A New History of the Invention of America
By Jack Rakove
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618267460, 496pp.
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
In the early 1770s, the men who invented America were living quiet, provincial lives in the rustic backwaters of the New World, devoted primarily to family, craft, and the private pursuit of wealth and happiness. None set out to become "revolutionary" by ambition, but when events in Boston escalated, they found themselves thrust into a crisis that moved, in a matter of months, from protest to war.
In this remarkable book, the historian Jack Rakove shows how the private lives of these men were suddenly transformed into public careers--how Washington became a strategist, Franklin a pioneering cultural diplomat, Madison a sophisticated constitutional thinker, and Hamilton a brilliant policymaker. Rakove shakes off accepted notions of these men as godlike visionaries, focusing instead on the evolution of their ideas and the crystallizing of their purpose. In "Revolutionaries," we see the founders before they were fully formed leaders, as individuals whose lives were radically altered by the explosive events of the mid-1770s. They were ordinary men who became extraordinary--a transformation that finally has the literary treatment it deserves.
Spanning the two crucial decades of the country's birth, from 1773 to 1792, "Revolutionaries" uses little-known stories of these famous (and not so famous) men to capture--in a way no single biography ever could--the intensely creative period of the republic's founding. From the Boston Tea Party to the First Continental Congress, from Trenton to Valley Forge, from the ratification of the Constitution to the disputes that led to our two-party system, Rakove explores the competing views of politics, war, diplomacy, and society that shaped our nation.
Thoughtful, clear-minded, and persuasive, "Revolutionaries" is a majestic blend of narrative and intellectual history, one of those rare books that makes us think afresh about how the country came to be, and why the idea of America endures.
"A brilliant account of the Revolution that focuses on the men who led it. Rakove offers the reader a new and fascinating method of combining analytic and narrative history. By using some marvelous vignettes and beautifully crafted portraits of the principal characters as a means of exploring the crucial issues of the Revolutionary era, including state constitution-making, diplomacy, anti-slavery, and the framing of the federal government, he has written a remarkable work of history."—Gordon S. Wood, author of Empire of Liberty and Revolutionary Characters
"In Revolutionaries, Jack Rakove delivers what he promises: a 'new history of the invention of America.' Under his deft touch, historical subjects come alive in a series of richly drawn portraits. Deeply researched and elegantly written, this book marks a milestone in the study of America's revolutionary period. It should not be missed." —Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello
—BookPage "REVOLUTIONARIES is a serious, probing work of history that boils down a career’s worth of thinking and research."
—New York Times "[a] wide-ranging and nuanced group portrait of the Founding Fathers"
—The New Yorker "Refreshingly accessible and deeply informed…a richly detailed, heavily documented, but eminently readable account of the men who led the Revolution, wrote the Constitution and persuaded the citizens of the 13 original states to adopt it….Rakove manages to demystify the leaders of the Revolutionary era even while clarifying the terms on which they continue to deserve our admiration."
—San Francisco Chronicle "superb...a distinctive, fresh retelling of this epochal tale....a sparkling, authoritative work...Everyone interested in the founding of the U.S. will want to read this book.
—STARRED Publishers Weekly "Essential reading for both scholars and fans of Joseph Ellis (American Creation) and David McCullough (1776) as well as a poignant and engaging glimpse into the world of the revolutionary generation."
—Library Journal, STARRED "Distilling an academic career’s worth of understanding about the Revolution, Rakove vibrantly restores it as the lived experience of those who led it."
—Booklist "[T]he creation of the United States was nothing if not an arduous, argumentative process. The author dissects that process in exquisite detail, getting inside the minds of these very different men to find out what made them tick...[Rakove's] feel for the politics of the day is unerring. An ambitious, intelligent exploration into the intellectual underpinnings of the Revolution."
George Washington was a military veteran with a checkered past. John Adams was a farmer turned lawyer. And according to historian Jack Rakove, the men we know as America's Founding Fathers were, in general, disinclined to revolt. Rakove's new book is Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America. More at NPR.org
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