American Dialogue: The Founding Fathers and Us

Knopf. Oct. 2018. 304p. notes. index. ISBN 9780385353427. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353434. HIST
OrangeReviewStarPulitzer Prize-winning historian Ellis (Founding Brothers) connects readers with history to enable them to formulate salient questions for the pivotal debate about U.S. destiny—a conversation he hopes to revitalize. There should be constant dialog about the past and present, he argues, but during these divided times, Americans lack a sense of national unity and the ability to converse about the present and future, informed by the past. Drawing from his intimate knowledge of the Founding Fathers, Ellis addresses four 21st-century obstacles to reveal truths from their writings that should infuse wisdom into present-day debate: Thomas Jefferson's inconsistency on slavery and race; John Adams's warnings about financial aristocracy and economic inequality; James Madison's politically expedient concessions and the idea of original intent; and George Washington's approach to national and foreign policy, and the incompatibility of American imperialism with revolutionary ideals. Each discussion relates the historical lessons to the ongoing problem. Finally, Ellis explains why the ingenious but flawed founders were uniquely suited for revolution and government-creating.
VERDICT Ellis's compelling historical examples and astute analysis will raise questions and ignite debate. This work should be read by academics and general readers alike. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/18.]
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