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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  21,830 ratings  ·  1,116 reviews
In 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...more
Paperback, 290 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by BALLANTINE BOOKS (first published January 17th 2000)
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John Adams by David McCullough1776 by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinA People's History of the United States by Howard ZinnBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
Best American History Books
7th out of 1,005 books — 1,408 voters
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Pulitzer Winners: History
1st out of 87 books — 48 voters


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Community Reviews

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Ginger
Feb 05, 2008 Ginger rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one.
Recommended to Ginger by: my american history prof.
This book was the first book that ever made me cry because it was too hard to read pleasurably. I felt like the author took stories we all already know about, and locked himself in a dark room with a thesaurus and babelfish and used the LOLZCATZ approach to writing, only in historese. I frustra-cried, it was that bad.
I felt double bad about this book because I had bought it for my dad earlier in the year as a birthday gift, and when it was on the required reading list of my American History cou...more
Eric
What an exciting book! Ellis conducts you right into the political chaos of the early republic, when the revolutionary fraternity was splintering in feuds, faction and duels (which are preferable to purges, terrors, and nights of long knives):

The very idea of a legitimate opposition did not yet exist in the political culture of the 1790s, and the evolution of political parties was proceeding in an environment that continued to regard the word party as an epithet. In effect, the leadership of th
...more
Brynan
Aug 24, 2011 Brynan rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who enjoy being confused and lost
Shelves: horrific
"And so while Hamilton and his followers could claim that the compromise permitted the core features of his financial plan to win approval, which in turn meant the institutionalization of fiscal reforms with centralizing implications that would prove very difficult to dislodge, the permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction."

This is a sentence found on page 80 of Joseph J. Ellis's Foundi...more
Nick
Aug 14, 2008 Nick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Early American History Afficionados
Shelves: history
I think giving this book five stars actually does a disservice to the author: It deserves 20! Joesph Ellis' work, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, is a wonderful narrative that immerses the reader in the minds of the founders of the United States of America, and explores the consequences of their actions (or inactions).

