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The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  629 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
In The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers from Smithsonian Books, historian Thomas Fleming, author of The Perils of Peace, offers a fresh look at the critical role of women in the lives of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. Fleming nimbly takes readers through a great deal of early American history, as our founding fathers struggle to reconc ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Smithsonian (first published October 14th 2009)
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Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“In their loves and losses, their hopes and fears, they are more like us than we have dared to imagine.”

A worthwhile addition to the histories of our founding. Superficially what seems trivial reveals a deep relevance for understanding both the founders and the product of their labors.

“Newspaper ethics in the nineteenth century did not put a high value on accuracy. ‘Faking’ a story … was accepted journalistic practice.” (Some things haven't changed.)

The universal themes seem to be of men driven
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Rating clarification: 4.5 stars

This book marked a very satisfactory conclusion of my 2010 reading challenge, and will certainly have a permanent spot on my bookshelf. Thomas Fleming's foray into the lives of America's six founding fathers and the various female influences on their lives might have, in a different writer's hands, been trite, repetitive or uninspiring. Not the case here, and if you are a casual to moderate fan of this genre of non-fiction American history, I seriously urge you to
John Behle
Jul 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Founding Fathers and their political histories are embedded in us from our earliest days of learning. Through each year of our education, the legendary feats, the leadership, the courage of these men become memorized and recited. They did forge our nation, after all. However, with all those high school history tests passed, we begin to think of them as monuments, as plaster busts in a marble rotunda. Oil portraits in a dusty hallway of an art museum.

But here in Fleming's well researched and deft
Jun 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on the Founding Fathers and their ladies. The only complaint I would have was that, at times, I found the author to be biased in his treatment of his subjects. For instance, he seemed to take a harder stance against John Adams while spending an extreme amount of time defending the honor of Thomas Jefferson. Towards the end of the book, Fleming devoted, in my estimation, an overwhelmingly large amount of time and pages to discuss the historical dilemna of whether Thomas Jeffer ...more
Jan 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book. It offers an alternative view of history based on the private lives of the icons we call "The Founding Fathers": Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, John Adams, Madison and Jefferson. I am one of those people who believe that you cannot altogether separate what someone is privately from a public persona. Thus, for me, this narrative filled in the outlines of these lives with vivid colorful detail. The book is written by a historian who uses primary sources and tells you ...more
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
I did learn some new things in this book, and some of the chapters were quite enjoyable. However, throughout the whole thing, the author seemed to display judgmental prejudice against some founding fathers while giving a much more generous and fair treatment to others on similar topics (morality, slavery, debt).
I learned a few things and enjoyed hearing more about the founding father's personal lives and how they shaped their public personas. This book has some good content, but is detracted by
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
We tend to so revere these men in our school years learning how they forged a nation that we forget they were also sons, husbands, fathers, and grandfathers. We don't read so much about how the women in their lives shaped them, whether as a little boy, a young man learning about love, or a husband. Well researched and well told; I especially appreciated all the information that has come to light regarding Jefferson and Sally Hemings...not quite as simple or straightforward as is now assumed.
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2014
I'm giving this book a few stars for its sections on George Washington and Ben Franklin. And the it gets a big thumbs down for its treatment of Thomas Jefferson. Mysogynistic, assuming, terribly researched...please. I know my Jeffersonian history and this guy is not on our team.
This book has a light and interesting tone that I found very engrossing. While this is easy to read/approachable it is also heavily researched, which is nice. Very accessible for those interested in more info on the Founding Fathers that's not about battles and negotiations. I found the section on John Adams the most interesting and enlightening. I also liked how much information was included about the wives and the parts they played in their husbands successes.
I found the references used to ex
Angela Holland
I really enjoyed this book. It felt like it read more like a novel than a history book. There were things I learned about each founding fathers. I did not realize that John Adams may have been manic depressant, that Thomas Jefferson had migraines and that multiple presidents did not have kids. I liked the writing style and the research that the author put into the book. It kept me interested from the first page right up until the last page. It was nice to hear something about the founding father ...more
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Enjoyable to read about the lives of the Founding Fathers. Maybe not always the liveliest book, but interesting.
The life of Thomas Jefferson was really much more tragic than I was aware as was Martha Custis Washington's.
I was aware that Benjamin Franklin didn't always treat his wife Deborah well....the author notes by her picture that "it does not take much effort to imagine her brow furrowing and angry words exploding from her lips".
Frankly if my husband never legally married me (they were act
Zohar -
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming is a history book which tells about the lives of six famous men from the perspective of their relationship with the women in their lives. I do love books which tells us more history from the “trenches”, after all, there are very few big events which aren’t made of small, personal moments.

