Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

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Overview

Setting the World Ablaze is the story of the American Revolution and of the three Founders who played crucial roles in winning the War of Independence and creating a new nation: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Braiding three strands into one rich narrative, John Ferling brings these American icons down from their pedestals to show them as men of flesh and blood, and in doing so gives us a new understanding of the passion and uncertainty of the struggle to form a new nation. A leading historian of the Revolutionary era, Ferling draws upon an unsurpassed command of the primary sources and a talent for swiftly moving narrative to give us intimate views of each of these men. He shows us both the overarching historical picture of the era and a gripping sense of how these men encountered the challenges that faced them. We see Washington, containing a profound anger at British injustice within an austere demeanor; Adams, far from home, struggling with severe illness and French duplicity in his crucial negotiations in Paris; and Jefferson, distracted and indecisive, confronting uncertainties about his future in politics. John Adams, in particular, emerges from the narrative as the most under-appreciated hero of the Revolution, while Jefferson is revealed as the most overrated, yet most eloquent, of the Founders. Setting the World Ablaze shows in dramatic detail how these conservative men -- successful members of the colonial elite -- were transformed into radical revolutionaries.
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Editorial Reviews

Bruce Heydt
John Ferling provides a more balanced and insightful portrait of three men who shared the stage during one of the most dramatic periods in history. Ferling compares and contrasts Washington with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and in so doing provides an interesting case study of the factors that enable a few remarkable men to ride the tide of history and, ultimately, to shape it.
— American History
Kirkus Reviews
A thorough exploration of the lives of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, and a consideration of their personal motives for participating in the American Revolution. Revolutionary War historian Ferling (The First of Men, 1998) assesses the impact of our three great Founding Fathers by reconstructing their lives from the documents they left behind. This approach produces intriguing portraits of men with monumental ambitions who were frustrated by their status as colonial subjects. (Despite Washington's command of the Virginia militia, for example, he was subordinate to even the greenest captain in the British army, while the most Jefferson or Adams could hope for was a royal appointment as a colonial magistrate.) As the British government adopted increasingly oppressive and hostile measures to subvert the American colonies' discontented rumblings, these three found themselves drawn to the republican ideals that promised opportunity for men such as themselves—not just for those who were born in England and pandered to the right politicians. Washington and Adams weather this close scrutiny well: Washington's character overcomes the reality that he was an amateur soldier and a mediocre strategist, while Adams's often-overlooked role in negotiating the diplomatic conclusion to the war suggests that his efforts were as crucial to achieving American independence as Washington's battlefield sacrifices. But Jefferson's reputation suffers in Ferling's analysis. He argues that Jefferson used his starring role in authoring the Declaration of Independence to cover up his avoidance of military duty and his lukewarm support for the revolutionaries during theearlieststages of the rebellion. In the end, Ferling masterfully weaves these men's personal stories into a dynamic narrative that will grip general readers and scholars alike. Ferling's effective demystification of these three Founding Fathers transforms them from two-dimensional icons into remarkable and fascinating men and captures their passionate struggles to form a new republican nation.
From the Publisher

"[Setting the World Ablaze is] an interesting volume that deftly unites the biographies of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson through the American Revolution...powerful and fascinating...an immensely readable, well-reasearched volume that emphasizes the importance of individual choice and personal aspiration in the unfolding of a great historical event." --Frank A. Cassell, History

"A major work, resting on formidable and impeccable scholarship. It tells a fascinating story of a crucial chapter in American history, and brings that story to life through the experiences of three unquestioned giants of the era. Ferling shows that John Adams is perhaps the most under-appreciated hero of the American Revolution, and brings Washington down from Mount Rushmore as a great but human figure."--Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

"John Ferling places Jefferson, Adams and Washington--the bard, the workhorse, and the leader of men--in relation to the Revolution and to each other. Jefferson is down, Adams is up, Washington remains first in war, and Ferling is a clear winner for sweep and instruction."--Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, American

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195150841
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 428
  • Sales rank: 707,379
  • Product dimensions: 9.28 (w) x 6.25 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ferling is Professor of History at the State University of West Georgia and the author of John Adams: A Life and The First of Men: A Life of George Washington. He lives in Carrollton, Georgia.

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Table of Contents

Preface IX
Prologue: "Embarked on a Most Tempestuous Sea" July 1, 1776 XIV
Maps XXV
Part 1 "Distinguished from the Common Run of Men" Children Who were Fathers of the Men
1 "The Strong Desire of Distinction" The Vagaries of Youth 2
2 "Getting under Sail" The Decisions of Youth 18
3 "This Desultory Life" Toward Mid-Life 41
Part 2 "Fortitude, Vigour, and Perseverance" Waging War and Independence
4 "An Epocha in History" Revolutionaries 64
5 "To Ride in This Whirlwind" Independence 92
6 "Turning the Tide of Arms" War and Reform 138
Part 3 "It Is Impossible to Exceed This" From Despair to Triumph
7 "A Fatal Crisis" The Great Peril, 1778-1780 186
8 "The Womb of Fate" Victory 223
9 "Who Shall Write the History of the American Revolution?" Memory and Meaning 273
Epilogue: The "Sword" and "Bulwark" of the American Revolution 296
Abbreviations 307
Notes 309
Select Bibliography 362
Index 373
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