Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, history, U.S. history
Published by National Geographic on September 8, 2020
Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
In this masterful narrative, Winston Groom brings his signature storytelling panache to the intricately crafted tale of three of our nation's most fascinating founding fathers--Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams--and paints a vivid picture of the improbable events, bold ideas, and extraordinary characters who created the United States of America.
When the Revolutionary War ended in victory, there remained the stupendous problem of how to establish a workable democratic government in the vast, newly independent country. Three key founding fathers played significant roles: John Adams, the brilliant, dour, thin-skinned New Englander; Thomas Jefferson, the aristocratic Southern renaissance man; and Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. In this complex and riveting narrative, best-selling author Winston Groom tells the story of these men--all of whom served in George Washington's first cabinet--as the patriots fundamentally responsible for the ideas that shaped the foundation of the United States. Their lives and policies could not have been more different; their relationships with each other were complex, and often rife with animosity. And yet these three men led the charge--two of them creating and signing the Declaration of Independence, and the third establishing a national treasury and the earliest delineation of a Republican party. The time in which they lived was fraught with danger; the smell of liberty was in the air, though their excitement was strained by vast antagonisms that recall the intense political polarization of today. But through it all, they managed to shoulder the heavy mantle of creating the United States of America, putting aside their differences to make a great country, once and always. Drawing on extensive correspondence, epic tales of war, and rich histories of their day-to-day interactions, best-selling author Winston Groom shares the remarkable story of the beginnings of our great nation.
One thing the play Hamilton got right – these three men really didn’t like each other much, although Adams and Jefferson did reconcile in old age. Which doesn’t mean that they didn’t manage to work together for the good of the country they helped to create.
There’s definitely a lesson in there. Maybe we’ll start acting upon that lesson again.
It’s clear from this book – unlike the U.S. History classes most of us took in school – that there was nothing inevitable about the American Experiment in general or the American Revolution in particular.
Every other country on the planet thought that the ragtag army of the fledgling country was going to lose. And by rights it should have. The British Army was the premier fighting force in the entire world in the late 18th century. They had us outgunned, outmanned, and out pretty much everything else.
But they also had a very long supply line in a war that was expensive to prosecute. A war over territory that their own people didn’t think much about or care much about. And we had George Washington, who knew that he just had to keep himself and some kind of army out of the hands of the British for the tide to turn.
Not the tide of war, but the tide of British willingness to prosecute that war.
But the country that the Revolution gave birth to was every bit as fractured as the country we live in today – if not more so. And along some of the same lines. Lines that were baked into the compromises made by the three men profiled in this book, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
They kicked the can down the road, in the sure and certain knowledge – from their perspective – that the most important thing was having that can to kick. They compromised to keep the American Experiment alive.
It’s time for us to do our parts.
Escape Rating A-: I read this on Election Day and Ballot Counting Day (11/3 and 11/4) and it is impossible to separate my reading from real life events, going on in real time, that are the direct result of the actions and compromises that fill this book and our history.
So this is a book that made me think and feel a lot about this country and where it currently stands. About the work the Founders left for us to do, and about the difficulties involved in doing it.
But I need to talk about the book. First, it is imminently readable. It was so easy to just get sucked in and stay sucked, making it a perfect read for the occasion in multiple ways.
It probably helps that the story begins with Hamilton, and does so in such a way that it puts flesh on the bones of a story that we are now so familiar with. At this moment in time, Hamilton feels like the most accessible of the “founding fathers” so starting with him doesn’t just make sense but draws the reader right into the narrative.
So even though this book is heavily researched and has lots of footnotes and an extensive bibliography, it NEVER gets bogged down by that research. Instead it illuminates it in a way that brings these men, with all their flaws as well as their virtues, to life.
Although, speaking of illustrations, the print edition of this book is undoubtedly heavily illustrated. However, the eARC does not include the pictures. This is one of those times when I really, really wish I’d gotten a print copy to review, because the illustrations I have seen in various promotional materials for the book are both illustrative and gorgeous.
As I said, I’m writing this review on November 4, which is Ballot Counting Day or Obsessive Doomscrolling Day or a nauseating combination of the two. That we have a country to vote in and vote for is the legacy of these three men among many others both sung and unsung. The compromises that they enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in order to get both abolitionists and slaveholders, industrial states and farming states, those who feared the government would be overwhelmed by masses of urban voters and those who feared that lower-population rural voters would hold back progress brought us the U.S. Senate as it is currently configured and the Electoral College.
They respected each other – whether they could stand each other or not – and they compromised so that we’d have a country to improve upon. Their work is done. Our work continues. After all, they didn’t leave us “a more perfect union” – only the tools with which to achieve it.