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Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,681 ratings  ·  239 reviews
In this brilliantly illuminating group portrait of the men who came to be known as the Founding Fathers, the incomparable Gordon Wood has written a book that seriously asks, ?What made these men great???and shows us, among many other things, just how much character did in fact matter. The life of each?Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Paine?is pres ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published April 3rd 2006)
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Connie VonSleichter I listen to a lot of audio books, so I don't actually focus on the number of pages. For me, I can judge the book's length by the number of CDs, or "pa…moreI listen to a lot of audio books, so I don't actually focus on the number of pages. For me, I can judge the book's length by the number of CDs, or "parts." Each part is usually 60-70 minutes long, so it's not so much about how many pages, but how many "parts."(less)

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Will Byrnes
Wood offers a chapter each to a slew of household names from the time of the Revolution. It is like getting to read a very well-informed mini-biography on each. One thing I found was that the turmoil of the post revolutionary period left me in a bit of a daze. There was not only considerable diversity among the founders in terms of their macro views (if not their gender or ethnicity) and when this is combined with the rapid and significant changes the foundling nation was undergoing, it makes th ...more
robin friedman
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
America's Founders And American Ideals

For much of our history, the leaders of the American Revolution and the framers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution enjoyed iconic, mythic status. But they have also been subjected to criticism and debunking, based on their alleged elitism, racism, and sexism in our increasingly cynical, skeptical age.

In his recent collection of essays, "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different" (2006), Gordon Wood offers thoughtful meditati
Jul 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book at the library on July 3 so I could start reading it the next day. My plan was to spend most of the 4th trying to learn a little about some of the founding fathers. It was a great idea, however I probably should have picked something a little less daunting since this book was obviously intended for people who had paid more attention during their history classes and were already familiar with the founders. Nevertheless I kept at it and if nothing more it has proven that I am ...more
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book that looks at the characters of the American Revolution & what made them different. The book assumes a working knowledge of the time period since it focuses on eight men & what their motivations were. Extensively documented, other readings are suggested as needed. His basic premise is that these men were revolutionaries that fought themselves out of a job. If he has a political axe to grind, he kept it out of his writing as far as I could tell, which I appreciated, especially a ...more
David Eppenstein
I love history especially that of our Revolution so I was looking forward to reading this book. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I did not. Certainly Wood's scholarship and writing are not at fault as the book is quite well researched and written. Unfortunately, it is a book that only a reader devoted to historical scholarship and political science is likely to enjoy. While the book offers chapters on several of our Founders the book is really about their various political ideas and philosoph ...more
Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different is a series of essays covering each of eight different founding fathers: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and
Vincent Li
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Similar to the Idea of America in that Revolutionary Characters is a collection of previously written essays edited for a more popular audience. I actually fairly enjoy the format, which paints the main themes of Wood's work (the gentlemen culture, republicanism, and the birth of democratic culture) while still being accessible (unlike the very dense Radicalism of the American Revolution [worth a read, but hardly a poolside read]). The book consists of short biographical sketches of Washington, ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
While Gordon Wood is one of the leading historians of the 18th Century nascent American republic and his depth and breadth of knowledge is remarkably impressive, this book comes across as a pale version of Joseph Ellis's "Founding Brothers," with the essays on select founders. Too often does the author come across as lecturing the reader about these significant revolutionary men instead of simply weaving a binding and mesmerizing analysis that continually engages the reader upon each page turn. ...more
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon by: Jim MacLachlan
I enjoyed listening to these essays during my daily commute. I learned many things about my American history and heritage. It also inspired me to read some of Thomas Paine's works. I think I have also found a way to get more non-fiction into my reading diet. It's definitely more enjoyable to listen to and focus on via an audiobook then overcoming the stigma of reading what amounts to a textbook. ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am a big fan of the founding fathers and this book offered a different perspective on them than your typical biography or non-fiction. It wasn’t about who they were or what they did, but more why they did it. This book dives into the founders’ values both as individuals and a collective group and how that influenced the founding of the USA.

What makes this book very thought-provoking is the idea of “disinterestedness.” This doesn’t mean uninterested but rather “above interest” and able to objec
Steven Peterson
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gordon Wood is a well reputed historian. Here, he examines some of the more important (and interesting) of the Founders and those interacting with them. Wood's main point is that character was a matter of great importance for the leaders of the new government. When those with great potential--such as Aaron Burr--raised questions about their own character, it led people to doubt them.

The opening chapter of the book places this volume in context. Wood discusses the context in which the Founders d
Brian Willis
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a collection of reworked essays profiling the personal qualities and philosophies of the following Founders: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, Paine, and Burr. It serves as an excellent introduction or refresher on the character and qualities of those founders with the central thesis that the very establishment of the American republic guaranteed that the people who would be chosen to lead it would never replicate the quality of the founders.

These founders
Will A
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle about what made the Founding Fathers "different" is a pun. By taking each of them separately, Wood brings out the differences and disputes between them, unsettling any sense that the Founding was a moment of idealistic consensus. Instead of the Constitution being treated as gospel and the Founding being seen as a period of definite ideals to hark back to, his essays show how the aims and organization of the new nation were always and already subjects for disagreement and division. T ...more
Ashley Nef
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A series of essays essentially outlining just how different from us the founding fathers were as seen by the cultural standards of their day. Enlightening, and sometimes quite engaging. Overall, a good introduction to the founding fathers to get a sense of them, their times, and the attitudes behind the founding of America.

