Redsteve's Reviews > Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
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Feb 02, 09

it was ok
bookshelves: 18th-century, colonial-america, history, politics, biography
Read in February, 2009

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, which in its heyday controlled a sizable chunk of the Mediterranean extending from Italy to the Bosphorus. And "short-lived Roman Repulic of Cicero?" If he means the total length of the Roman Republic, over 400 years isn't exactly short-lived. If he means the specific period of Rome when Cicero was alive, he's chosing a strange period to focus on; by that time the Republic was already a broken machine and certainly not an ideal republican form of govrnment. Sheesh! Hopefully, Ellis will stick with his area of expertise and avoid (inaccurate) sweeping generalizations like the above.

OK, well after his purple prose settled down a bit, he did give a good workmanlike analysis of the Burr-Hamilton duel. We'll see how this book goes now that he's more on specifics.

Having finished this book, I can't give it better than a 2 (or maybe a charitable 2.5) stars. His history seems OK, but his prose is a little overly wordy while at the same time the content seems a bit dumbed down, as if he's writing for someone with little knowledge of early American history (which, I suppose, he was). "Ooo... lookie, the founding fathers were real people with real faults and dirty politics. Pretty shocking, huh?" Also, he pretty obviously doesn't much like Thomas Jefferson, so he seemed rather biased.
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01/26/2009 page 60
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message 1: by Claire (last edited Jun 12, 2009 10:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Claire Monahan Your comment about his dislike for Jefferson is very interesting, since I interpreted Ellis' opinion to be quite the opposite. Hamilton is one of my favorite historical figures, so when he seemed to be inserting written attacks against Hamilton later on in the text, it bothered me quite a bit - and I automatically aligned Ellis as a lemming for Jefferson.

I actually felt that Ellis' characterization of Adams made his liking for Jefferson less apparent, but I still viewed him as a Jefferson supporter through the end. Ultimately, I felt sorry for Adams in a way - which is what I think Ellis was also trying to convey. But with that direction, I felt that Ellis only further illustrated why admiration for Jefferson is understandable. In personality and diplomacy-wise, he has been much more reveled than Adams in his contributions to the American Revolution (in the romantic sense).

Hm, so goes the interpretations of history!


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