J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Around the Globe

Yesterday’s Boston Globe offered H. W. Brands’s review of Joseph Ellis’s latest book on the founding era, American Creation. Brands says of Ellis:

he eschews a continuous rendering of a period—in this case the years 1775 to 1803—in favor of focusing on a handful of discrete events and brief stretches of time. As he has before, he ties the events closely to famous individuals. A chapter on the decision for independence features John Adams. Next comes a chapter on Valley Forge that trails George Washington through the snow (but debunks the vision of the Continental Army commander falling to his knees amid the drifts to seek divine guidance). Ellis then jumps a decade to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and makes James Madison the hero of the hour. The Federalist decade of the 1790s gets two chapters; the book closes with Thomas Jefferson purchasing Louisiana from France in 1803.

Ellis’s style is discursively delightful. “Narrative is the highest form of historical analysis,” he remarks. As his narrative unfolds, so do his conclusions, with such gentle art as almost to compel assent.
That sounds much like Ellis’s entertaining Founding Brothers, except that instead of seeking out lesser-known episodes in the U.S. of A.’s founding, in this book the Mount Holyoke professor hits the best-known moments that many authors have already written about. Random House offers an online excerpt. Ellis will address the Cambridge Forum at First Parish in Harvard Square on Thursday, 1 November, at 7:30; this event is free, and he’s a charming speaker.

The same Sunday paper ran columnist Sam Allis’s musings on tourism in Boston, and how closely it’s tied to history, and thus to (gasp!) mental effort:

What do the ranking of Charleston (3), Santa Fe (4), and Savannah (8) mean? They tell me that Americans—exhausted two-career couples and their kids, in particular—want to relax on their pitifully short vacations. They want easy. They want fun. They want small.

What they don’t want is dutiful. Boston is dutiful. These people don't want an “eat your spinach” history marathon through the 16-station Freedom Trail with the threat of a spot quiz back in the hotel room on Crispus Attucks.
Where can I sign up for that quiz?

Today’s Globe adds David Mehegan’s review of two books touching on witchcraft trials in the late 1600s and his profile of Eve LaPlante, author of one of those books, about Judge Samuel Sewall. The judge lived just a few years into the eighteenth century and was never involved with the province’s break from England. But he was a key figure in the colony’s transition from a Puritan theocracy, and he kept a most human diary.

Finally, the most important story from our local paper: “Sox are kings of diamond.”


Brad Hart said...

I actually just finished reading this book and think the review you just listed is pretty acurate. The book is pretty similar in style to his other books (though I liked "His Excellency" and "Founding Brothers" a lot more.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the additional opinion!

Anonymous said...

Ellis is my professor and I just saw him give a "test run" of his book-tour talk, and it's definitely worth seeing, especially if you haven't seen him before.

I haven't broken into the book yet, though I've been told that it's quite similar to "Founding Brothers"-- not his best, but definitely worth the read!

Personally, I'd love to see Ellis take of a "founding moment" like those in American Creation and expand it into a book to explore the moment from various perspectives.

Point being: another recommendation to take the T over to see him tomorrow!

A Listener said...

Thank you.