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Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
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What Made the Founders Different

A-Revolutionary CharactersIt’s easy to idealize our Revolutionary forebears. Maybe it’s their dashing wigs and stockings, or the knowledge that their sacrifices paved the way for our nation. And we continue to revere Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin as the font of national pride. These essays explore the common theme among these strikingly different characters: an unswerving loyalty to the idea that moving away from monarchic ideals for the sake of the emergent republic was not only just but essential. With this sacrifice, Wood argues that the founding fathers "helped create the changes that led eventually to their own undoing, to the breakup of the kind of political and intellectual coherence they represented. Without intending to, they willingly destroyed the sources of their own greatness."
Penguin. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594200939

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"To each of these gentlemen, he applies a key rubric: studying their individual moral characters and their view of moral character as a concept. … Wood paints these fascinating characters in all their contrasting and conflicting colors, and does so quite brilliantly." Edward J. Renehan Jr.

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"At several points in this volume, most notably the essays on Washington and the epilogue, Wood argues that the founders contributed unwittingly to a democratic and egalitarian society that they never wanted. This is another point in favor of the history Wood provides in this splendid collection: He relates what he would have us believe, explains much of what was done and leaves us with an ironical appreciation of the founders’ achievement." Robert Middlekauff

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"He strikes a studious balance between the largesse of the hero-worshipful accounts and the titillating exposes of the Founders’ foibles. What chiefly distinguishes Wood’s scholarship is his composure when addressing such titanic figures and their previous chroniclers." Mark Luce

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Though these chapters (many of which started out as magazine articles) are all erudite and shrewdly argued, they vary widely in their effectiveness and relevance to the author’s central argument. … This volume is at its most powerful when Mr. Wood uses his enormous knowledge of the era to situate his subjects within a historical and political context, stripping away accretions of myths and commentary to show the reader how Washington, say, or Franklin were viewed by their contemporaries." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Distinguished Brown University historian Gordon S. Wood has examined Revolutionary politics in The Creation of the American Republic (Bancroft Prize, 1970) and The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Pulitzer Prize, 1993). Collected from writing he did for the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, this latest compilation covers the same turf, but, as his title suggests, Wood emphasizes the moral and philosophical underpinnings of the founding fathers’ beliefs. Reviewers concur with the Los Angeles Times, which calls Revolutionary Characters "a ‘greatest hits’ of energetically reworked, previously published essays that should be required summer reading for all elected officials."