Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

By: Joseph J. Ellis

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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation is a study in the lives of America's founding fathers - John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. It creates six separate snapshots detailing crucial moments in the Revolutionary period of history. Chapter 1 details the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, what caused it, and how events may have actually played out that fateful day. Chapter 2 covers a secret dinner meeting attended by Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in which closed-door deal-making took place, trading the location of our nation's capitol for the passage of Hamilton's finance plan. Chapter 3 lays out the founding fathers views on the slave-trade, as well as their choice to basically remain silent on the issue, leaving it for the next generation to solve. Chapter 4 conveys the magnitude of George Washington's years of leadership to our nation and his farewell address as he made the choice to leave public service. Chapter 5 outlines the years following Washington's presidency and the challenges faced by John Adams as his successor, as well as the sometimes contentious nature of his relationship with Thomas Jefferson. The sixth and final chapter discusses the renewal of Adams and Jefferson's dormant friendship in their waning years, and how even though they disagreed on many issues, they nonetheless seemed to respect one another and enjoy their bantering. More than just a history book, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, is a collection of character sketches in the lives of the men who shaped America.


As a lover of history, particularly the American Revolution, and an occasional reader of history books, I found Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation to be very enlightening and educational. Through reading this book, I was able to learn many facts about America's founding fathers of which I was previously not aware. I was fascinated to learn about their political leanings and their basic platform of beliefs in how our nation should be run. I was also interested to discover that although each one certainly had their own independent personalities and ideas which sometimes clashed very strongly, they were still able to maintain a certain basic respect for one another. Even though their friendships sometimes wavered, most were able to mend fences when necessary. This is a concept that I personally wish more politicians were able to practice today. Ultimately though, I found it interesting that much of their ideology is not unlike what we see in politics today, a sure indication that while many things may change around us, some never do. It seems that politicians of today would benefit greatly by taking the opportunity to learn from the past so as not to repeat it's mistakes.

Beyond an exploration of the founding fathers political beliefs, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation presents many fascinating facts in snapshot moments of history. These were some of the things that I enjoyed most about this book. I have always found forensic science to be very intriguing, so the chapter on the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton which presented a forensic-type analysis on who shot first was very engaging. There were also more eye-opening narratives on behind-the-scenes deal-making; the difficulties surrounding the desire of some to abolish slavery and the choice of the founding fathers to remain basically silent on the issue; George Washington's choice to retire from public service; and the rather unusual friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were political enemies in the public arena, but in private, seemed to alternate between lively debates and long periods of silence when one or the other became offended. Then, there were the small details which really caught my attention and are things that I likely won't soon forget: the devoted and loving relationship between John and Abigail Adams, in which he seemed to count her as an equal partner and rely on her political counsel more than anyone else; the fact that The Democrats used to be The Republicans and The Republicans used to be The Federalists; and the deaths of Jefferson and Adams within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. These and many more facts, quotes and anecdotes are combined with a scholarly accounting of events in this crucial period of American history to create a memorable volume.

My only quibble with this book would be that as a casual reader of history, the rather scholarly nature of it did not always spark and hold my attention, so it took me quite a while to finish it. This is probably more my personal perception than any sort of reflection on the actual quality of the book though, but it's academic attributes do prevent it from being mere light reading. At the same time, I certainly could not call it dry or disinteresting, as I learned a great deal from it. I also appreciated that this was, in my opinion, a fairly balanced look at history, which did not seem to show favoritism for any particular historical figure or political agenda. I would definitely characterize this book as a very valuable tool for anyone looking to learn more about the history of our nation and the men who played the key roles in building it. I was not at all surprised to learn that Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in history. Joseph J. Ellis is the author of several books of history, most pertaining to the time during and following the American Revolution. I enjoyed this book well enough that I might be inclined to seek out other books by him in the future.


Joseph J. Ellis @ Wikipedia