Ellis divides the book into six chapters, each revolving around a pivotal point in time, or around specific persons. People mentioned, specifically:
* George Washin...more
Kelly
Jun 11, 2007 Kelly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone, though especially Americans and history geeks
I picked this up in high school, trying to impress myself with how learned I could be. I really wasn't prepared for how much I enjoyed this book. I didn't think I was going to read more than a bit of it. Instead, I read it cover to cover and did it in less than two weeks. Which for a book about revolutionary war history is pretty unusual for me. This book deserves all the awards it got. It's impressively researched, fascinating, shows sides to these men that I never would have learned about othe...more
Nanette Bulebosh
Ellis is a great storyteller who has much to say about the men (and a few women, notably Abagail Adams) who formed our country. He focuses on six specific events that, he believes, crystallize and best exemplify the magnitude of the founding fathers' work and their dramatic legacy. Among his topics: the Burr-Hamilton duel, Washington's farewell address, the infamous "dinner" at Jefferson's house, Benjamin Franklin's poignant, end-of-life attempt to end the slave trade, John Adams' turbulent pres...more
Julianna
May 16, 2008 Julianna rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American history
Shelves: read-2008, history
As a lover of all things historical and a casual reader of history books, I thought that Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation was very informative and educational. I learned many things about America's founding fathers and the revolutionary period of history that I didn't previously know. The book is laid out in six separate vignettes, each following a crucial event in that era of history: the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton; a private deal that was made between Hamilto...more
Adam
Joseph Ellis sets out to depict the Founding Brothers (Washington, Jefferson, Burr, Hamilton, Franklin, Monroe and Adams) in what you may call their true light. Though the actions of this small group of political elites have left their mark our American history they were like you and I merely people with the some of the same flaws. Ellis does an excellent job of taking this group of extraordinary men and providing everyday insight into their lives, successes, and squabbles and helps to decode ho...more
Joe
Historian Joseph Ellis's thesis seems to be that the so-called "Founding Fathers" may be better understood as "Founding Brothers," men who were peers, who watched history unfold in realtime, men who made mistakes and sometimes learned and sometimes didn't.
This expansive history examines these very human figures in the context of (mainly) the 1790's and brings them to life through the lenses of six different events.
Though this was my second reading of this excellent book, I found much that I had...more
Tom
What a disappointment. Founding Brothers reads like an apologetic for long-time Founding Father of disrepute, John Adams, whose aggrandizement here expectedly reduces Thomas Jefferson to the dual role of timely revolutionary opportunist and self-deluding contradictorian, which may not be a word. Given this, Adams' non-maneuver of allowing the Treaty of Tripoli to be unanimously ratified by the Senate in 1797 is a conspicuous no-show. Or did it not quite raise the pedestal to advertise his imprim...more
matt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michelle
Founding Brothers is a deep look at the men who gave the United States its foundation. This book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I had trouble enjoying the stories it told. It is such a indepth look at this era that I felt I could only handle small chunks at a time. This would be a great read for someone who has a wealth of prior knowledge about this time in history and wants a closer look at the characters who played a role in our government.
Redsteve
I've heard a lot of good things about this book, but the author is already (by page 6) getting on my bad side. In the preface he states that "no republican government prior to the American Revolution... had ever survived for long, and none had ever been tried over a landmass as large as the 13 Colonies (There was one exception... the short-lived Roman Republic of Cicero)..." What about Venice? Even after over 200 years, the US is not even close to equaling the longevity of the Serene Republic, w...more
Beth
I found this book uneven. The first chapter, and several others, I enjoyed very much and felt it gave me great insight into the personalities and events of the American Revolution and the time afterwards when the survival of our country was not assured. But there were other chapters that I found fair too long and therefore boring and hard to get through.
I did like the perspective of the book, that is, the structure the author used to talk about these times and these people. Instead of trying to...more
DANIEL
Ellis' book is a highly entertaining recount of selected key events involving members of the Revolutionary Generation. The initial chapters are spirited and reveal dynamic portraits of figures such as Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Washington, Madison, and others. Ellis is particularly good at adding interesting shades of character that break the staid portrait we often have of these 'Founding Fathers'.

However, the final two chapters concerning the famous and often contentious relationship betw...more
Karyl
Listen, I gave this book as much of a chance as I could. Having been utterly confused by his verbosity and extreme obfuscations through his sesquipedalian prose, I finally had to give up two chapters from the end. And if that last sentence grates on you, do not read this book. Ellis, poor guy, has spent so much time with his nose in his 18th century primary sources that writing like our forefathers comes easily to him. Unfortunately, modern Americans (even well-educated modern Americans that att...more
Ben
One of the better books of the revolutionary generation I've read. Ellis did a great job bringing them to life and was able to dig into the different motivations and visions each had. Highly recommended to anyone with more than a passing interest in this subject.
Anne
While reading the first part of this book, I wished Aaron Burr had shot me.
Sarah
I really love the premise of this book and was quite excited to dive in after reading the forward from the author. I am a history person, but I'm not very familiar with the intricacies of the Revolutionary Generation's personalities. It was great to think I was going to get to know more about the individual motivations of several key players rather than another sweeping shallow history of the era.

I was not disappointed with the first few chapters. Whenever I hear about the duel between Aaron Bur...more
Matt
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis is lively, well-written book, which argues that the founders succeeded not because they liked each other or got along, most of the time they didn't, but because they resolved their differences by doing politics face to face.

