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The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817

The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817

by Myron Magnet

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Why the American Revolution, of all the great revolutions, was the only enduring success.
Through the Founders’ own voices—and in the homes they designed and built to embody the ideal of domestic happiness they fought to achieve—we come to understand why the American Revolution, of all great revolutions, was the only enduring success.


Why the American Revolution, of all the great revolutions, was the only enduring success.
Through the Founders’ own voices—and in the homes they designed and built to embody the ideal of domestic happiness they fought to achieve—we come to understand why the American Revolution, of all great revolutions, was the only enduring success.
The Founders were vivid, energetic men, with sophisticated worldviews, and this magnificent reckoning of their successes draws liberally from their own eloquent writings on their actions and well-considered intentions. Richly illustrated with America’s historical and architectural treasures, this volume also considers the houses the Founders built with such care and money to reflect their vision for the fledgling nation. That so many great thinkers—Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, John Jay, the Lees of Stratford Hall, and polemicist William Livingston—came together to accomplish what rightly seemed to them almost a miracle is a standing historical mystery, best understood by pondering the men themselves and their profound and world-changing ideas.Through impressive research and an intimate understanding of these iconic patriots, award-winning author Myron Magnet offers fresh insight into why the American experiment resulted in over two centuries of unexampled freedom and prosperity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The founders of the American republic distinguished themselves by making political change without altering their nation’s economic structure and by setting strict limits on government. Journalist Magnet (Dickens and the Social Order) ploddingly retells tales of the earliest years of the republic, through brief biographies of founding figures George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, New Jersey Governor William Livingston, and the Lees of Virginia. Magnet shows how each founder’s ideas about the structure of the new republic grew out of, and informed, his home life and the houses he constructed. “Because they were trying to create a new nation where Americans would be truly at home, the houses they themselves inhabited... offer a vivid glimpse... into the ideal of life they imagined for themselves and for their countrymen.” To walk through Jefferson’s Monticello “is to feel oneself in a microcosm of Jefferson’s conception of the universe, a complex order whose parts mesh precisely, as one sees once one grasps the plan.” Regrettably, Magnet merely tacks on material about the most fascinating aspects of the design and construction of these founders’ houses, leaving us to wade frustratingly through dull accounts of familiar stories. (Nov.)
Thomas Fleming
“The Founders at Home is rich in insight, wit, and wisdom about the men who created America. It’s superb—a pleasure to read on every page.”
George F. Will
“Myron Magnet has produced an excellent book from this excellent idea: We can better understand the Founders, who shaped how we live, if we better understand how they lived in the homes they designed and social circles that radiated from those homes. The American Revolution, he argues, was a success because of its moderation, and this virtue suffused the Founders’ lives.”
Amity Shlaes
“Americans have long admired our Founders from a respectful distance. Now author Myron Magnet pulls us closer, into the framers’ homes and minds, so that we suddenly see not only what drove them but also how very much we share with those first Americans. Accurate, skillful, and utterly charming.”
Victor Davis Hanson
“The Founders of the American Revolution avoided the excesses of other major revolutions, not just because of their seminal ideas but also because they were practical, good men, both at work and at home. Myron Magnet, in this strikingly original thesis, shows how the protection of liberty and property were natural extensions of the way the Founders organized their families and homes. We owe him thanks for this timely reminder that how we live and what we think should not be antithetical, but properly complementary.”
Richard Brookhiser
“Myron Magnet tackles some famous founders—Washington, Jefferson—and some less famous ones—John Jay, the Lees of Virginia—and shows how they lavished the same care on their dwellings that they did on their country. This is a beautiful, entertaining, and inspiring book.”
Amanda Foreman
“The Founders at Home is a fascinating exploration of America’s Founding Fathers at the most intimate level. Highly original and intensely absorbing—Myron Magnet has produced an outstanding work of historical research.”
Michael Goodwin - The New York Post
“Masterful…a work of scholarship and a labor of love.”
James Grant - The Wall Street Journal
“Does the world need yet another book on the American Founders? Yes, indeed: this one…. Mr. Magnet is an accomplished member of the cast of amateurs who have picked up the popular-history franchise that the American academic community tossed away…his book is a labor of love.”
John Steele Gordon - Commentary
“An excellent and fluid writer, Magnet succeeds in proving his point that these were more than residences; they were an expression of the personalities of their remarkable owners. The Founders at Home provides an interesting, entertaining, and informative way of looking at their lives and their world.”
Richard Brookhiser - National Review
“The Founders at Home is subtitled “The Building of America, 1735–1817.” “Building” is a pun: All the men he writes about left homes that, centuries later, are still intact and visitable. But, by a shrewd selection of subjects, Magnet also covers the construction of a country, from first thoughts to finishing touches—from the Zenger trial to the Battle of New Orleans. His cast of characters allows him to erase the dichotomy between overexposure and obscurity. The heavyweights are well represented: Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison. But joining them are Founders most of us have barely or never heard of: William Livingston, the Lees of Stratford Hall, sober John Jay. The Founders at Home gives the pleasures of biography, while putting us back in the texture and complexity of a world.”
Aram Bakshian Jr. - The American Spectator
“Entertaining and illuminating… Myron Magnet has done an exemplary job of portraying our fascinating founders both as remarkable individuals and as members of a flawed and quarrelsome team that still somehow managed to give life and meaning to the America we are blessed with today.”
Rosemary Michaud - Charleston Post and Courier
“His exceedingly well-written and richly documented narrative builds excitement like the best of tales told around a campfire… Magnet masterfully conveys the often halting steps the founders took as they moved toward the creation of our democracy by tapping lavishly into their own recorded words, a reminder both of what very good writers some of them were, and how lucky we were as a nation to have been born in the high noon of the Enlightenment… With The Founders at Home, he has deepened our understanding of the worldview of our most esteemed political ancestors.”
Kirkus Reviews
Why did the American Revolution turn out so well? Across the world and throughout history--from France to Russia to China and elsewhere--revolutions have usually descended into tyranny and bloodshed, but America has enjoyed stability, freedom and prosperity. Historian and City Journal editor Magnet (Dickens and the Social Order, 2004, etc.) delivers the answer in this collection of biographies of our Founding Fathers, describing their ideas as well as--for no clear reason--their homes. The usual immortals--Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison--take up most of the text. Readers may puzzle over the absence of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and the inclusion of second-level figures such as William Livingston, John Jay and the Lees of Virginia, but it is this selection, rather than their straightforward biographies, that supports the author's argument. Historians agree that America's founders aimed to restore what they viewed as traditional British freedoms being trampled by George III and his administration. Magnet stresses that eschewing abstract theories and sticking to narrow political goals ensured their success, adding that subsequent revolutions in other nations aiming to create a new social and economic order ended badly. Readers will now understand the absence of Adams and Franklin. All of the author's founders belonged to the upper-class elite--or, in Hamilton's case, identified with it--so social revolution held no attraction. Since America was more prosperous than even Britain and lacked an underclass, pressure for an economic revolution was low. Mildly quirky but well-argued. It's not controversial that American revolutionaries sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity, and Magnet is happy to point that out.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

Myron Magnet, editor-at-large of City Journal, is the author of The Dream and the Nightmare and Dickens and the Social Order. He was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush in 2008. He lives in New York City.

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