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119 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2010
Jack Rakove (seen recently on The Daily Show) provides in these pages the portrait of a remarkable generation (yes, remarkable) and their role in our nation's founding. Revolutionaries traces the story of the United States of America from a brief but informative prologue in the colonial period well past the Revolution, into the tumultuous 1790s.

Clear, crisp, original portraits of familiar names like John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington emerge in the book, but so too do people lost from view today. Particularly enjoyable is Rakove's depiction of figures like John Dickinson and Jack Laurens, who only rarely receive the veneration accorded to their peers. Also emerging with particular clarity is the much-maligned John Jay.

Revolutionaries moves adroitly between colonial politics, the wartime struggle, and the myriad dilemmas of post-Revolutionary life. Throughout, it offers a vivid, flowing and remarkable (yes, remarkable) depiction of a generation's struggle to shape the world around it.

At a time when Americans seem to expend more energy celebrating the founders than understanding them, Revolutionaries is a welcome window into the tumult of the 18th century. We owe it to them not just to put them on a pedestal, but to understand their world, their dilemmas, and the real differences between them. Revolutionaries, like Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty, is a vital tool for this task.
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78 of 82 people found the following review helpful
With "Revolutionaries" Stanford professor Jack Rakove attempts to somewhat demythologize the Founding Fathers by stripping away the hagiography that has been built up around them over the 200 plus years since the Revolution. Rakove is particularly interested in how these men from varied, yet largely unexceptional backgrounds came to become Revolutionary leaders. None particularly desired or sought to be thrust into the crucible of their age, and yet once propelled in this maelstrom all excelled in their particular roles. Most were largely private men, engaged in their respective professions, who became immensely public persons as a result of their support of the Revolution. They were in essence fairly ordinary men made extraordinary as a result of the Revolution and "Revolutionaries" is the story of how they came to be.

Rakove traces the evolutionary changes many of the Founding Fathers went through from the early years of the 1770s through to 1792, and readers of his earlier books The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (1979) and Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (1996 and a Pulitzer Prize winner) will likely see much here that is familiar. Unlike revisionist historians Rakove isn't here to reinterpret the Founding Fathers or demonize them, but to remind us they weren't always Founding Fathers and that their courses of action during the Revolution weren't necessarily pre-ordained. Any of these men could just have easily become a Loyalist as many of their contemporaries did. While Rakove is hardly breaking new ground here it is well presented in a prose that is easily accessible to lay readers as well as historians and scholars.
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2010
I have read several biographies and histories of the Founding Fathers, and this book by Jack Rakove is a contender for "best" book about the Founding Fathers. If you want to learn about the founders for the first time, start with Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America. What I like is that the well-researched history shows that the founders were men of ideas at a pivotal moment in history, and what they created was remarkable. This book gives you the summary of these people as leaders and thinkers during the American Revolution, with a great portrait of the emerging republic. Highest recommendation!

Too often I hear someone state, "The Founding Fathers believed ________" to make a point as though the founders were monolithic in their views. Actually, they sometimes disagreed. Who's views? Jefferson? Adams? Hamilton? Madison? Sometimes they changed their conclusions as events changed them. Issues and problems were debated and compromised. The Constitution was a compromise document among differing views and competing interests. Rakove seems to have the highest regard for the intellect and skills of James Madison. This book is a great introduction to the major players, including some lesser-known leaders like John Dickenson. This book is more complete and balanced than the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which also shows the founders to be real people with differing ideas but has too narrow of a focus.

Rakove previously won the Pulitzer Prize for "Original Meanings" and wrote a fine biography of James Madison, but the writing was dry. Revolutionaries, in contrast, is more readable. Still, readers should be able to read at a 12th grade reading level to absorb the material.

I would follow this fine book with the outstanding Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States) by Gordon Wood, who also won the Pulitzer Prize and is THE leading historian of the American Revolution.

Also consider the wealth of great biographies of the Founding Founders, including Thomas Jefferson,George Washington,John Adams,Benjamin Franklin,Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2010
I just finished this book, and I really enjoyed it .
So, I went search to see what other reviewers thought of it. And now I'm disgusted!

Amazon.com's Book Reviews are not the forum for griping about cost. Only illiterates would base a literature review on the pricetag.

If you don't like the price, don't buy it here. But what does that have to do with the quality of the writing?!

Listen, intellectuals: If you want a well thought-out, original portrayal of the historic figures we've so readily come to associate with the "Forefathers" archetype, then this is the book for you. Really, it's a decent read.

