Brynan's Reviews > Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
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U 50x66
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Aug 24, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: horrific
Recommended for: People who enjoy being confused and lost
Read in August, 2009

"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 Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.

Personally, I don't understand this sentence at all when I read it once, so lets dissect this sentence, shall we?

First phrase:
"And so while Hamilton and his followers could claim that the compromise permitted the core features of his financial plan to win approval..."

-The main part of this sente... I mean phrase is that "the compromise permitted the core features of [Hamilton's] financial plan to win approval." Who in the world of academia talks like this? Anyway, this phrase pretty much boils down to, "...the compromise satisfied the main parts of Hamilton's financial plan."

Second phrase:
"...which in turn meant the institutionalization of fiscal reforms with centralizing implications that would prove very difficult to dislodge..."

-Okay. This is a little more difficult. So, if Hamilton approves this "compromise" that satisfies the main parts of his financial plan, it would result in "the institutionalization of fiscal reforms", which I take to mean the government will have more financial responsibilities. This reform will have "centralizing implications that would prove very difficult to dislodge," which I'm guessing is a fancy way for saying that this will make the central government more powerful, which will be difficult to change in the future.

Third phrase:
"...the permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction."

-Well, after reading this phrase 5 times over, I think it means that because the capital is permanently in Potomac, the nation is actually heading in the opposite direction that Hamilton's plan is.

So after 10 minutes of dissection, this sentence is saying that "While the compromise potentially satisfied the core of Hamilton's financial plan, which would place more financial responsibilities on the government that would be difficult to repeal in the future, the fact that the capital was permanently in Potomac suggested that the nation was heading in a different direction."

...

Wow. Even after simplifying the sentence and reducing the word count from 64 to 48 and the syllable count from 125 to 88, that is still one beast of a sentence.

Ellis's excessive, pretentious use of multi-syllabic words shows that Ellis is married to his Thesaurus. No one, not even scholars, talks like Ellis nor can understand Ellis. One may be able to get a general sense of what is going on, but I'm sure there are better, less painful ways to learn of these stories.

After doing this sentence dissection for a deceptively short, grueling, uneventful, draining, brain-mushing, incredibly taxing 248 pages, I have come away with a sure fire way to make me feel like my IQ is in the negative range... and with a significantly higher vocabulary.

Good luck, fellow readers.

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02/09/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Dan King Yesh. This wasn't that hard to dissect, especially since you failed to offer any context. "The compromise" is the crux of an entire section of this book, and he is speaking about the fundamental difference in vision between Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans. The compromise in question was the support of Hamilton (who wanted a strong central government that would allow for the stability of banking systems that would lead to the future industrialization of the US) to move the federal Capitol of the United States to Virginia, a place hugely symbolic of the view of an agrarian future for the nation with emphasis on local and state political control, which is what Jefferson wanted.

It is a comment that this compromise where everyone got something, seemed more beneficial to Jefferson's viewpoint of America's future at the time, but really benefited Hamilton's view point.

The comment does, however, necessitate the reader realizing that the Potomac River is the dividing line between Maryland and Virginia, and on the banks of this river, the future federal capital.


message 2: by Pat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pat Frank There are books that necessitate stopping and thinking about what is written. This is one of them, and I highly recommend it because of what I learned from that effort.


message 3: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Coleman i agree with your comment on the unnecessarily flowery writing. i am reading this alongside my high school daughter, and am quite confident she will find herself struggling with his writing style. he has too many double negatives, several nearly run on sentences, and many ideas couched awkwardly. it could have easily been written more simply, but feels deliberately intellectualized to give off a greater academic sensibility.


message 4: by Pat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pat Frank Sometimes in this book, we actually have to think and re-read passages to place them in context. Yes, that book was not a fast read, but instead of bitching about it, one should accept that some non-fiction books are worth the time and effort. And that's a lesson one should teach one's kids. I had a teacher in eighth grade who pushed us way beyond the norm and it was maddening at the time, but it made me better prepared for what came after. Suck it up, mom above.


Brynan I do agree with you that going through material above your level is tremendously helpful and does better prepare you for what is to come. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. But I believe the main point of my review is captured very well in Mrs. Lee's comment in that the language Ellis chooses to convey his ideas is "deliberately intellectualized." In my opinion, there is a threshold where writing goes from intellectually stimulating to unnecessarily complicated to the point where it undermines the reader's ability to understand the author's main purpose. And beyond this threshold, it feels like the book becomes a way for the author to show off. I believe this book has crossed that threshold.

I have definitely read many books where I had to reread pages many times, but that was mainly to ponder and reflect on what I just read, not mainly attempting to dissect the author's language to understand a sentence's meaning.


message 6: by Pat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pat Frank Guess we'll just have to disagree on this one!


message 7: by Michael (last edited Oct 26, 2014 11:50AM) (new)

Michael << it feels like the book becomes a way for the author to show off>>

Like telling people, including your students, that you scored the winning touchdown in a big football game when you weren't even on the team?

Like talking about your horrific service parachuting into danger in Vietnam -- when you were never in Vietnam?

The list could go on quite a while, as you may already know. I think you captured something crucial about this particular author.


message 8: by Jean (new) - rated it 1 star

Jean Burch I think a good educator should select books that address the right concepts and that are well written. No one should have to suck it up to read poorly written material. A better writer could have presented these same concepts more clearly, and in such a way that it would be more memorable. The idea that we support an author like this to be read in high school is exactly why kids hate history.


message 9: by Jean (new) - rated it 1 star

Jean Burch I think a good educator should select books that address the right concepts and that are well written. No one should have to suck it up to read poorly written material. A better writer could have presented these same concepts more clearly, and in such a way that it would be more memorable. The idea that we support an author like this to be read in high school is exactly why kids hate history.


message 10: by Jean (new) - rated it 1 star

Jean Burch To be fair perhaps, I read nonfiction for enjoyment. Not because I have to. I like it when I learn something that challenges my beliefs, or makes me think. This didn't do that. And the only reason I finished it was because I didn't have a replacement book on hand. If I don't get much out of it- I don't see how someone learning would gain anything out of it. I teach- not American history, but still I would never require a student to read something like this.


message 11: by Tim (new)

Tim Torres Thanks for the review. I'll skip it.


message 12: by Shima (new)

Shima Great review! (And great sentence break down). Won't bother with this book.


message 13: by Monica (new) - added it

Monica K. In your assessment of the sentence you left out the core implication of "centralization" from Hamilton's policies, while placing the capital in Virginia gave the presidency to Jeffersonian republicans for the next two decades. The implications of the sentence (what he is describing) had lasting effects on American history. Ellis is a wonderful writer. If you aren't a history buff, don't read this book. Remember that Jefferson did not understand (or even try to understand) Hamiltons fiscal and federal policies. If you don't understand a book or a sentence or an author - don't degrade it.


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