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Showing 1-10 of 308 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 755 reviews
on September 21, 2016
This is a must read for anyone interested in real U.S. history - not the PC-fabricated history now being pushed in our schools.
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on March 13, 2017
This is one of the most well-known work on early American history. Ellis's argument of the gentlemanly American Revolution, which stresses consensus and compromise, is persuasive. His analysis of John Adams is more sympathetic than the mainstream view. This book is a good bridge to link general readership and academic scholarship. In an era of polarizing politics and increasing hostile interaction between different parts of the society, politicians and laymen alike should really look into the days of Washington and understand some of the true values of American political structure.
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on April 16, 2017
A good collection of vignettes about the various founding fathers who developed a brotherhood having experienced a shared bonding "coming of age" with the country even they were many divisive battles amongst the "brothers". I wish Prof. Ellis had done more to tie them together into a unifying these better.
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on October 15, 2015
A concise, witty, very interesting account of the Framers in the context of their relationships with each other - friends, allies, partners and sometimes rivals and even bitter enemies. Ellis definitely earned his Pulitzer with this one. Highly recommended.
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on March 30, 2013
It's easy for those of us living in the 21st century to take the revolutionary generation for granted. The Founding Fathers, the American War of Independence, and the establishment of an independent United States have become so familiar to our country's history that it's difficult to imagine a different course of events. In "Founding Brothers," Joseph Ellis takes us back to the late 18th century to remind us about the fragility of the new republic, and how incredible it was that history turned out the way it did.

After grabbing our attention with page-turning coverage of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Mr. Ellis focuses on the major issues the new republic faced following the establishment of the Constitution and the inauguration of the first president, George Washington. The immediate pressing issue was the financial status of the United States. With the states facing accumulated debt from the expenses of fighting the Revolutionary War, the debate centered on whether the federal government should assume the debt of the several states. Such a move was opposed by states like Virginia, which paid off its debts responsibly. In exchange for building a capital for the federal government on the Potomac, key supporters from the South agreed to a compromise. So began the accumulation of our national debt and the establishment of a site for the nation's capital of Washington D.C.

Other key issues during the time included ardent relations with France, the establishment of land and naval military forces, and the issue few chose to talk about: slavery. Mr. Ellis dedicates an entire chapter to the mindset the Founding Fathers had when dealing with one of the most polarizing issues at the time. For those of us living with 21st-century hindsight, it may seem obvious and reactionary to say that the revolutionary generation should have struck an immediate blow to the institution of slavery. However, without compromises with members of the South, the constitutional experiment would have ceased to exist. Mr. Ellis titles this chapter "The Silence," implying that the Founders decided this was the most pragmatic way to deal with the issue at the time. Unlike us, they could not foresee this issue being resolved through a civil war over seventy years down the road.

During this key moment in American history, Mr. Ellis does a remarkable job in reminding us that the Founding Fathers were living, thinking human beings who faced the unique and tough challenges that came with establishing a free republic. For readers who want to understand the often-romanticized history of the beginnings of the United States and the men who made it happen, you can't do much better than this book.
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on November 7, 2016
The way Joseph Ellis wades through a massive amount of material on the Founding Brothers and puts it in easy to understand prose,makes a pleasurable reading and learning experience.The Founding Brothers had an impossible goal of getting thirteen states to bind together as a single nation.It seems this process continues with all of the stumbling blocks of evolution.
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on December 15, 2013
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- "In the long run, the evolution of an independent American nation, gradually developing its political and economic strength over the nineteenth century within the protective constraints of the British Empire, was probably inevitable. This was Paine's point. But that was not the way history happened. The creation of a separate American nation occurred suddenly rather than gradually, in revolutionary rather than evolutionary fashion, the decisive events that shaped the political ideas and institutions of the emerging state all taking place with dynamic intensity during the quarter of the eighteenth century. No one present at the start knew how it would turn out in the end. What in retrospect has the look of a foreordained unfolding of God's will was in reality an improvisational affair in which sheer chance, pure luck both good and bad—and specific decisions made in the crucible of specific military and political crises determined the outcome. At the dawn of a new century, indeed a new millennium, the United States is now the oldest enduring republic in world history, with a set of political institutions and traditions that have stood the test of time. The basic framework for all these institutions and traditions was built in a sudden spasm of enforced inspiration and makeshift construction during the final decades of the eighteenth century."

