DANIEL's Reviews > Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Dec 23, 08

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 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson left me frustrated and ultimately disappointed. Ellis seems to have a bone to pick with the Jefferson legacy, and often falls into a very black and white presentation of these figures. Adams is characterized as brilliant and passionate, but one whose ultimately contentious nature lead him to be largely misunderstood in history. Jefferson on the other hand is presented as a master of prose whose literary gift lead him to shape his historical legacy. However, behind this gift for words is a man of little moral backbone and whose famous stature Ellis is determined to tarnish.

Beyond this revisionist presentation of history that has a bone to pick, I found Ellis characterization of these men at odds with one of his chief critiques of Jefferson. He claims that Jefferson's romantic version of history is what we remember because it casts aside complexity in favor a sweeping narrative of good against bad. He praises Adams for a more post-modern recollection of the Revolutionary period; where randomness and chance played just as much a role in the success in the 'Great Experiment' of government as did its early figures. Yet Ellis' simplified presentation of Adams and Jefferson falls very much into the category of writing that he labels Jefferson as producing. If Ellis followed Adams' post-modern sense of history, Jefferson would not be relegated to the caricature presented here.
3 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Founding Brothers.
sign in »

No comments have been added yet.