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Jon MeachamIf…I were to note the familiar contradictions of the birth of the nation—chiefly the triumph of liberty, but only for propertied white men—and say that Ellis has written an entertaining account of, as his subtitle has it, the "triumphs and tragedies" of the founding, there would not be much new for me to say, or for you to read, either in this review or in Ellis's book. It is difficult to imagine an educated American who does not know that the Revolution was selective and that the Revolutionaries, many of them slaveholders who were complicit in the bloodthirsty treatment of Indians, were flawed and imperfect. But Ellis rescues his enterprise by going beyond the familiar critique of the founding to explore a point that remains underappreciated: that America was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them…Ellis shares the founders' tragic sensibility, finding redemption in seeking the good rather than in achieving the perfect. The wisdom of the American founding lies in the recognition that the former is possible, and the latter is not.
—The New York Times Book Review