As for Amazon Book Reviewers, please review products on the merits of the products themselves, not the pricetags placed upon them by their retailers or publishers. That's not what these reviews are for.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2010
I admit that I am not usually drawn to American history. Most of my reading is about Middle Eastern history, and America's role(s) in it. But this book made me excited about my own country's history, more than any other book in a long time (except, perhaps, the great one about Adams that came out a bit ago). It's incredibly well written; it is a page-turner, without losing any academic rigor, and it's rich with historical insight, not surprising from a Pulitzer Prize winner. I encourage anyone grappling with the modern "Tea Party" movement to sit down with Revolutionaries. This is what it was actually about.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 23, 2011
Revolutionaries tackles the well-tilled ground of the Revolutionary War and America's journey to independence. Chronicling the men, the times, events and ultimately the breach with "Mother England" resulting in the birth of our nation, the author attempts to distinguish whether our Founding Fathers drove the circumstances or the circumstances drove them. (The answer is yes to both depending on the individual.) One may wonder if we need another book on these historically poignant times and the answer is absolutely. A new perspective and new information are always welcome; unfortunately - for this reader - this book doesn't provide either.

In a word I found this book muddled. Although the book's premise is valid with many of the familiar historical figures - For instance Samuel Adams was a true red, white and blue revolutionary from the get-go; George Washington took much longer in crossing the independence chasm and there are many more examples including Ben Franklin, John Adams, John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson - the thesis and even the telling of the story gets bogged down with curiously chosen anecdotes and quotes - most, if not all of which, you've read elsewhere.

Unfortunately this "new" history is anything but. You'll be much better served reading books on this subject by Joseph Ellis, David McCullough, A. J. Langguth, Ron Chernow, Thomas Fleming and David O. Stewart.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2010
Rakove, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian, weaves a spell-binding, vivid and authoritative tale. He upends many of our previously held notions of who the revolutionaries were. A terrific read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
There has been no dearth of good books written recently about the Founding Fathers. One might even question the need for another book covering this well trod ground. But Jack Racove's Revolutionaries comes at the topic from a slightly different angle that can only add to our better understanding of the subject. Like Joseph Ellis in The Founding Brothers, he paints vivid pictures of many of the major participants in these events through anecdotes from their respective lives. Where the author, an acclaimed writer and historian, adds to our understanding is through sketching the evolution of thinking of the major players in this most critical period in our nation's history.

The central theme of Racove's book is that these men made the Revolution, but equally so the Revolution made these men. None of these individuals were predestined to have a major role in the making of this country, and in fact none of them began this period as revolutionaries with the possible exception of Sam Adams who is only mentioned in passing. These unlikely revolutionaries started as outspoken, thoughtful men who fervently wished to heal the wounds created by the strife between Great Britain and their American colonies, but were ultimately unable to do so largely due to Britain's misguided decisions. And in the process these men were unalterably changed.

The book gives us an insight into how these men were changed. Nothing else can adequately explain the appearance of these remarkable individuals who began as leaders of the resistance who morphed into leaders of the rebellion, held their own against the pre-eminent military power in the world, and capped their experiences by producing the inimitable Constitution.

This intellectual history of the revolutionary period in American history is described through the evolution in thinking of many of the key individuals of the time. These vivid portraits tell us who they are, what they did and most importantly what they thought. Many of these men are well known quantities such as John Adams, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. But other contributors are lesser known, yet of considerable significance, such as George Mason, drafter of the first state constitution and along with Madison the father of the Bill of Rights; John Dickinson, author of the Articles of Confederation and the influential Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania; and Henry Laurens, President of the Second Continental Congress.

In the telling of the story of these ordinary men who became extraordinary men, we see the competing views of politics, war, diplomacy and society that shaped this nation and in the process gave a generation its defining character.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2010
Revolutionaries moves cleverly between colonial politics, the wartime struggle, and the countless dilemmas of post-Revolutionary life. Right through, it offers a glowing, graceful and noteworthy portrayal of a generation's struggle to shape the world around it. Rakove traces the evolutionary changes many of the Founding Fathers went through from the early years of the 1770s through to 1792, and readers of his earlier books The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (1979) and Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (1996 and a Pulitzer Prize winner) will likely see much here that is familiar. Rakove offers a fresh perspective--welcome and long overdue--on numerous familiar subjects, especially the role of diplomacy and foreign travel in broadening the prospects and worldview of John Adams. But his chapters on slavery and Jefferson are real standouts. In Henry and John Laurens, a slave trader father and his would-be abolitionist son, Rakove discerns a complex family struggle that mirrored a bigger struggle being played out within the colonies and on the world stage.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2010
This book gives an inside view of the American Revolution. Instead of focusing on the battle plans and the aspects most people are familiar with, it exposes the politics and the politicians who shaped the events of this era. It is not a fast read, and it is not for some who wants quick pat answers on the founders of this country. It takes personalities that are often maligned- John Dickenson for example, and exposes their motivations and backgrounds so that you can better understand the person. It gives you the good and bad of these figures, and allows you to take the person as a whole, which is a welcome relief from the hero worship that is so widespread these days. It also gives an excellent background of the British side of things, which is something I had no knowledge of before. We understand what the word "constitution" means historically, and how the founders created a new defintion of constitution that revolutionized the world. This book helps the reader understand what really made our revolution so revolutionary. It was more than just breaking from a mother country, they redefined governement and politics.
All in all, very interesting read, very much recommended!
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