This superb book is about a few of the men—“revolutionaries despite themselves”—who helped birth the U.S. and give it political and moral dimension. In keeping with its subtitle, it’s new in being a distinctive, fresh retelling of this epochal tale. Rakove, a Pulitzer Prize winner for Original Meanings, doesn’t linger over the war for independence. That’s because his eye is on the strands of thought, experience, and vision that led through the Declaration of Independence, diplomacy, state constitutions, and the Constitution of 1787 to the remarkable breakthroughs in thought and intention that marked the nation’s youth. The result is a sparkling, authoritative work whose principal defect is lack of attention to those not among the elite. Men like John Dickinson, George Mason, and Henry and John Laurens, rarely leading characters in similar works, put in strong appearances here. But the focus is on the big five: Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Everyone interested in the founding of the U.S. will want to read this book. (May)
Employing the methodology of comparative biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Rakove (history, Stanford Univ.; Original Meanings: Politics and the Making of the Constitution) newly explores the well-trodden ground of Revolutionary America. This book separates itself from a crowded field by eschewing the common "retelling" of events or hagiography of the founders' exploits and instead focuses on the cerebral world of the decision makers themselves. From the vain John Adams, languishing in a 1756 Worcester, MA, schoolhouse to the epic struggle between Hamilton and Jefferson over an American national identity, Rakove intelligibly presents the founders struggling to provide feasible solutions to the litany of complex problems they faced, whether fighting the globe's greatest military power, Britain, or constructing new republican constitutions. Moving chronologically, he enables readers to explore the dilemma political moderates such as John Dickinson faced in the break with England, as well as the agonizing personal struggle of Henry and Jack Laurens with the institution of slavery. VERDICT Essential reading for both scholars and fans of Joseph Ellis (American Creation) and David McCullough (1776) as well as a poignant and engaging glimpse into the world of the revolutionary generation.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
…elegantly written…Part collective biography, part narrative history of the years 1773 to 1792, Revolutionaries adeptly explores the factors that led these remarkable men to reject British sovereignty and create a new nation.
The New York Times
Rakove's attentiveness to the Founders' foibles humanizes them at the same time that it underscores their collective achievement. No one revolutionary got everything right, but together "they carried the American colonies from resistance to revolution, held their own against the premier imperial power of the day, and then capped their visionary experiment by framing a Constitution whose origins and interpretation still preoccupy us over two centuries later." Although scholars will find little new in Rakove's book, he tells his story well, with a Madisonian appreciation for human frailty.
The Washington Post
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Rakove (History, American Studies and Political Science/Stanford Univ.; Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, 1996, etc.) reflects on how a group of lawyers and planters came to wage the American Revolution. Instead of focusing on the battlefield, the author examines what might be called a revolution of the mind-that is, how the early Founding Fathers' ideas developed and took hold. Early on, moderates who did not wish independence from England-such as John Dickinson, who wrote the influential anti-tax Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania in the late 1760s-were among the most important voices of protest. But England's much-reviled Stamp Act, among other outrages, put livelihoods at stake and turned apolitical men into partisans and merchants and farmers into budding revolutionaries. Rakove admirably avoids hagiography, refreshingly portraying these men as ordinary human beings who simply rose to the challenge of their age. And what a challenge it was-the creation of the United States was nothing if not an arduous, argumentative process. The author dissects that process in exquisite detail, getting inside the minds of these very different men to find out what made them tick-for example, how Alexander Hamilton's desire for fame drove his consistently ambitious ideas, or how Thomas Jefferson's love for France may have affected his views on self-government. Rakove's analysis of James Madison at the Constitutional Convention, in particular, reveals the future president as an extraordinarily complex and politically creative thinker-truly a case of the right man in the right place at the right time. Though the author's prose isa bit dry, his feel for the politics of the day is unerring. An ambitious, intelligent exploration into the intellectual underpinnings of the Revolution. Author tour, including New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco. Agent: Don Lamm/Fletcher & Parry
"A brilliant account of the Revolution that focuses on the men who led it. Rakove offers the reader a new and fascinating method of combining analytic and narrative history. By using some marvelous vignettes and beautifully crafted portraits of the principal characters as a means of exploring the crucial issues of the Revolutionary era, including state constitution-making, diplomacy, anti-slavery, and the framing of the federal government, he has written a remarkable work of history."—Gordon S. Wood, author of Empire of Liberty and Revolutionary Characters
"In Revolutionaries, Jack Rakove delivers what he promises: a 'new history of the invention of America.' Under his deft touch, historical subjects come alive in a series of richly drawn portraits. Deeply researched and elegantly written, this book marks a milestone in the study of America's revolutionary period. It should not be missed." — Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello
"[Rakove] presents an excellent overview of intricate Revolutionary politics and the role personality played in shaping them."
"REVOLUTIONARIES is a serious, probing work of history that boils down a career’s worth of thinking and research."
—New York Times
"[a] wide-ranging and nuanced group portrait of the Founding Fathers"
—The New Yorker
"Refreshingly accessible and deeply informed…a richly detailed, heavily documented, but eminently readable account of the men who led the Revolution, wrote the Constitution and persuaded the citizens of the 13 original states to adopt it….Rakove manages to demystify the leaders of the Revolutionary era even while clarifying the terms on which they continue to deserve our admiration."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"superb...a distinctive, fresh retelling of this epochal tale....a sparkling, authoritative work...Everyone interested in the founding of the U.S. will want to read this book.
—STARRED Publishers Weekly
"Essential reading for both scholars and fans of Joseph Ellis (American Creation) and David McCullough (1776) as well as a poignant and engaging glimpse into the world of the revolutionary generation."
—Library Journal, STARRED
"Distilling an academic career’s worth of understanding about the Revolution, Rakove vibrantly restores it as the lived experience of those who led it."
"[T]he creation of the United States was nothing if not an arduous, argumentative process. The author dissects that process in exquisite detail, getting inside the minds of these very different men to find out what made them tick...[Rakove's] feel for the politics of the day is unerring. An ambitious, intelligent exploration into the intellectual underpinnings of the Revolution."