Ellis writes in vivid images and analogies but is sometimes too wordy for his own good. For instance, Ellis demonstrates that Adams wanted, in modern terms, to "deconstruct" all romanticized accounts of the founding. But this is because Adam...more
Mike Hankins
Founding Brothers might be my favorite book on early America, and thats not something that I say lightly. Joseph Ellis essentially picks a few vignettes, some familiar, some not, that exemplify the idea of respectful conflict among the founding fathers. Essentially, Ellis is showing us that America has always been founded on the conflict between two contrasting interpretations of what America is, and that this is ok -- its the ability to engage in respectful debate and compromise that makes the...more
Lowell
A wonderful book... save for one item that bothers me so much I give it a 3-star review instead of 4. Joseph J. Ellis tries to convince us that these great men were "posing" for history; that they knew the historic significance of everything they did, and wanted to set a standard for generations to follow.

I respectfully disagree, and prefer David McCullough's approach to history. Speaking at Brigham Young Univeristy in 2005, McCullough said:

"[N]obody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, Geo...more
Anita
This book was really well written and interesting, but I gave it only three stars because it was so dense and felt like homework. The author presented these essays with very well thought out arguments and a ton of fascinating supporting detail. He really does paint human portraits of these American legends. But, history isn't really my thing, so it was a lot for me to take in.
My favorite chapter was The Silence, which talks about how the issue of slavery was handled during the early years of the...more
Dallin
A great read for those wanting to get a grasp of the political intricacies behind our nation's founding. Rather than focusing on events--it doesn't touch on the war except in brief retrospect--"Founding Brothers" explores how the political relationships and battles between men like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin (not to mention Abigail Adams) shaped and sustained the U.S. What was striking for me was Ellis's assertion in the intro that our cou...more
Jung Min Lee
This book explained in detail on the 6 key struggles in the very beginning of America: the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (one of the most remembered duel of all times), The dinner between Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison that decided the location of the nation's capital until now, the early disputes on slavery, President Washington's farewell address, the disputes between the federalists and the republicans that established the two party system and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson...more
Stephen Tryon
I consider this one of my favorite books--definitely top five of all time.

The book consists of six vignettes about central figures from the revolutionary generation. Each vignette is about 50 pages, and can be read independently of the whole. Some of the vignettes are more well-known than others, but they are for the most part things that one only touches on in passing in a normal curriculum of civics and social studies and history. The six vignettes are the duel between Hamilton and Burr (then...more
The Thousander Club
Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts . . .

"Reading a book like Founding Brothers reminds me why I love American History so much. Although I also enjoy more hardline, fact-filled, and focused historical accounts, I thoroughly enjoyed Founding Brothers because of its greater focus on individual personalities (although there was no shortage of historical facts). Founding Brothers provides wonderful insights into some of our most revered founder fathers, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton,...more
Rogier
This book is a gem, for me Joseph Ellis' anecdotal approach to early American history works like a magnificent refresher. Evidently Ellis has a commanding view of his material, and the reader can just go pearl diving with him.

The final story in this book on the history of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is deeply moving, of how they started as "brothers" in the founding, then ended up opposing each other, in sometimes very nasty ways - particularly Jefferson was capable of...more
Michael
Founding Brothers serves as a history professor's quick lesson on the most important events of the American Revolution. Its structure is almost like six brief classroom lectures, with each chapter serving as a stand-alone account, tied together by a loose framework and the author's voice. Ellis's book chronicles (what he asserts are) six events that exerted the most influence on America's early development and/or shaped the thinking of America's early leaders. (Ellis is very traditional in the s...more
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Who was a better politician- John Adams or Thomas Jefferson? 8 31 Jan 29, 2014 02:31PM  
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Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a nationally recognized scholar of American history from colonial times through the early decades of the Republic. The author of seven books, he is recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. He lives in Massachusetts.
More about Joseph J. Ellis...
His Excellency: George Washington American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic First Family: Abigail and John Adams Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

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“[quoting someone else] the American constitution is a document designed by geniuses to be eventually interpreted by idiots” 9 likes
“Lincoln once said that America was founded on a proposition that was written by Jefferson in 1776. We are really founded on an argument about what that proposition means.” 8 likes
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