My favorite essay was on George Washington - he strongly argues that Washington was - without exception - the greatest president we have ever had, an opinion I eagerly share
Jan 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Revolutionary Characters was a fun, easy to read book, that brought to life the characters of the American Revolution.

A common lament since the days of the founding fathers has been ¨Where have such leaders gone?¨ This book argues that these men were the product of a unique period of history, and a unique set of ambitions. For the most part, they truly tried to serve ¨the greater good¨ rather than their own self interest - not because they were of better moral fiber, but because that was the vo
Jul 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading several books about the Revolutionary period, I doubted whether this book would be able to offer anything new, especially considering its size when compaired to Gordon Wood's other massive tomes on the subject. However I was thoroughly surprised when I discovered that the author lived up to his name and delivered a fascinating new take on the founders. While the stories he tells about them were familar, his interpretations of events, their causes and results, and their effects on m ...more
Stan Lanier
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good introduction to some of the leading characters of the American Revolution. (I found it particularly enriching to read this in conjunction with Joseph J. Ellis's Founding Brothers.)Two caveats that may deter some readers: 1) The book is a reworking of earlier individual essays (thus, no narrative flow,as such);2) It is clearly a work in academic prose rather than the language of a storyteller. The portraits drawn are interesting and much can be earned when compared with one's own unde ...more
William Thomas
Dec 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
what seemed to me to be more of a retort to gore vidal's book of the same kind, and in by far a more academic endeavor than gore's, this book comes off without bias, detailing in a short and direct way, the personal lives and intimacies of the founding fathers. bravo to gordon wood for including Thomas Payne in this book as a father of America, as well as to his detailing the individual mindset, theories, philosophies, mannerisms and quirks of each of the different men, showing us that they were ...more
This was a very fascinating biography on the founders of our nation. I really enjoyed the chapter on George Washington. The information that was presented about him was something that I was not aware of in the past. I am glad that the author chose to encompass the entire life of the founders instead of just focusing on one area. He presented each of the men as just that, men. They were not perfect, divine or overtly horrible. They were flawed and imperfect, but they were leaders and forgers of o ...more
Dec 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
That old rascal Aaron Burr warned us about historians, who always distrusted the prejudices of historians who shade their studies in a particular direction. Professor Wood, while as brilliant a researcher as ever opened a diary or letter, is so in love with the egalitarian and "republican" attitudes of the likes of Jefferson and even Paine's philosophy, that this effort annoyed my 18th Century attitudes and Tory nature to its roots. Ah, for such skills, and a truly objective and "disinterested" ...more
Kiera Beddes
There was a chapter dedicated to each of the Founding Fathers: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr (although I don't know for the life of me why anyone would want to dedicate a whole chapter to stupid Aaron Burr). I appreciated that Wood took a honest look at each man, without all the hero worship that you find so often in history textbooks. All their virtues and faults were discussed as well as their ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, and a useful one-stop for those who already know some revolutionary war history to gain deeper insight into the unique legacy and true character of the major founders.

Gordon Wood is a conservative in the classic sense, and it is his insightful essay on the decline of the intellectual of leadership of great men (and the rise of the unthinking masses) which I found most original and a little saddening.

Highly recommended.
Matthew Sparling
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A unique perspective on the Revolutionary men (including some of the lesser known) and how their personalities and beliefs shaped their politics. A good book for someone interested in either revolutionary war history or political history.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thoughtful essays on American founders. Helped me better understand their worldviews and appreciate their struggles to create and maintain an infant country 200+ years ago.
Aug 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gordon S. Wood’s book on the founders of the United States presents a series of biographical sketches compiled from a selection of his published works. He uses both previously written articles as well as books he has written and condensed them for this compilation. The chapters examine the expected “Characters” like Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Adams. Wood also discusses the relevance of men like Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr in their relation to the founders in the last ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gordon Wood is good. Really good. This series of essays about the character and personal ideologies of a few of our founders is completely applicable to the leadership in the US right now, and that will make you sad. Not sugar coated, but you can really see how far we have come, or perhaps, fallen.
Wood sets the stage for his "biovignettes" of selected revolutionaries by describing their world. Each was influenced positively or negatively by the aristocracy of the old world.

The best essay on "character" (as I took the title) is that of Washington, probably because he had so much of it. GW not only rejects the opportunity to be like a monarch, he actually frees his slaves and provides for those too feeble to benefit from freedom. Washington worries about the propriety of this and that and i
Jul 28, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Nearly all of what follows has been previously published, either in articles, reviews, or books . . ."
- Gordon S. Wood

And there you have it. If you have ever read anything about the eight founding fathers (founders) briefly summarized in this book then don't bother with Gordon Wood's Revolutionary Characters.

On the other hand, if you never read anything about George Washington et al, don't remember anything from high school or college and are not interested in learning a whole lot, then Wood's
A series of vivid sketches of America’s “founders.” (One no longer uses the term “Founding Fathers” – though they still all happen to be male.) Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin – and lastly, Aaron Burr. Wood has a particular thesis for each, which tends to get repetitious, the worst being the case of John Adams, who really seems to piss Wood off.

Wood’s main argument: what made the Founders different than subsequent generations was that they were ar
Ernie Bowman
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Revolutionary Characters by Gordon S. Wood is a book that aims to discover “what made the founders different?” I found it to be a super helpful, if slightly academic, companion to a lot of the Presidential biographies I have been reading. Of particular interest was the author’s supposition and conclusion that by planting the seeds of democracy, the Founders actually sowed the seeds of their own demise. They saw themselves as the new aristocracy, qualified to lead and govern by virtue of educatio ...more
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Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .

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