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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  44,098 ratings  ·  2,053 reviews
Informs our understanding of American politics--then and now--and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.

An illuminating study of the intertwined lives of the founders of the American republic--John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

During the 1790s, which Elli
Paperback, 288 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Vintage Books (first published October 17th 2000)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  44,098 ratings  ·  2,053 reviews

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Dec 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
While reading the first part of this book, I wished Aaron Burr had shot me.
Feb 05, 2008 rated it did not like it
This book was the first book that ever made me cry because it was too hard to read pleasurably. I felt like the author took stories we all already know about, and locked himself in a dark room with a thesaurus and babelfish and used the LOLZCATZ approach to writing, only in historese. I frustra-cried, it was that bad.
I felt double bad about this book because I had bought it for my dad earlier in the year as a birthday gift, and when it was on the required reading list of my American History cou
You would figure that the history of America’s “Revolutionary Era” would be milked dry by now and the stories of its players a stale drama. This book represents the effort of a professional historian to forge new insights by looking collectively at the so-called Founding Fathers, stretching a metaphor for their alliances and conflicts as being emblematic of the very checks and balances that they built into the Constitution in 1787. Through a set of six lively essays, he probes the diverse person ...more
Aug 24, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: horrific
"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 Foundi
Aug 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an exciting book! Ellis conducts you right into the political chaos of the early republic, when the revolutionary fraternity was splintering in feuds, faction and duels (which are preferable to purges, terrors, and nights of long knives):

The very idea of a legitimate opposition did not yet exist in the political culture of the 1790s, and the evolution of political parties was proceeding in an environment that continued to regard the word party as an epithet. In effect, the leadership of th
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Ellis gives us six insightful vignettes of leaders of the early American Republic. The author reminds us that the founders did not know whether their creation would last. They did know that it was historic, that it was fragile and that it was a bold experiment. We have to judge them and their actions in that context, in light of what they knew not what has since come to be true. The underlying theme is the dichotomy between the suspicion of central government and the need for a durable union for ...more
I picked this up in high school, trying to impress myself with how learned I could be. I really wasn't prepared for how much I enjoyed this book. I didn't think I was going to read more than a bit of it. Instead, I read it cover to cover and did it in less than two weeks. Which for a book about revolutionary war history is pretty unusual for me. This book deserves all the awards it got. It's impressively researched, fascinating, shows sides to these men that I never would have learned about othe ...more
David Eppenstein
Ellis doesn't write bad history and this effort is no exception. An effort that illuminates the real men that our founders were. ...more
Alan Tomkins-Raney
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a masterpiece. A word to the wise, though: it is not "history light" or pop history written for the masses. This is a very intellectual work; it could reasonably be characterized as fairly heavy reading. It is primarily an examination of the founders and their political activities during the 1790s, though the final chapter tells the story of Jefferson's and Adams' resurrected friendship and unprecedented 14 year exchange of 158 letters, ending with them both dying within hours of ea ...more
Apr 27, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I'm late to the Ellis party. I've long had his name circled but this is the first time I've read one of his books. His style is so distinct that you'll only need one page to decide whether or not you're in, and my sense is that there's no middle ground—you'll either love it or hate it. I loved it.

His distinguishing feature is that he's verbose. He uses more words than he needs and takes the long way home in his arguments. But I found his word choice so vibrant and sentence structure so electric
Vincent Masson
May 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
Roger Ebert once said that a movie isn't epic in it's runtime, but in it's ideas. Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, isn't a great film because it's almost four hours long, but because of how much it packs into those hours. Similarly, Joseph J Ellis' book, "The Revolutionary Brothers" is a short but epic book that tackles and clarifies some of the issues and notable moments that the founding fathers faced with great skill and beautiful language. I learned a lot. ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
Founding Brothers, Joseph Ellis' Pulitzer Prize for History from 2001, is an amazing read. I remember learning about the American Revolutionary War in high school and finding it and most of American history pretty boring (I preferred European history class much more), and so until recently, I kind of avoided the subject in my reading. Well, I have come around on that opinion. In an effort to read about real presidents (in my disarray about Drumpf and a sort of delayed reaction to Dubya before th ...more
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I think giving this book five stars actually does a disservice to the author: It deserves 20! Joesph Ellis' work, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, is a wonderful narrative that immerses the reader in the minds of the founders of the United States of America, and explores the consequences of their actions (or inactions).

