Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

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Penguin, 2006 - History - 321 pages
108 Reviews
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.

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It is also easy to read and goes quickly. - Goodreads
very hard to read, wordy and too analytic. - Goodreads
This book is a great introduction. - Goodreads
Gordon S. Wood has certainly done his research. - Goodreads

Review: Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

User Review  - Robert Pfeifer - Goodreads

An excellent overview into life in 18th century America and the personalities of America's founders. I found it helpful in understanding theses men and the culture that formed them and what lead them to risk so much and become revolutionaries. Read full review

Review: Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

User Review  - Jon - Goodreads

I tend to like most books written by Gordon Wood. I recommend this book to someone who wants to read one book (pretty short too) that summarizes important points about the most important founders ... Read full review


one The Greatness of George Washington
two The Invention of Benjamin Franklin
three The Trials and Tribulations of Thomas Jefferson
four Alexander Hamilton and the Making of a FiscalMilitary State
five Is There a James Madison Problem?
SIX The Relevance and Irrelevance of John Adams
seven Thomas Paine Americas First Public Intellectual
eight The Real Treason of Aaron Burr
epilogue The Founders and the Creation of Modern Public Opinion

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About the author (2006)

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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