A series of relatively short vignettes on various members of the "Revolutionary Generation" (Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Burr, Franklin & Madison) and their relationships with one another, particularly their rivalries, friendships and (in some cases) hatreds. The first chapter deals with the long, bitter political rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr that culminated in their famous duel in 1804. The last chapter, fittingly, details the rise, fall and rebirth of the remarkable friendship between Jefferson and Adams, ending with their mythic deaths only hours apart on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In between, we see how James Madison was the Karl Rove of his day, how even mentioning the slavery issue in Congress nearly destroyed the Republic, that George Washington (and only George Washington) could have led the nation after the ratification of the Constitution, and how the French Revolution almost ended the American Revolution. All in all, this short work (248 pages) is a reminder of how human, frail and fallible the Founders really were, and what a delicate and fragile creation the early Republic was, nearly collapsing several times into civil war or military dictatorship. It's length correctly reflects that this is not a very deep volume, but the stories are engrossing, some of the details remarkable (Hamilton's plot to lead a military coup; Washington's dream of bringing Native Americans into the nation instead of forcing them to the margins) and the writing brisk and clear. Recommended, possibly as a companion to actual full biographies of the Founders.
Labels: Book Reviews