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The Founding Fathers Reconsidered Hardcover – May 5, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0195338324 ISBN-10: 0195338324 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195338324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195338324
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"Read Bernstein's book if you can. It's both a reminder of how fallible the Founding Fathers were--and yet how good they still look to us nearly a quarter of a millennium later."
-- Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic


"The Founding Fathers Reconsidered brims with insights and revelations, and the jargon-free prose is a genuine pleasure to read." --Journal of American History


"Prolific historian Bernstein (adjunct, New York Law Sch.) follows up the brief biography Thomas Jefferson with another accessible work of popular history on a weighty topic... Recommended for general readers seeking an introduction to the legacies, political careers, and disparate roles of these men in the creation and early leadership of a new nation."--Library Journal


"A logical and easily read examination of the history that made the Founders, the history they made, and what history has made of their handiwork."--Kansas Free Press


"Unsurpassed in his knowledge of the vast literature on the subject, Bernstein is admirably suited to the task. He is also an efficient retailer, having packed a great deal of informed exposition and wise commentary into a small, compact book of just over 250 pages."--New England Quarterly


"Bernstein's erudite and marvelously accessible take on the Founding Fathers is a gem. With masterful economy, wit, insight, and expertise, he makes a familiar story come newly alive in his portraits of the men who made the American Revolution and the early republic. This book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in America's founding era."--Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy


"Even in the wake of innumerable learned commentaries on the subject, Bernstein manages to shed new light on the work of the men who framed the Constitution... The brief sketches of the various framers are likewise masterful and, Bernstein's focus on how their disagreements continued to play out in constitutional showdowns for decades to come--indeed down to the present--lends depth often lacking in treatments of the era."--Virginia Quarterly Review


"Bernstein offers his readers an engaging and erudite account of the men who carried the colonies down the path to Revolution and then took up the task of creating a new nation. In the process, he provides a history of how the founding fathers came to be both idealized and debunked and the role historians and historical events of the 19th and 20th centuries played in shaping the reputations of men like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. This is a book with something important to say both to those new to the story of the nation's founding philosophy and those who have long been students of American politics and culture."--Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution


"A masterly volume brimming with apt description and insightful analysis, The Founding Fathers Reconsidered respectfully brings America's most cherished heroes firmly down to earth."--History Book Club


"This is a sparkling book. The endnotes alonethe product of decades of serious study and thoughtful reflectionare worth the volume's price. Scholars and thoughtful lay readers alike will find The Founding Fathers Reconsidered a rich and rewarding work." --Claremont Review of Books


"Bernstein has something quite helpful to offer-a succinct and engaging discussion of the founders that contextualizes them both in their time and ours and shows how their actions and legacies have been interpreted in the popular and scholarly discourse... In little more than 150 pages, he manages to draw out some of the most interesting and pivotal moments of the founding, describe them in ways that will make them accessible to students, and then show how the ideas they represented are still relevant today. The breadth of scholarly and mainstream topics and ideas Bernstein invokes to illustrate his points is truly impressive." --Jane E. Calvert, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography


"Bernstein eloquently discusses the contributions, struggles, flaws and virtues of the seven key founders throughout the book... a thoughtful, accessible read that will appeal to broad audiences looking for an introduction to the founding era... and the basis for the enduring debates that shape our understanding of the founding era and constitutional controversy."
--Mark Rush, Law & Politics Book Review


"Clearly written and with general readers in mind, Bernstein's account synthisizes much recent scholarship as he traces the history of the term 'Founding Fathers,' offers definitions of what it has meant over the years, and discusses those it has includeed and even those it ought to include...Recommended." --CHOICE Reviews


"This book's great strength is in accomplishing what its author set out for it it to be: a graceful, manageable introduction to some of the best recent scholarship on the Founding Fathers and the issues that surround them." --American Nineteenth Century History


"R.B. Bernstein provides a succinct and fair-minded overview of the controversies.... Bernstein's excellent overview will prove a helpful and impressive guide for the interested general reader."--Journal of Southern History


"A lucidly written and capably argued accomplishment...likely to satisfy the curiosity of readers looking for a brief and lively review of the Revolutionary Pantheon." -- The Journal of Law and History Review


"Bernstein is a winning writer with style to burn." --The Historian


About the Author


R. B. Bernstein, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law at New York Law School, has written, edited, or co-edited nineteen books on American constitutional and legal history, including Thomas Jefferson.

