I expected a book concerning the building blocks of constitutional government. This book is that, but it is more. It begins with a depiction of how uncommon and unlikely a thing it was that the ideals of liberty should actually take root, survive and even prosper in a world where such concepts were theoretical at best. It then talks of the one great failing of those days of building representative democracy, the inability of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton to resolve their differences short of violence. It then discusses the more usual (although more unlikely) manner in which differences were resolved by debate and the political process. The book ends discussing the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, a relationship in which President Adams felt personally betrayed by his vice president Jefferson. Here lies the essence of this book. Not only does this relationship illustrate the author's theme beautifully, it is also quite moving. It is not often in reading history that the reader feels the intimacy of men, especially not such icons of American history. I will never do great things, no books will be written about me, but I hope that I may have the essential humanity revealed by these two men in addressing the conflict between them and I believe that this book may have nourished my soul the extent that I may rise above my personal animosities. This is no small feat for a history book.
This is a book with many good features but perhaps the best is the author's seamless weaving of the geography into the narrative. The rain forest comes alive but it is not the rain forest of hippie bumber stickers. The law of the jungle prevails from the mightiest of flora and fauna to the most insignificant. What appears to be an overabundance of life masks a vicious struggle to survive. And into this seething cualdron is cast one of our greatest presidents.
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