2- " My own answers to these questions are contained in the stories that follow, which attempt to recover the sense of urgency and improvisation, what it looked and felt like, for the eight most prominent political leaders in the early republic. They are, in alphabetical order. Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. While each episode is a self-contained narrative designed to illuminate one propitious moment with as much storytelling skill as I can muster, taken together they feature several common themes. First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix...Second, they all knew one another personally, meaning that they broke bread together, sat together at countless meetings, corresponded with one another about private as well as public matters...Third, they managed to take the most threatening; and divisive issue off the political agenda...Fourth, the faces that look down upon us with such classical dignity in those portraits by John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale, the voices that speak to us across the ages in such lyrical cadences, seem so mythically heroic, at least in part, because they knew we would be looking and listening. All the vanguard members of the revolutionary generation developed a keen sense of their historical significance even while they were still making the history on which their reputations would rest."

3- "In the wake of other national movements—the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, as well as the multiple movements for national independence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—the leadership class of the successful revolution proceeded to decimate itself in bloody reprisals that frequently assumed genocidal proportions. But the conflict within the American revolutionary generation remained a passionate yet bloodless affair in which the energies released by national independence did not devour its own children. Th Burr-Hamilton duel represented the singular exception to this rule."

4- "By selecting the Potomac location, the Congress had implicitly decided to separate the political and financial capitals of the United "States. All the major European capitals—Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Vienna—were metropolitan centers that gathered together the political, economic, and cultural energies of their respective populations in one place. The United States was almost inadvertently deciding to segregate them. The exciting synergy of institutional life in an all-ll-purpose national metropolis was deemed less important than the dangerous corruptions likely to afflict a nexus of politicians and financier."

5- "For the next seventy years, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1986, the essence of political wisdom in the emergent American republic was to insist that such choices did not have to be made. But the recognition that these were the competing options, the contested versions, if you will, of what the core legacy of the American Revolution truly meant, first became visible in the summer of 1790. Thee Constitution did not resolve these questions; it only provided an orderly framework within which the arguments could continue. Nor would it be historically correct to regard the issues at stake as exclusively or even primarily constitutional. Legalistic debates over federal versus state sovereignty were just the most accessible handles to grab, t the safest and most politically suitable ways to talk about alternative national visions. The Compromise of 1790 is most famous for averting a political crisis that many statesmen of the time considered a threat to the survival of the infant republic. But it also exposed the incompatible expectations concerning Americas future that animated these same st statesmen. In a sense, it is a very old story which has been rendered even more familiar by the violent dissolution of revolutionary regimes i; in modern day emergent nations: Bound together in solidarity against t the imperialistic enemy, the leadership fragments when the common enemy disappears and the different agenda for the new nation must confront its differences. Securing a revolution has proven to be a much more daunting assignment than winning one. The accommodation that culminated in the agreement reached over Jefferson's dinner table provides a momentary exposure of the sharp differences dividing the leadership of the revolutionary generation: sectional versus national allegiance; agrarian versus commercial economic priorities; diffusion versus consolidation as social ideals; an impotent versus a potent federal government. The compromise reached did not resolve these conflicts so much as prevent them from exploding when the newly created government was so vulnerable; it bought time during which the debate could continue."

6- "The main themes of the Farewell Address are just as easy to state succinctly as they are difficult to appreciate fully. After declaring his irreversible intention to retire, Washington devoted several paragraphs to the need for national unity. He denounced excessive partisanship, most especially when it took the form of political parties pursuing a vested ideological agenda or sectional interest groups oblivious to the advantages of cooperation. The rest of the Farewell Address was then devoted to foreign policy, calling for strict American neutrality and diplomatic independence from the tangled affairs of Europe..."Washington was not claiming to offer novel prescriptions based on his original reading of philosophical treatises or books; quite the opposite, he was reminding his countrymen of the venerable principles he had acquired from personal experience, principles so obvious and elemental that they were at risk of being overlooked by his contemporaries; and so thoroughly grounded in the American Revolution that they are virtually invisible to a more distant posterity."