Ellis divides the book into six chapters, each revolving around a pivotal point in time, or around specific persons. People mentioned, specifically:
* George Washin
Daniel Villines
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Founding Brothers focuses on short episodes of history rather than the life of a single person or a prolonged event. This approach allows for the main characters consisting of Washington, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson et. al. to enter and leave each story as scripted by history and leads to enhanced depictions of the interactions that these revolutionary figures had with each other. No single individual is the focus of the book, which makes the stories feel more complete as each one comes ...more
Nanette Bulebosh
Feb 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ellis is a great storyteller who has much to say about the men (and a few women, notably Abagail Adams) who formed our country. He focuses on six specific events that, he believes, crystallize and best exemplify the magnitude of the founding fathers' work and their dramatic legacy. Among his topics: the Burr-Hamilton duel, Washington's farewell address, the infamous "dinner" at Jefferson's house, Benjamin Franklin's poignant, end-of-life attempt to end the slave trade, John Adams' turbulent pres ...more
Jack Wolfe
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I knew I was gonna hate the reviews for "Founding Brothers" the moment I noticed its composite rating is, depressingly, less than four stars...

...Wait. Am I allowed to make fun of other reviewers on Goodreads? Will that get me banned?

I'll just say this: the word for a "nonsensical work" is "drivel," not "dribble." And "Founding Brothers" is not drivel. It's a beautifully written, smartly argued, and ACCESSIBLY succinct masterpiece (accessibly in caps because some Goodreaders seem to be under the
Jun 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: high-school
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it
The men who created the United States have always amazed me. They could easily have gone the way of the French Revolution, but they didn't. Franklin, not Robespierre. Hamilton, not Danton. Perhaps this is why I have a tendency to collect books about these men, hoping I can always learn more about them.

The first founding declared American independence; the second, American nationhood.

The United States should have faltered in the 1790s, it's really amazing that it didn't. No money, squabbling amon
Diane S ☔
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
Thoughts soon.
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
by Joseph J. Ellis

This is the second book of my reading of early American History. It is also the second Ellis book I have read and I have become a big fan. The first was American Dialogue which I have mentioned if previous reviews. He write an intellectual history that explains the ideas, policies and politics of the period. He states in the following quote an opinion of narrative histories that I agree with entirely.

The insight was precocious, ant
Dec 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
As it is in most families, siblings can be very different both in physical characteristics as well as personality traits. It was no different for these founding “brothers”. After independence was gained in 1776, Ellis shares with us the good, the bad and the ugly of these seven men and how they personally thought the republic should be carried out based on their ideas of the constitution, what our independence meant and their own personal convictions and goals. As Ellis points out, these guys kn ...more
Aug 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
While nothing "new" if you have any familiarity with the Founding Fathers, the analysis of their relationships proved surprisingly insightful. I genuinely enjoyed this one. In particular, I appreciated the author's rebuttal of the allegations that the founders stated "all men are created equal" but didn't know what that actually meant (since many still owned slaves) and the description of Jefferson and Adams's final letters. I was genuinely emotional by the time the book mentioned their deaths!
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis represents a masterful, insightful account of 6 pivotal moments or episodes in early American History. What seemed most compelling was the author's manner of contrasting the personalities & resultant philosophies of the key figures. I began a rereading of Founding Brothers quite unintentionally, wanting to check the segment on the Hamilton vs. Burr duel just after reading Gore Vidal's novel Burr, ending up reading the Ellis book a 2 ...more
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read-2008
As a lover of all things historical and a casual reader of history books, I thought that Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation was very informative and educational. I learned many things about America's founding fathers and the revolutionary period of history that I didn't previously know. The book is laid out in six separate vignettes, each following a crucial event in that era of history: the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton; a private deal that was made between Hamilto ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it liked it
A wonderful book... save for one item that bothers me so much I give it a 3-star review instead of 4. Joseph J. Ellis tries to convince us that these great men were "posing" for history; that they knew the historic significance of everything they did, and wanted to set a standard for generations to follow.

I respectfully disagree, and prefer David McCullough's approach to history. Speaking at Brigham Young Univeristy in 2005, McCullough said:

"[N]obody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, Geo
Donald Powell
An excellent review of some of our earliest leaders. Great information your standard history book does not reveal. Ellis is a great writer and brings his characters to life in a vibrant and informative style.
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, w ...more
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Using six pivotal moments that helped forge the young American Republic as the basis for this book, author Joseph Ellis, explores how some of the most influential men of the Revolutionary Era guided the 13 fledgling states through the most fraughtful time in the history of the United States. The 1790s saw these men through a tumultuous period in which former friends with competing visions became enemies, as each attemtpted to steer the new nation down a path that would guide it to becoming one o ...more
Paul Gaya Ochieng Simeon Juma
History is a learning tool that we use to make ourselves better...

Joseph J. Ellis in this book takes us back into the lives some of the men who pledged their lives, fortune, and honor in order to secure the independence of America. They were, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and others. They were the 18th century Statesmen who were not only known for their social success, but also for their political success and they have enjoyed
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a nationally recognized scholar of American history from colonial times through the early decades of the Republic. The author of seven books, he is recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. He lives in Massachusetts. ...more

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