American Creation

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Joseph Ellis is a well-known writer of popular histories, winner of both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, so I began American Creation with expectations. Of course, the major players at the Founding have filled countless books. As the author points out, it’s tough to even-handedly write about men who were early cast as heroes or villains in our now almost mythological past. Like Founding Brothers, American Creation is a series of sketches. Each chapter examines the principal actors at a pivotal moment in the history of the Founding. Ellis begins with Adams, subject of his Passionate Sage, then moves to the equally familiar Washington, the subject of His Excellency. Next is James Madison, who was, briefly, during the Constitutional Convention, less Virginian than Nationalist. Failures are also discussed: the treaty-by-treaty betrayal of the Native Americans, and the avoidance of the slavery issue to get the votes for ratification. The evolution of political parties, and the author’s fascination with the brilliant, slippery Jefferson segues into a final chapter on the Louisiana Purchase. In this one stroke, America changed from Republic to Empire. What was missing—and what I expected from any book titled American Creation was the usual—any discussion of the creation of the economic foundation upon which the modern U.S. stands. To any reader interested in this essential topic, I’d suggest Forrest McDonald’s Hamilton.

 

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283

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