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A Generation's Portrait
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.