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American Dialogue

The Founders and Us
Narrated by: Arthur Morey
Length: 8 hrs and 41 mins
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (158 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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, and 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.

Cover image: Three Flags, 1958 by Jasper Johns. Encaustic on canvas (three panels) © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Print: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA/Bridgeman Images

©2018 Joseph J. Ellis (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Vivid.... Ellis writes with insight and acuity in the present tense, just as he always has in the past tense, and in American Dialogue he draws connections between our history and our present reality with an authority that few other authors can muster." (Jeff Shesol, The New York Times Book Review)

“Joe Ellis knows that history is not simply about the past, it’s about the present having a conversation with the past. In this elegant and fascinating book, he conducts a discourse between our current troubled times and the period when our founders crafted our national creed. The result is an exploration of our values that is both timely and timeless.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo Da Vinci

 

"Ellis has taken those recurring questions and those astonishing founders and held them up against our current agonies, seeking to make sense of the present through the prism of the past...thoughtful and thought-provoking...this book may prompt readers to consider that there may be no certainties in a world where philosophy, practicality, and personal interest collide." (The Boston Globe)

"Ellis is not concerned with quiet insights or reassurance. He means to mark out where we have strayed from, and how we have betrayed, America's founding ideals." (The Washington Post)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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A fine work, even with the editorializing

I have read/listened to every one of Mr. Ellis’ works pertaining to the American Revolution and Founding Fathers, and am a big fan of his. After the first “Now” chapter of this book I almost shut it off and requested a refund due to the blatant Progressive bias. His past works around this subject have had very little subjectivity, so it was a bit of a shock.

But, after some reflection I decided to listen to the entire book with an open mind. While there are points I still strongly disagree with, the 2nd Amendment chapter in particular, I did find myself having an internal debate about some of my long-held beliefs. His chapters about the 14th Amendment and American foreign policy were particularly compelling for me.

As usual with his books, the historical aspects of this work are outstanding.

If you lean to the left of the political spectrum you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you lean right, hopefully you can listen to this book with an open mind and at the very least gain some understanding of views that differ from yours.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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My first J. Ellis book and I'm disappointed,

Disappointed it ended. I am excited to venture back into his collection of work and experience more.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great History!

Excellent essay's on Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington. Ellis really demolished the idea of Original Intent of the Framers in the Madison chapter.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Very Informative

Mr Ellis, first of all, exceptional! I enjoyed it thoroughly and found it to be incredibly revealing that 240 odd years has not elevated human nature very much. The founders faced many of the same social issues and political brinksmanship that we are confronted with today. I especially appreciated the section on George Washington and the partisan treachery he faced during his presidency.

My only complaint is the language used and the style of writing. Not the founders but yours. I felt like I was listening to work intended for academic peer review. I reversed the audio often just so I could translate a sentence back to myself in a more common form of speech. Sadly you may leave a portion of your audience behind and some great insights might be lost. I hope that is not the case, because I think you need to send a complementary case of this book up to the Caoital Hill and it should be mandatory reading for the house, senate and judiciary . Thanks

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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wonderful overall.

Ellis's forays into contemporary issues occasionally misfires but otherwise this is excellent. I learned quite a few things about the founders that I didn't know before. Unfortunately, his breadth of knowledge on contemporary issues is occasionally superficial and in at least one case wrong.

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Great Idea but Execution was Lacking

I wanted to like this book more than I actually liked this book.

The premise of reflecting on modern day issues through the historical lens of the Founding Fathers is a fantastic idea, but when all was said and done this book was kind of boring.

The voice of the narrator, Arthur Morey, didn’t help me stay connected either.

It’s worth a read just for the novel idea and there are certainly some excellent sections, but overall I just couldn’t really get past the dryness of the book.

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A Brilliant Dialogue in All Senses of the Word

This book is fundamentally a dialogue between how the Founding Fathers actually thought about constitutional issues, and how the conservative movement has co-opted and distorted their words.

I always thought that Philip Roth could have written a satirical novel on this subject. But Mr. Ellis has done that one better. He has used his vast erudition and knowledge of the Founding Fathers to explain how they might well react to those who cite them so reverentially today.

Would that the so-called Originalists on the Supreme Court would read or listen only to that section of this profound book!

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What would the Founders think?

I will admit, my rating for this book is probably a little higher than it deserves. More like 3 and a half stars but... Ellis is kind of a go to historian of the early Republic writing for the layman. This book is enjoyable but much more ideological than his other books, primarily because he is looking at the America of today and how it resonates or not with the America of the Founding Era. Naturally in many regards today comes off a pretty poor second. Unfortunately, I think the only readers of history who will not read this objectively or at least fairly will be the ones who put our lamentable president in office. Ellis will probably lose a lot of the buyers of his books who tune in to Fox News who most need the urgent history lessons.

But to be fair, the topicality of the book is one of the reasons why this book is one of my least favorite of his books. The reason I feel this way is that I think that there is too much reverence for the Founders (we still capitalize the word after all) and too little contextualization of why we got to the point we are. Trump is not an aberration, he is a culmination of the degradation of the political process. We are not too political, we are too little. The Americans who despise politicians elected this man because political office became something vulgar. Our Founders and the politicians of the early Republic were not perfect men. But they cared about our nation, and they cared about ideas. Not sure I can say the same about today's politicians of either party.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful

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An enlightening review of the ideas of the Framers

I learned a lot about the controversies during the American Revolution and the creation of the Constitution.

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The Founders and us.

The book takes a novel approach in its attempt to compare what the Founding Fathers did and how it relates to present times.
That being said, Ellis is definitely an unabashed hater of President Trump. I could have done without that.
And Ellis is no fan of firearms either.
M A G A !

0 of 1 people found this review helpful