More About the Author

R. B. Bernstein was born in Flushing, New York, on 24 May 1956, the oldest son of Fred Bernstein and Marilyn [Berman] Bernstein. He was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1973. He attended Amherst College, where he was graduated in 1977 with a B.A. magna cum laude in American Studies. While at Amherst, he was a research assistant to Henry Steele Commager. Bernstein was graduated from the Harvard Law School with a J.D. in November 1980.

After three years practicing law, he returned to the study of history, doing graduate work at New York University. From 1983 to the present he has been a member of the New York University Legal History Colloquium, and he has been active in the writing of legal and constitutional history and in activities to promote the historical profession.

From 1984 to 1987 he was research curator for the Constitution Bicentennial Project of The New York Public Library, working with Kym S. Rice under the supervision of Richard B. Morris, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. Among the products of this project was Bernstein's first book, _Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution_ (Harvard University Press, 1987). From 1987 to 1990 Bernstein was historian on the staff of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and from 1989 to 1990 he was research director of the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

In the spring of 1988 Bernstein was a visiting part-time lecturer in history at the Newark, New Jersey campus of Rutgers University. In 1991, he became an adjunct assistant professor of law at New York Law School, where he has taught courses on American legal history and law and literature ever since. In 2007 he was named Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law. In 1997-1998 he also was the Daniel M. Lyons Visiting Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

Bernstein's later books include _Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It?_ (Times Books/Random House, 1993; Univ. Press of Kansas, 1995), a history of the U.S. Constitution's amending process and the successful and unsuccessful attempts to amend the Constitution from 1789 through the early 1990s; _Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America_, coedited with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz; and _Thomas Jefferson_ (Oxford University Press, 2003). Gordon S. Wood's review of Bernstein's Thomas Jefferson in The New York Times Book Review called the book "the best short biography of Jefferson ever written."

Bernstein has just published _The Founding Fathers Reconsidered_ (Oxford University Press, 2009). His books-in-progress include a concise life of John Adams modeled on his 2003 biography of Thomas Jefferson; a study of the First Congress as an experiment in government; and an examination of the place of scientific ideas and technological developments in American constitutional history.

From 1997 to 2004 Bernstein was co-editor of book reviews for H-LAW, the listserv co-sponsored by H-NET (Humanities and Social Sciences Network On-Line) and the American Society for Legal HIstory. He is also a member of H-LAW's editorial board. For three years he served on the editorial board of Law and Social Inquiry, the journal of the American Bar Foundation. In 2004 he was elected to the board of directors of the American Society for Legal History for a three-year term.

In 1993, Bernstein changed his byline from Richard B. Bernstein to R. B. Bernstein to avoid confusion with the several other Richard Bernsteins active in journalism and law.

In November 2002, in addition to his scholarly activities, Bernstein became director of online operations at Heights Books, Inc., a used-bookstore in Brooklyn.

List of Books

Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution (with Kym S. Rice) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).

Defending the Constitution (editor) (Mount Vernon, N.Y.: A. Colish, 1987).

Into the Third Century: The Congress (New York: Walker, 1989).

Into the Third Century: The Presidency (New York: Walker, 1989).

Into the Third Century: The Supreme Court (New York: Walker, 1989).

Well Begun: Chronicles of the Early National Period ((co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

Contexts of the Bill of Rights (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

Where the Experiment Began: New York City and the Two Hundredth Anniversary of George Washington's Inauguration: Final Report of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution (New York: New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1989).

New York and the Union (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, NY: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

New York and the Bicentennial (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter) (Albany, New York: New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

Roots of the Republic: American Founding Documents Interpreted (co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter and Donald S. Lutz) (Madison, WI: Madison House for the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution, 1990).

Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (New York: Times Books/Random House, 1993; paperback, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

Of the People, By the People, For the People: The Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court in American History (New York: Wings Books, 1993) (reprint in one volume with updates and expansions of Into the Third Century series first issued in 1989).

Thomas Jefferson and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America (co-editor, with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz) (New York and San Marino, CA: New York University School of Law and Henry E. Huntington Library, 1997).

The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2002).

The Wisdom of John and Abigail Adams (editor/introduction) (New York: Metro Books, 2002; reprint, New York: Fall River Press, 2008).

