Saturday, November 3, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Founding Brothers. The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

Founding Brothers. The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis is our book group’s next pick. This relatively short book examines the crucial post-Revolutionary War period when the U.S. was not at all united and was in danger of being unable to fulfill the lofty goals of the war. Having won independence from Britain, the revolutionaries were not quite sure what to do with it. Or, more accurately, each was quite certain he knew what should be done if only everyone else would just get in line.

The men treated in this work, primarily Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington, are more usually referred to as Founding Fathers. Ellis uses the term Brothers to emphasize that rather than spreading a mature, protective, paternal wisdom over the newborn nation, these men grew up with it, squabbling all the way.

The first two chapters can be read as background to the extraordinary musical Hamilton. "Chapter One: The Duel" leads us into what the author describes as an anomalous outcome of the brothers’ squabbling: violence and death. "Chapter Two: The Dinner" had me singing The Room Where it Happens in my head. Other chapters discuss Washington’s Farewell Address (who wrote it and what a legacy it was), the collaborative efforts, infighting, and strained friendships among the men, as well as the taboo subject of slavery.

With such fascinating subject matter, the author does an admirable job of focusing each chapter around its theme. Some chapters are less interesting than others and in places he wanders too far into the weeds, but overall there is a good balance of big picture versus close detail. If you feel your historical knowledge of the time period could use a little filling in, this book is a good place to start.