Narrator: Bob Walter
Published by Random House Audio on 05 July 2016
Length: 12 hrs and 31 mins
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Source: Publisher, Submitted
An illuminating study of the intertwined lives of the founders of the American republic - John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
During the 1790s, which Ellis calls the most decisive decade in our nation's history, the greatest statesmen of their generation - and perhaps any - came together to define the new republic and direct its course for the coming centuries. Ellis focuses on six discrete moments that exemplify the most crucial issues facing the fragile new nation: Burr and Hamilton's deadly duel and what may have really happened; Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison's secret dinner, during which the seat of the permanent capital was determined in exchange for passage of Hamilton's financial plan; Franklin's petition to end the "peculiar institution" of slavery - his last public act - and Madison's efforts to quash it; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address, announcing his retirement from public office and offering his country some final advice; Adams' difficult term as Washington's successor and his alleged scheme to pass the presidency on to his son; and finally Adams and Jefferson's renewed correspondence at the ends of their lives, in which they compared their different views of the Revolution and its legacy.
In a lively and engaging narrative, Ellis recounts the sometimes collaborative, sometimes archly antagonistic interactions between these men and shows us the private characters behind the public personas: Adams, the ever-combative iconoclast whose closest political collaborator was his wife, Abigail; Burr - crafty, smooth, and one of the most despised public figures of his time; Hamilton, whose audacious manner and deep economic savvy masked his humble origins; Jefferson, renowned for his eloquence but so reclusive and taciturn that he rarely spoke more than a few sentences in public; Madison - small, sickly, and paralyzingly shy yet one of the most effective debaters of his generation; and the stiffly formal Washington, the ultimate realist, larger than life, and America's only truly indispensable figure.
Ellis argues that the checks and balances that permitted the infant American republic to endure were not primarily legal, constitutional, or institutional but intensely personal, rooted in the dynamic interaction of leaders with quite different visions and values. Revisiting the old-fashioned idea that character matters, Founding Brothers informs our understanding of American politics - then and now - and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.
©2003 Joseph J. Ellis (P)2016 Random House Audio
ABR received this audiobook for free from the Publisher, Submitted in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect our opinion of the audiobook or the content of our review.Buy from Audible Buy from Amazon.comAdd to Goodreads
The first thought in reviewing Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation is to demonstrate my knowledge of that era’s history. That is, I should connect what I know to what the author, Joseph J. Ellis, recounts and laud the number of gaps that he fills in and there are many. I’m a Washingtonian by birth, so I thought to add something new I might include notes on another audiobook I’ve recently listened to, The Long Game: A Memoir by Senator Mitch McConnell. Invariably, the founding brothers in Ellis’ book played the really, really long game, establishing a democracy that held on for hundreds of years after their establishing it.
Ten years ago we suffered one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history, yet we survived it and rebounded. How does the system these men created work to develop such resiliency? While we usually hear the term “founding fathers,” instead Ellis chose to name his book “founding brothers.” At first, one might think of brothers as a way to describe people who get along, but really this book describes is a group of men who do act like brothers, sometimes cooperating, sometimes working against each other, but that spirit of back and forth, of inane and logical, became the foundation for our country.
With so much information and background on these founding fathers, how can Ellis add something new? Each of the founders: Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson easily has a story many times as long as that of Mitch McConnell from birth to and through their careers. McConnell also highlights the conflict between himself and Obama and the Democratic Party in general. McConnell outlines the way he had to wait as the democrats held power, then the balance went over to the Republicans and he became majority leader. Ellis recounts the types of stories that moved the balance back and forth as well. Each narrative could stand alone, but as a collection, they help define the characters in our nation’s drama. How well does this work?
I think it works differently for two types of people. For those that know these men’s personalities and histories, I think it becomes a welcome addition to the collection to the story. It’s like seeing another camera angle and fuller perspective. For the novice, someone who does not know the men, the level of detail and scholarly discourse might be uncomfortable. Where McConnell’s book is popular nonfiction, where he expertly explains many of the workings of Congress in plain language, this book is a more challenging read. That is to absorb this book best, one would likely read it twice with notebook in hand. That there are six different narratives, what gives the book depth, also makes it difficult to follow. Some of the narratives are strongly related, some loosely related. McConnell followed a chronology, matching familiar national events with points in his life. We see the start advantages and disadvantages of autobiography (one-sided point of view with an easy to follow narrative) to biography (a multifaceted point of view in multiple narratives with a more challenging narrative). Ultimately, it’s a satisfying listen when included in the greater body of works on the individual men.
About the narrator
Bob Walter, the narrator, provides a pleasant listen, but there is little move from the regular inflection of his voice. He presents the author’s cues subtly and effectively, but for readers of fiction and other genres, they might find the book difficult to follow because there are no great highs or lows. I expect the reading would be welcome if we could gather these “founding brothers” together at Monticello.
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