7- "Finally, Adams apprised Jefferson: "Your distinction between natural and artificial Aristocracy does not appear to me well founded." One might be able to separate wealth from talent in theory, but in practice, and in all societies, they were inextricably connected: "The five Pillars of Aristocracy," he argued, "are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time, over bear any one or both of the two last." But it would never come to that anyway, because the qualities Jefferson regarded as artificial and those he regarded as natural were all mixed together inside human nature, then mixed together again within society, in blended patterns that defied Jefferson's neat dissections."

8- "They both (Adams and Jefferson) did anticipate, albeit from decidedly different perspectives,;, the looming sectional crisis between North and South that their partnership stretched across. "I fear there will be greater difficulties to preserve our Union," Adams warned, "than You and I, our Fathers Brothers Disciples and Sons have had to form it." Jefferson concurred, though the subject touched the most explosive issue of all—namely, the unmentionable fact of slavery. Even the ever-candid Adams recognized that this was the forbidden topic, the one piece of ground declared off-limits by mutual consent. With one notable exception, the dialogue between Adams and Jefferson, so revealing in its engagement of the conflicting ideas and impulses that shaped the American Revolution, also symbolized the unofficial policy of silence within the revolutionary generation on the most glaring disagreement of all."

9- "One would like to believe, and there is some basis for the belief, that each man (Adams and Jefferson) came to recognize in the other the intellectual and temperamental qualities lacking in himself; that they, in effect, completed each other; that only when joined could the pieces of the story of the American Revolution come together to make a whole. But the more mundane truth is that they never faced and therefore never fully resolved all their political differences; they simply outlived them."

10- "He conceded (Adams) that the era of the American Revolution had been "a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race," but the jury was still out on its significance. He doubted whether the republican principles planted by the founding generation would grow in foreign soil. Neither Europe nor Latin America were ready for them. Even within the United States, the fate of those principles was still problematic. He warned that America was "destined in future history to form the brightest or blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall in time to come be shaped by the human mind!" Asked to pose for posterity, he chose to go out hurling it a challenge."
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on April 12, 2017
An excellent view behind the curtain at some of the founders and an examination of key moments in their lives and that of the fledgling nation they'd helped create. I highly recommend it.
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on June 8, 2014
This brilliantly written text removes the veneer from the American Revolution and the founding fathers. It deals head on with the topic of slavery which divided the country from the outset, but which was not often publicly discussed. It strips away the exaggerated role of Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Constitution, but rebuilds his important role in establishing political parties and his very close relationship with John Adams to produce a set of point /counterpoint letters that attempt to explain the American Revolution. The author underlines John Adams caustic evaluation of his colleagues. particularly Hamilton and Jefferson, but also Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

Upon finishing the book I understand Washington, Hamilton and Adams as level headed thinkers with practical foresight that few leaders demonstrated in the second half of the 20th century. Whereas Jefferson was an idealist able to bend his opinion to changing circumstances, and while his evaluations were often wrong, he represented a striving toward utopia - hope in the presence of Congressional futility to deal with conflicting political issues.
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on September 30, 2013
Joseph J. Ellis was exceptional in making this book burst at its seams with copious amounts of information of each historical event featured in the chapters. In every chapter, Ellis would quickly state the main happenings before delving into the why's and the how's. Personally, I enjoyed this way of starting the chapters because it allowed me to build up my interest and curiosity. With the event burning in my mind's eye, I would be curious as to what initially influenced the event and where this event would eventually lead America. I especially enjoyed the third chapter "The Silence" about the debate over slavery and the fourth chapter "The Farewell" about Washington's Farewell Address.

However, the huge amount of detail that Ellis had in each historical event unfortunately resulted in long chapters. While I did enjoy discovering how the debate over slavery turned out, I certainly did not enjoy the forty pages that it took to reach that ending. Also, with the amount of analysis that Ellis made for every single point in each event, I found it hard to follow and had to reread several paragraphs. I am sure that if I did not have to read this book for my AP US History class in high school, I would have, without a doubt, set the book aside for long periods of time before I would have mustered up the motivation to pick it up again. Despite this, the information that I learned from this book was definitely worth the time that it took to read it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for an informative read.
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