Revolutionary Characters : What Made the Founders Different
Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:
Even when the greatness of the founding fathers isn't being debunked, it is a quality that feels very far away from us indeed: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Co. seem as distant as marble faces carved high into a mountainside. We may marvel at the fact that fate placed such a talented cohort of political leaders in that one place, the east coast of North America, in colonies between Virginia and Massachusetts, and during that one fateful period, but that doesn't really help us explain it or teach us the proper lessons to draw from it. What did make the founders different? Now, the incomparable Gordon Wood has written a book that shows us, among many other things, just how much character did matter.
Revolutionary Characters offers a series of brilliantly illuminating studies of the men who came to be known as the founding fathers. Each life is considered in the round, but the thread that binds the work together and gives it the cumulative power of a revelation is this idea of character as a lived reality for these men. For these were men, Gordon Wood shows, who took the matter of character very, very seriously. They were the first generation in history that was self-consciously self-made, men who understood the arc of lives, as of nations, as being one of moral progress. They saw themselves as comprising the world's first true meritocracy, a natural aristocracy as opposed to the decadent Old World aristocracy of inherited wealth and station.
Gordon Wood's wondrous accomplishment here is to bring these men and their times down to earth and within our reach, showing us just who they were and what drove them. In so doing, he shows us that although a lot has changed in two hundred years, to an amazing degree the virtues these founders defined for themselves are the virtues we aspire to still.
Bancroft and Pulitzer Prize–winner Wood suggests that behind America's current romance with the founding fathers is a critique of our own leaders, a desire for such capable and disinterested leadership as was offered by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Provocatively, Wood argues that the very egalitarian democracy Washington and Co. created all but guarantees that we will "never again replicate the extraordinary generation of the founders." In 10 essays, most culled from the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, Wood offers miniature portraits of James Madison, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine. The most stimulating chapter is devoted to John Adams, who died thinking he would never get his due in historians' accounts of the Revolution; for the most part, he was right. This piece is an important corrective; Adams, says Wood, was not only pessimistic about the greed and scrambling he saw in his fellow Americans, he was downright prophetic—and his countrymen, then and now, have never wanted to reckon with his critiques. Wood is an elegant writer who has devoted decades to the men about whom he is writing, and taken together, these pieces add perspective to the founding fathers cottage industry.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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About the Author
Gordon S. Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and professor of history at Brown University. His 1969 book, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, received the Bancroft and John H. Dunning prizes and was nominated for the National Book Award. His 1992 book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Emerson Prize. Wood contributes regularly to The New Republic and The New York Review of Books.
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