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Book Review of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
hazeleyes avatar reviewed on + 331 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1

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By A Customer

This review is from: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (Hardcover)
This book was my first experience with Mr. Ellis and it will definitely be my last--life is short, good books are many, and Ellis is just plain inferior.
As an overview of people and central events, Founding Brothers doesn't entirely fail and may even be called adequate since it's engagingly written and may inspire further study. But to anyone more than superficially acquainted with the era and the men in question, and more interested in a historically sound and fair analysis rather than the currently-prevailing P.C. approach to America's founding embraced by Mr. Ellis, the book not only disappoints, it occasionally disgusts.

Most irritating to me was the fact that a) Mr. Ellis' personal politics are glaringly obvious in his work, and b) he attributes the worst possible motives to everyone. In his world, no one is selfless or has an eye toward the greater good--except maybe his one big hero, John Adams. His favorite target is Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, it is amazing to me that Mr. Ellis could have borne with the company of a man he so obviously holds in contempt long enough to have written an entire book about him (American Sphinx). And my favorite example of this ridiculous and petulant disdain is that he accuses Jefferson of purposely willing himself to die on July 4, 1826 so that he could make a grand and immortalizing exit--one of the greatest P.R. stunts of all time. That Mr. Ellis thinks such nonsense a more plausible motive than a dying Jefferson determined to live long enough to see for himself the dawning of the 50th anniversary of the independence he'd helped to secure says some unflattering things about the author.

After reading the book, I was not surprised a few months ago when Mr. Ellis was disciplined by his college (Mt. Holyoke, I believe) for lying to his students about his alleged exploits in Vietnam. Such behavior is congruent with the essence of a man who could look so smugly down on the integrity of our nation's greatest heroes and find them wanting. The revelation and punishment of Ellis' own indiscretions seems a kind of poetic justice. And though a few lies to impressionable students don't negate the body of Ellis' work, they do put a few dings in his credibility and turn a cynical eye on the morally superior stance he takes in relation to his very worthy subjects.

I won't say don't read this book, but if you do read it, read CRITICALLY. Question Mr. Ellis' assertions and conclusions--as, indeed, all of us should with everything we read. And above all, since one book does not an education make, consult other sources--not limited to, but certainly including those that have stood the test of time and are considered to be the definitive works on their subject--i.e. on Washington, James Flexner's books or Douglas Southall Freeman's series; on Jefferson, Willard Sterne Randall's biography and Dumas Malone's famous multivolume superbio.

The men who founded the American nation were some of the finest people who've ever walked the earth. They merit study and emulation. They also deserve better treatment from the heirs of their life's labors and sacrifices than that accorded them in Founding Brothers.

Read Ellis' latest if you will, but let it be a launching pad to the truly great books available about these men and the enduring nation they founded