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, 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.
This is a panoramic and incisive work. It deftly explores the varied and surprising intellectual developments of several different leaders of the Revolutionary era--men from different sections and different backgrounds and with differing outlooks. Rakove develops his arguments elegantly and convincingly. He integrates his arguments with developments of the era, explaining how events helped shape his subjects’ intellectual developments. He does not, however, integrate such developments with the broader political currents. Rakove analyzes how his subjects’ intellectual developments helped cause their actions and reactions to events, but he does not evaluate how representative his subjects’ thinking were. Therefore, he cannot analyze how much such intellectual developments helped shape such events. Rakove is such a good historian, and the analysis he did is so compelling, that I finished the book wishing he’d tackled those two questions.
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I really enjoyed reading an in-depth perspective on the founders of the country imperfections and all. Very well research and a book worth hearing twice to gather all that is heard. The narrator was also fantastic and used great pronunciation of the French words.
The topic is handled much better in other books I have listened to. I also had trouble with the narration. I gave it a couple of stars as I did learn some new items on the topic.
What disappointed you about Revolutionaries?
The author wastes way too much time on a number of historically minor characters, with the usual major historical figures absent for long stretches of time. His narrative is disorganized, with much jumping from one character to another, and back and forth in time. Finally, his language is excessively complex and wordy; if something can be described in five simple words, he will use fifty complex ones, with one or two French ones thrown in for good measure (although this does give Bronson Pinchot a chance to show off his impressive French accent).
This book is like an early draft of an extremely ambitious PhD thesis. Maybe after some serious trimming, focusing, and rewriting, it would actually be enjoyable. But until then, stay away. It was pure torture.
What do you think your next listen will be?
Would you listen to another book narrated by Bronson Pinchot?
Sure. He's come a long way from Serge and Balky.
What character would you cut from Revolutionaries?
All but the major historical ones (Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, etc)
Any additional comments?
I listened to this book right after finishing