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming is what one might call “history light”. While there was no new information revealed in th
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Well worth the time. I've read biographies of all of men covered by this book except for Alexander Hamilton but still felt I learned a great deal more about each of them. The word "intimate" in the title is, however, somewhat misleading as for for the most part, Jefferson being the exception, the book addresses the personal connections these men had with their parents, siblings, wives and children rather than their love interests or mistresses. Fleming does a good job of explaining how those rel ...more
Paul J
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a nice change of pace and angle. Fleming studies our founding fathers from the perspective of the women they loved. The book covers the Washingtons, Franklins, Adamses, Hamiltons, Jeffersons, and the Madisons. I found some of the family situations disappointing, but all were intriguing. Fleming does enter into the controversy of whether there was a long standing affair with Sally Hemming and takes a more conservative view that he did not. The last chapter regarding the Madisons is espec ...more
Mar 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I do enjoy the not so known history of events. For me it's this underside of well known history that that is more interesting. This book is full of "the woman is the neck that turns the head", to quote My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This book got pretty personal, I did feel like I was a spying on these people. So many little known tragedy's and problems that are not commonly known.

I do have to say....I'm not so fond of Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson anymore... Will be reading more of Dolly and Aba
Apr 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
This is a great book, covering Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison--and more importantly, covering them from the perspective of the women in their lives.

Each biographical sketch is complete, interesting, and often presents new information (such as the Jefferson/Hemings DNA studies and restudies), yet each is admirably brief and beautifully written.

Fleming made me revise my "Founders Supper," those whom I'd want to have dinner with were that possible. Jefferson had
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I genuinely enjoyed this look into the women and men who helped shape the lives of such influential 18th century figures. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson all have their personal relationships analyzed, with particular attention paid to their love lives (marital and otherwise). I particularly loved the story of James and Dolley Madison. I always thought that theirs was a sweet relationship, and Dolley a very vibrant personality (the ac ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough about this book. I think it is insightful, interesting, and offers a different viewpoint than regular founding father's bios. I also love that it is like six bio's in one. I will surley re-read this book in 10 years.
Feb 16, 2010 marked it as to-read
One of my retiree friends in Venice, FL highly recommends this - said she felt like she had spent a month in their homes :)
Jul 30, 2010 rated it liked it
The founding wives had to deal with a lot of loneliness. The founding fathers took off sometimes for years to lead armies, broker peace treaties in Europe, and plan revolutions in other cities.
David Monroe
Nov 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I wish I liked it more. I found it too gossipy and loaded with innuendo without supporting source material.
Kristi Richardson
I would have given this 5 stars except for Fleming going on too much about Jefferson and Sally Hemings. When this was written, I imagine the DNA wasn't that great and he was clinging to the belief that Jefferson didn't father Sally's children. What I didn't like was the way he seemed to make Sally into some kind of loose woman who slept around. My opinion? She was a slave and would only have "slept around" if her owner forced her. So either way it makes Jefferson the villain.

I did like his treat
Lori Weyrick
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Wonderful and Interesting lesson in history !

This book brought history to life for me....not the boring repetition of names and dates taught in school...this was the back story of how they arose to power and story of what was taking place in England and France as America won its Independence...totally enjoyed reading about the wives and women that helped them rise to fame...especially Dolley Madison..a great read...American history is NOT boring by any means...I highly recommend !!!
Lauren Donnenfeld
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the best I have read in the past few years. It was incredibly interesting to learn about the lives of the women involved in the making of America, and their impact on the founding fathers. The book also explored the Sally Hemings/ Thomas Jefferson controversy in remarkable depth. Excellent.
Paula Ramsay
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good thought-provoking read. I was not aware of the full controversy surrounding Thomas Jefferson's parentage of Sally Hemings' children. Mr. Fleming goes into it in some detail giving evidence that is hard to ignore. I am excited to explore his findings more. I love when things confirm my adage of, "the more I learn the less I know."!
Justin Glover
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and filled with historical tidbits

I loved the attention to detail in this book. Although each section is dedicated to a particular Founding Father, Fleming draws on the shared familial connections and friendships to tell one contiguous story, which is the founding of our nation.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
It took awhile to read it. But I was able to read it in sections. Six sections each one about a founding father. It is their personal lives. . Politics plays a part in this book. There were strong women who helped there husbands in their careers.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book, especially since it focuses more on the human interest impact of the families of the founding fathers.
Jo Etta Davenport
If you love history, you will love this book

Interesting read about the life ,times, marriages and politics of our founding fathers. A closer look also at our founding mothers.
May 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some of the imtimate lives were very interesting and others dragged and dragged on. I did finish and was shocked by some of our founding fathers. Just very glad the book is done!
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Thomas J. Fleming is an historian and historical novelist, with a special interest in the American Revolution. He was born in 1927 in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of a World War I hero who was a leader in Jersey City politics for three decades. Before her marriage, his mother, Katherine Dolan Fleming, was a teacher in the Jersey City Public School System.

After graduating from St. Peter's Prepa