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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  34,579 Ratings  ·  1,581 Reviews

In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic.

Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation'

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 17th 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published January 1st 2000)
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Feb 05, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one.
Recommended to Ginger by: my american history prof.
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
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation - Nevisande : Joseph J. Ellis - ISBN : 375705244 - ISBN13 : 9780375705243 - Dar 290 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2000
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  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who enjoy being confused and lost
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
Dec 23, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
While reading the first part of this book, I wished Aaron Burr had shot me.
Aug 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, though especially Americans and history geeks
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
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Early American History Afficionados
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
Nanette Bulebosh
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
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
Jun 09, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-school
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American history
Shelves: read-2008, history
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
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
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: america
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
Jan 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Ellis sets out to depict the Founding Brothers (Washington, Jefferson, Burr, Hamilton, Franklin, Monroe and Adams) in what you may call their true light. Though the actions of this small group of political elites have left their mark our American history they were like you and I merely people with the some of the same flaws. Ellis does an excellent job of taking this group of extraordinary men and providing everyday insight into their lives, successes, and squabbles and helps to decode ho ...more
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Founding Brothers is a deep look at the men who gave the United States its foundation. This book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I had trouble enjoying the stories it told. It is such a indepth look at this era that I felt I could only handle small chunks at a time. This would be a great read for someone who has a wealth of prior knowledge about this time in history and wants a closer look at the characters who played a role in our government.
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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 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
not going to rate this because I'm not sure what to give it--and it was required reading

in a nutshell, I would have enjoyed this more if I didn't have to take notes on it
Dec 23, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 betw
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historian Joseph Ellis's thesis seems to be that the so-called "Founding Fathers" may be better understood as "Founding Brothers," men who were peers, who watched history unfold in realtime, men who made mistakes and sometimes learned and sometimes didn't.
This expansive history examines these very human figures in the context of (mainly) the 1790's and brings them to life through the lenses of six different events.
Though this was my second reading of this excellent book, I found much that I had
Riva Sciuto
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzers
"They comprised the greatest generation of political talent in American history. They created the American republic, then held it together throughout the volatile and vulnerable early years by sustaining their presence until national habits and customs took root."


For anyone interested in the earliest days of the American republic, this book is a must-read. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Ellis transports us to the tumultuous years after the Revolutionary War, during which our Founding F
Feb 06, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a disappointment. Founding Brothers reads like an apologetic for long-time Founding Father of disrepute, John Adams, whose aggrandizement here expectedly reduces Thomas Jefferson to the dual role of timely revolutionary opportunist and self-deluding contradictorian, which may not be a word. Given this, Adams' non-maneuver of allowing the Treaty of Tripoli to be unanimously ratified by the Senate in 1797 is a conspicuous no-show. Or did it not quite raise the pedestal to advertise his imprim ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone seriously interested in U.S. Revolutionary History
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 ...more
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Ellis has done much work on the period of the American Revolution and it shows in this examination of the motives and personalities that forged the government of the United States.

In Founding Brothers, he takes us into the heads of Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and Madison in this captivating short read, a collection of essays taking off from events of the time including a duel, a dinner, a departure from office and a correspondence.

Jefferson and Adams are of particular interest
Oct 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I have a confession to make.

I only read this book because I am obsessed with the musical Hamilton.

I hate to be that kind of person. And I know I’m not the only one who’s obsessed, but I’ve been a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan ever since I moved 500 miles away from home at age 24 while sobbing along to the finale of In the Heights. It's a song all about understanding what “home” means, and as I drove across the mountains of West Virginia towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I realized that, even tho
May 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is great, and it is a really quick read, if you ever are just hankerin' for a little founding father fix. Ellis doesn't try to cover the whole sweep of history here, but rather is attempting to pinpoint a few moments between personalities that had far reaching implications for the era. It's interesting to me to recognize the fragility of the whole revolutionary war era; this could so easily have fallen all to pieces, and we are all lucky that it didn't. This book also really makes one appre ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book purports to be about the following "founding brothers": Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and Burr. But including Burr as a founding brother is pretty preposterous, and you get the sense he was just there because Ellis couldn't wait to write about The Duel (it is the first chapter of the book). Likewise, there is almost nothing in the book about Franklin.

I didn't like Ellis' writing much: I found it to be plodding and he is fond of overusing certain words, such as, weird
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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.
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“[quoting someone else] the American constitution is a document designed by geniuses to be eventually interpreted by idiots” 17 likes
“Lincoln once said that America was founded on a proposition that was written by Jefferson in 1776. We are really founded on an argument about what that proposition means.” 16 likes
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