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American Dialogue: The Founders and Us

von Joseph J. Ellis

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16210133,592 (4.34)8
"The award-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Quartet now gives us a deeply insightful examination of the relevance of the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams to some of the most divisive issues in America today. The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question "What would the Founding Fathers think?" He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today's political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, Madison and the doctrine of original intent. Through these juxtapositions--and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice--Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues"--… (mehr)
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A genuinely well written and well researched book that looks back on the founding fathers’ thoughts and deliberations on the most important questions in American history and their relevance today. ( )
  geoff79 | Jul 11, 2021 |
Author looks at the issue of trying to apply what the Founding Fathers believed to today's politics. ( )
  MarianneAudio | Aug 17, 2020 |
A very deep, contextual, and intelligent diagnosing of where we are at TODAY as well as where we were at YESTERDAY (yesterday being the Revolution War timeframe, primarily 1770s-1790s). Taking subject matters like race (African-Americans and Native Americans) then and now.

Primarily through the lens of the founding fathers Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington, this piece analyzes our current situation in relationship to them and our past.

This is an intriguing approach and very deep and immersive. Joseph J. Ellis writes extremely well with a readability though deep, sometimes requiring re-reads despite how easily the sentences flow. He is a bit 'liberal biased' but ultimately he's fair, thorough, engaging, and entertaining. ( )
  BenKline | Jul 1, 2020 |
Much of this book was fascinating but several parts of it seemed to simply restate the work of other authors like the journalist Jane Mayer. It is certainly relevant to our current debates about the meaning of the Constitution, race, and foreign policy. Worth reading, and Ellis certainly points out other books if one wishes to go deeper into any of the founders or the issues. ( )
  nmele | Dec 19, 2019 |
Author Joseph Ellis gave the commencement address at my son’s and daughter-in-law’s graduation from William and Mary Law School a number of years back. He was very interesting and very entertaining, telling many unfamiliar anecdotes about Thomas Jefferson. It was a great speech. I have not been as infatuated with some of his books however. They were too academic for my taste; too often, I found myself backing up and re-reading not just a sentence or paragraph, but sometimes a page(s) in an attempt to regain my concentration. Over the years I have preferred Chernow and Meacham, as just two examples, no less detailed and analytical but both a good deal more readable. I am happy to report that Ellis’s “American Dialogue” (AD) was generally a big improvement from my perspective.

As advertised, it focuses on four founding fathers – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and peels back some of their speeches and writings to give a more in-depth understanding of precisely what was meant and not meant. The point being that over the past 250 years, there has been a fair amount of spin, twist, and interpretation applied to those words, particularly very recently, to justify actions on the part of some with little or no understanding nor respect for history.

Broadly speaking there are four sections in AD, and the first half of each is devoted to a Father’s contributions, with the balance of the chapter dealing with subsequent events over time. I had expected that these follow-on commentaries would focus heavily on twenty-first century events, but that is not the case. For example, if you search for “Trump” in the index you will note that there is mention of him on only three pages.

However, AD is a winner for me given the writing specific to the four, for two reasons. First, no matter how often I read about our country’s founding, I find I am always moved by a review of those events and details I had become fuzzy on. Secondly, Ellis like all great historians, knows how to research and research and research and come up with little nuggets I had never heard before, gems that just make me more and more aware of how miraculous it was that we should have such great leadership at precisely that moment in time. Yet, AD is not all strawberries and cream – Ellis is very harsh about our failings in dealing not only with the slavery issue, but also with Native Americans. Finally, if you have any reservations about reading AD, I suggest that you find a bookstore with a comfortable chair and read pages 223-233, then decide. ( )
  maneekuhi | May 28, 2019 |
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"The award-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Quartet now gives us a deeply insightful examination of the relevance of the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams to some of the most divisive issues in America today. The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question "What would the Founding Fathers think?" He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today's political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, Madison and the doctrine of original intent. Through these juxtapositions--and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice--Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues"--

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