective of a person who hasn't taught college level US history for decades; he has to realize that most people don't know what he assumes they should know. However, even with this constant notification, he fails; he either assumes we kno ...more
Nov 29, 2012 Drew rated it really liked it
It was a fun read. Not only does the book touch on the famous major players of the revolution, it also discussed the lives of some of the leaders that I hadn't read much about before, for example Henry Laurens, George Mason, John Dickinson, and others. The format is similar to Ellis' Founding Brothers or American Creation, where the author chooses a handful of shorter stories to tell, rather than attempting a comprehensive history. The book is appropriate for people newly interested in the Ameri ...more
Susan Baumgartner
Jul 09, 2010 Susan Baumgartner rated it really liked it
Shelves: abandoned
I keep trying to find time for this very interesting book. I *love* reading how our founding fathers sound *exactly* like us today. They struggled with ideas. Some of them loved to hear themselves talk. Alot. They knew they had to present certain positions to the world. They had way too many events to attend but had to do it because they needed to see and be seen.
Did not finish, but I highly recommend and will pick it up again someday.
Jul 27, 2013 Mandy rated it really liked it
The history and motives of the revolutionaries/founding fathers. It was very interesting. I learned a lot about the revolutionaries/founding fathers. I feel that Rakove was much too hard on John Adams, defining him almost completely from his ambition and vanity without delving more into his better characteristics and accomplishments. The ending (in the chapter on Hamilton) was a bit abrupt with a short paragraph summary.
Aug 30, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing
Former Colgate Professor makes good. He won the Pulitzer Prize with an earlier book and now teaches at Stanford, where the weather, at least, is better. Now he's written an engrossing book about the founding fathers. Speaking of fathers, Rakove comes by the writing ability honestly as his father, Milton, wrote two of the best books about Chicago's Richard Daley, the First, "We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent" and "Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers".
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*~Can't Stop Read...: Revolutionaries - on Libboo - one free copy available 1 4 Feb 02, 2013 12:09AM  
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Jack Rakove is the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and professor of political science and (by courtesy) law at Stanford, where he has taught since 1980. His principal areas of research include the origins of the American Revolution and Constitution, the political practice and theory of James Madison, and the role of historical knowledge in constitutional litigation. ...more
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