In a lively and engaging narrative, Ellis recounts the sometimes collaborative, sometimes archly antagonistic interactions between these men, and shows us the private characters behind the public personas: Adams, the ever-combative iconoclast, whose closest political collaborator was his wife, Abigail; Burr, crafty, smooth, and one of the most despised public figures of his time; Hamilton, whose audacious manner and deep economic savvy masked his humble origins; Jefferson, renowned for his eloquence, but so reclusive and taciturn that he rarely spoke more than a few sentences in public; Madison, small, sickly, and paralyzingly shy, yet one of the most effective debaters of his generation; and the stiffly formal Washington, the ultimate realist, larger-than-life, and America’s only truly indispensable figure.
Joseph J. Ellis - According to Ellis, the concept of the Founding Fathers of the . emerged in the 1820s as the last survivors died out. Ellis says "the founders", or "the fathers", comprised an aggregate of semi-sacred figures whose particular accomplishments and singular achievements were decidedly less important than their sheer presence as a powerful but faceless symbol of past greatness. For the generation of national leaders coming of age in the 1820s and 1830s – men like Andrew Jackson , Henry Clay , Daniel Webster , and John C. Calhoun – "the founders" represented a heroic but anonymous abstraction whose long shadow fell across all followers and whose legendary accomplishments defied comparison.
I think it works differently for two types of people. For those that know these men’s personalities and histories, I think it becomes a welcome addition to the collection to the story. It’s like seeing another camera angle and fuller perspective. For the novice, someone who does not know the men, the level of detail and scholarly discourse might be uncomfortable. Where McConnell’s book is popular nonfiction, where he expertly explains many of the workings of Congress in plain language, this book is a more challenging read. That is to absorb this book best, one would likely read it twice with notebook in hand. That there are six different narratives, what gives the book depth, also makes it difficult to follow. Some of the narratives are strongly related, some loosely related. McConnell followed a chronology, matching familiar national events with points in his life. We see the start advantages and disadvantages of autobiography (one-sided point of view with an easy to follow narrative) to biography (a multifaceted point of view in multiple narratives with a more challenging narrative). Ultimately, it’s a satisfying listen when included in the greater body of works on the individual men.