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American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic Paperback – October 14, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307276457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307276452
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (Founding Brothers) among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery). Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit. (Nov. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers embraced American Creation for the same reason they enjoyed Ellis’s previous books: his treatment of the Founding Fathers is neither idolatrous nor iconoclastic. He portrays them as the fascinating, complex, and human characters they really were. Some historians disagreed with details of Ellis’s interpretation, but they tended to emphasize that, like the founders themselves, Ellis has created a useful framework in which the ideas of the Revolutionary period can be discussed. Ellis’s prose, on the other hand, did not inspire any comparisons with Thomas Jefferson’s; in fact, several reviewers suggested another round of editing. But all critics agreed that the author’s masterful handling of the material checked and balanced the occasional tyrannical sentence.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Joseph J. Ellis is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke and author of the National Book Award-winning American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers, and The Passionate Sage (Norton).

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#81 in Books > History
#81 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Nevertheless, Ellis is an excellent writer and makes his case well.
Bookworm Plus
I enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone seeking more knowledge and insight about the founders and the Revolutionary period in American history.
Cynesige
You come away from the book understanding far more about what the politics of the founding were really like.
M. Strong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

177 of 188 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on November 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Countless historians have written about the accidental or noninevitable nature of the American Revolution. The story bears repeating for Americans have enough trouble remembering what happened in their own lifetimes let alone 225 years ago. In the capable hands of Joseph Ellis the miracle of the founding is once again brought to life. As he did in Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Ellis takes another look at the achievements and the failures of the founding of the republic.

Ellis admits that his version of the founding is not very au courant with academic history departments. Here the founders have been reduced to dead white males who were "racists, classists, and sexists, a kind of rogues gallery of greats." Nor does he subscribe to the other extreme view, that the founders were demigods who created the republic through some masterstroke of divine inspiration.

The reality was that the founders were exceptional, but not without their flaws. Rather than one continuous narrative, Ellis has written seven essays dealing with certain pivotal events between the formative years of 1775 and 1803.

In the tradition of the "great man" school of history, Ellis chronicles certain key moments in American history as they were being acted out by famous individuals. Very different from, say, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (P.S.), a victim's history of America.
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111 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Mitchell VINE VOICE on November 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Ellis is a terrific historian and, by self-proclamation, shuns the politically correct editorializing of American history which is a very welcome change from many 21st century historians.

Like "Founding Brothers" which deservedly won many prizes, this book is a collection of "stories" about the founding of America starting from 1775 and the outbreak of war and the Declaration and ending in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. In between are Valley Forge, the writing of the Constitution "starring" James Madison, Washington's Indian policy and the development of political parties. Also like "Founding Brothers" Mr. Ellis includes little known facts to embellish the histories and give a fresh perspective. Particularly "new" were his accounts of Valley Forge and Washington and Knox's attempts to rewrite America's Indian policy. the former put the myth in perspective and the latter was this country's only attempt to incorporate the Indians (eventually) into America.

As good as the content was - and it was very good - I found the pacing and writing a bit plodding. Also, although Mr. Ellis eschews "hindsight" history, I found he engaged in it fairly frequently, especially regarding slavery.

There were some recurring themes through the collection, such as republicanism vs federalism, dubious limits on executive power in the Constitution and the "Spirit of '76" vs the federal sovereignty, but the stories are best taken separately as no central theme carries throughout.

This is a very good history, just not as readable as "Founding Brothers" and some other recent Revolutionary era histories (like "Washington's Crossing" and "Revolutionary Characters").
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64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By M. Strong on November 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While touring to promote his Founding Brothers, Ellis was asked, "Why do we have to choose between John Kerry and George Bush when 200 years ago we could have chosen between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson?" Fascinating question, and his answer, American Creation, is a truly insightful and well-crafted book.

Ellis breaks the founding down into a number of different pieces like the War for Independence, Slavery, the Louisiana Purchase, the Constitution and Native Americans. He treats all of them very even-handedly, framing them in the context of what the realities were around 1800, but also giving penetrating insights into how we might look at things differently today and why.

The theme that runs throughout the book is that the people Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Washington were fallible characters who were meaningfully different from the legends Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Washington we see now. That said, Ellis really shows how an alignment of the right thoughts, the right time and the right opportunity conspired to pull some extraordinary things from people who might have remained unknown to history had the planets lined up differently.

You come away from the book understanding far more about what the politics of the founding were really like. In some ways, they aren't as dissimilar from today's politics as we might think; in other ways, they are, but for very specific reasons that Ellis makes clear.

Highly recommended for any fan of history.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joseph Ellis has already authored a number of very well received books on early American history: Founding Brothers, American Sphinx (focusing on Thomas Jefferson), and His Excellency (about George Washington). This book is yet another very nice contribution to our understanding of the period from the Declaration of Independence through the early 19th Century. The subtitle, perhaps, says a great detail about the content of this book: "Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic." Ellis notes in his Foreword that (page xi): "This is a story, then, about tragedy as well as triumph, indeed about their mutual and inextricable coexistence."

At the outset, he observes some of the great accomplishments of the Revolution and Founding: the colonies won their independence from the greatest power of the day; the Founders created the first large scale republic; they created a secular state (although I would argue that Ellis overstates matters somewhat with this statement); they divided power among states and the national government; they developed political parties as channels for ongoing debate (although, again, the Founders thought that party was evil, and their development was not understood at the time in such glowing terms). The tragedies? An unwillingness to address slavery and the status of Native Americans. In simplest terms, this represents what this book is about, the development of a new nation and innovative ways of organizing governance--coupled with inherent strains that created their own problems.

One of the special talents of Ellis is his richly drawn characters. Here, Washington, once more, is drawn nicely by Ellis, so that he is not the cardboard figure that often shows up in high school textbooks.
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