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American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 30, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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").
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There are so many books out there which pander to the founding fathers as almost God-like figures. Ellis outlines some of the most key events in a very honest, objective, and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by AllUpInYoGrill
Ellis makes the Founding Fathers come alive, while helping us imagine to a much greater extent what it must have been like to live through hose difficult times in our history. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
This remarkable book takes another look at the founding fathers from Virginia and comes to an unexpected conclusion. History at its best.Published 4 months ago by David Salsburg
I’ve always enjoyed reading books written by Joseph J. Ellis. This book details several events which Ellis considers significant to the latter part of the 18th century. Read morePublished 5 months ago by 101Eagle
The idea that the creation of our country was badly flawed is very interesting. Maybe this book will shed some light on the issues.Published 7 months ago by GreenDragon
an extremely well written and detailed history lesson. i thought i understood early american history but this book took it to a new level.Published 11 months ago by paul katus