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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  28,318 Ratings  ·  1,321 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'

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 17th 2000 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2000)
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Feb 05, 2008 Ginger rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 24, 2011 Brynan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 03, 2010 Eric rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2007 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2008 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2015 Max rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Ellis gives us six insightful vignettes of leaders of the early American Republic. The author reminds us that the founders did not know whether their creation would last. They did know that it was historic, that it was fragile and that it was a bold experiment. We have to judge them and their actions in that context, in light of what they knew not what has since come to be true. The underlying theme is the dichotomy between the suspicion of central government and the need for a durable union for ...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
Nov 26, 2013 Anne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While reading the first part of this book, I wished Aaron Burr had shot me.
Aug 26, 2013 Dani rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
May 16, 2008 Julianna rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2009 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2008 Michelle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Dec 23, 2008 DANIEL rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 18, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2008 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 18, 2016 Nathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Real good read; quick and easy case studies of some very interesting early events around the founding of the United States.
Sara  (
The book purports to be about the following "founding brothers": Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and Burr. But including Burr as a founding brother is pretty preposterous, and you get the sense he was just there because Ellis couldn't wait to write about The Duel (it is the first chapter of the book). Likewise, there is almost nothing in the book about Franklin.

I didn't like Ellis' writing much: I found it to be plodding and he is fond of overusing certain words, such as, weird
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 11, 2016 Jessica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I have a confession to make.

I only read this book because I am obsessed with the musical Hamilton.

I hate to be that kind of person. And I know I’m not the only one who’s obsessed, but I’ve been a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan ever since I moved 500 miles away from home at age 24 while sobbing along to the finale of In the Heights. It's a song all about understanding what “home” means, and as I drove across the mountains of West Virginia towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I realized that, even tho
Feb 09, 2015 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The one thing I never tire of regarding revolutionary-era histories – in fact, the one thing that, above all else, makes these histories my favorite - is the post career reconciliation and correspondence between Adams and Jefferson. I can read different versions of the same story 1000 times and never fail to be moved by it. Ellis’ version has been told many times before, in equally impressive reads; nevertheless, as Founding Brothers closes on that hallowed moment in 1826 where the two key Ameri ...more
Dec 19, 2008 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2015 Scott rated it liked it
An interesting, if somewhat dry read about the primary players in the American Revolution and the subsequent events that took place at the dawn of America. This Pulitzer Prize winning book focuses on six men - John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and to a lesser extent Benjamin Franklin.

The book is made up of six segments told in chronological order, with the exception of the first chapter, which features the famous duel between Hamilton and Aaron
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
May 20, 2015 Spencer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ellis chose to cover the founding of our country by concentrating on eight people he considered to be most important during the early years of our country. They are John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Ben Franklin, James Madison and George Washington. He refers to them as Founding Brothers because of the unique and close working relationship they had. This narrows the scope of the book, but it also makes it more digestible. Ellis describes the early struggle ...more
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.
Dec 20, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
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
Vincent Li
Jan 17, 2016 Vincent Li rated it really liked it
An excellent one volume history on the founding fathers, with an emphasis on the years 1789-1800. I came to the book looking for an easy read, which it definitely is not (in the sense that it's relatively scholarly, and portrays a very nuanced view).

The form of the book is interesting, at first I assumed it to be a series of anecdotes about the Founding Fathers, but it actually is a deep analysis of certain events that epitomize certain themes that Ellis wants to get across. Chief of those them
Oct 08, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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Who was a better politician- John Adams or Thomas Jefferson? 8 33 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...

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“[quoting someone else] the American constitution is a document designed by geniuses to be eventually interpreted by idiots” 15 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.” 11 likes
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