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After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture Paperback – March 17, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

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

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393322335
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393322330
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Lowe on July 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book was published in 1979, so Mr. Ellis doesn't have the same writing style as he does in "His Excellency" and "American Sphinx." If you can get past the tortuous Preface (or better yet, skip it) and the two boring and uninteresting introductory chapters, the four individual chapters highlighting Charles Willson Peale, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Wiliam Dunlap and Noah Webster are very interesting. In reading these four mini-biographies, I have plans to read "Modern Chivalry" by Brackenridge and the works of Charles Brockden Brown, a close friend of Dunlap's.
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Contrary to a previous reviewer, I do feel the preface and early chapters have value. Ellis is attempting to tell a unified story regarding the expectations for American cultural greatness, the roots of these expectations, and the reasons for their lack of flourishing immediately following the revolution. The early chapters and preface provide a context for that story, which plays itself out through the lives of the four individuals recounted in the in the latter part of the book.

These short biographies do complementarily tell this grand story well, but Ellis falls short by not wrapping up the volume with an examination of the common and uncommon characteristics of the four personalities that are detailed. Ellis's superb command of the English language is nearly as present here as it is in his later much lauded works. i did at times feel I was missing important information from the life stories that shaped the ideas of the four studied individuals but this is a reflection of the structure that Ellis chose. It is impossible to get too into the details of any one individual's life in a volume that is using these individuals as supporting evidence for a grander narrative without boring the reader or straying far from the central subject matter.

All in all this is a valuable read - especially for those well acquainted with the triumphs of the founding generation, but not as much its failures and the more minor characters behind the scenes.
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The essence of this book far exceeds the time period of its focus. The timeless issue that is illustrated is the difference between the individuality of the artistic persona versus the conformity / capitalistic interests of the masses. In so doing, the book also illustrates the different perception of the concept of Democracy.

Besides the art of the four men focused on in this book, and their dismay and disillusionment at how America was actually developing, the statements of Ralph Waldo Emerson, as Ellis discusses in the Epilogue, are very important because they accurately delineate the mind-set of the true artist. In particular:
- Each individual need to liberate himself from material and monetary enslavement and cultivate ‘private obedience to his mind.’
- Each prospective man of letters in America must become a sovereign, self-reliant individual wholly unconcerned with the opinions of others.
- Serious American artists must abandon all sense of social responsibility and allow themselves to be seized by what he called ‘the highest Instinct.’
- Artists and writers must begin to conceive of themselves as refugees from the American mainstream.

After The Revolution there was little, if any, unique American self-expression, though “The Quartet” were great American poets.

But in the late nineteenth century a great American Aesthetic did evolve. It was in architecture and in Chicago. Maybe influenced by Emerson’s ideas, first Louis Sullivan and then Frank Lloyd Wright created an American Architectural Aesthetic not copied from Europe or anything from the past.
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I have a great respect for all Ellis' work. I also enjoy his talks on video as well. He is articulate and witty. Looking forward to his next effort.
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