Thomas Jefferson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Thomas Jefferson: The Revolution of Ideas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) (Oxford Portraits series)

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Customer Reviews

Definitely worth a read for all those interested in that period of American history.
Steven D. Wittberger
Some problems just have no solution that would be acceptable to us today given the times in which they are imbedded.
C. McKenna
This point comes up numerous times in the book, but Bernstein seems to spend his time pointing out the problem.
Andy in Washington

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Eric F. Facer on May 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a gem of a book. Weighing in at only 176 pages of text, Mr. Bernstein provides us with a nice overview of the Founding Fathers--the world they lived in, the country they created, the mistakes they made, the success they enjoyed, and the legacy they left for future generations. This is not a hagiography nor is it a revisionist denunciation of a world created by a group of "white European men." Instead, Mr. Bernstein eschews the "false choice between unreflective praise and unreflective censure." He contends that we should recognize the founders "as human beings who dared greatly and achieved greatly, but who were beset by all the flaws and failings common to the rest of humanity." [p. 113]

When we study our history, there is a tendency to believe that the outcome of great events was foreordained. As the author Philip Roth once said: "History is where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable." Bernstein demonstrates that Washington, Franklin, Jefferson et al. never thought of themselves as "Founding Fathers" and shared grave doubts about the outcome of their decisions. Indeed, the author notes that the term "Founding Fathers" did not appear in public discourse until 1916--Warren G. Harding was the first to utter this phrase (something to remember the next time you want to win a bar bet). While the Revolutionary War generation knew that they were embarking upon a remarkable experiment, they did so with an appreciation of the risks and uncertainties involved. As Benjamin Franklin famously observed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "Gentlemen, we must now hang together; otherwise, we shall hang separately.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amelia Garcia on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Given the alarming facts that many high school/college students in the U. S. graduate with a paucity of knowledge regarding U. S. American history/civics/government, Bernstein's examination of the founding fathers in conjunction with their milieu is a public service, especially since he masterfully accomplishes his rhetorical goals in the space of 176 pages. Many of us in scholarly circles weed through voluminous texts to obtain background on our topics of interest and discover that these texts could have been written with half of the words. History needs to be revisited in ways that contemporary readers/scholars find more accessible. I suggest that more scholars follow his examples of contextualization with brevity and relevance to today's topics.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By D. Lovejoy on December 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This was an excellent book and summary, until you arrive at the Epilogue, of a fascinating time in history that continues to envelope us today. I'm not sure what the author was thinking when it came time to write the Epilogue. He had a vast amount of material to draw from for his Epilogue and he chose to write about one subject - slavery and African Americans. I enjoyed reading his well-documented material, but it left a "bad taste" in my mouth after ending it with the Epilogue. It's almost like the Epilogue does not belong with the rest of the book. Slavery was a contentious issue while drafting and writing the Constitution; however, the author adequately addressed it several times throughout the book. What happened to the other 99 percent of the material that could have been in the Epilogue? I recommend buying and reading this book up to the Epilogue. When I loan this book to a friend, I may [first] remove the Epilogue...
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. McKenna on January 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While this book starts from an interesting place, delving deeper into the motives and backgrounds of the Founding Fathers I take exception to many of his conclusions. He seems (to me) to only give passing attention to the difficulties faced by the Constitutional Convention over the slavery issue. Yes, he castigates them at length and also writes at length about the way this issue was "kicked down the road" in the common parlance of Congressional actions, but gives pretty short shrift to the real life difficulties faced. He appears to assume if they (the Founding Fathers) were more high minded and creative they could have come up with a solution to the problem.

Why does this have to be the case? Some problems just have no solution that would be acceptable to us today given the times in which they are imbedded. If the South had won the Civil War we would be looking at all this very differently. But on to a more central issue about the dispute. The Founding Fathers were faced with the very real problem of uniting the country to enable it to withstand ongoing threats from abroad. Both the French and the British didn't just go away after the Revolutionary War. The War of 1812 should bring that into stark relief. If the FF insisted on abolishing slavery the Constitution would never have been ratified -- and what then of the United States?

Yes, this led to the Civil War, but the options were limited. Better a Civil War in 1860 than one in 1787.

The author also seems to me to have trouble with the glacial pace at which the Constitution can be changed. I find this a plus. While he faults the FF for this, I applaud them. If the Constitution was easily changed it would be victim (more than it already is) to the passions of the moment.
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