On occasion, Iíve
found a really good book because of an assignment in one of my literature classes and you
could say that that sort of thing is to be expected. (Thatís how I found Tim OíBrien
after all.) Who would dare to think that I would find a great novel in a class on the
American Revolution? Thatís exactly what Joseph J. Ellis created in Founding
Itís a book, almost a novel really, set in the 1790ís. That
particular decade proved to be probably the most important in the history of our nation
simply because so much was taking place. It was a new country, with a new Constitution
that left many questions as to how the country was supposed to function unanswered. On
the hard issues it either passed them off to the next generation (slavery), or handed it
down to the states (a standing militia and taxes). Many of the smarter people of the
time thought it was a blueprint for failure.
Instead of trying to give
the reader every detail of every event that occurred in the decade, Ellis picks five
events that were central to the development of the nation; the duel between Burr and
Hamilton, the Jefferson dinner with Hamilton and Madison at which it was decided to
locate the Capitol on the Potomac, the refusal of the Founding Fathers to deal with the
slavery issue, Washington's Farewell Address, the polar opposites Adams and Jefferson
and their eventual friendship.
The six chapters read more like connected
short stories than historical documents. Each is well crafted and pulls the reader
through the 248 pages of the book as if the reader were tied to a sled flying down hill.
Each bump and turn is full of drama and excitement even though the ending of the story is
never in doubt. If all history was written this well there would never be a desire to
If you are looking for a primer on the creation of America,
this is it.