In This Review

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
By Gordon S. Wood
Penguin Press, 2006, 304 pp

This series of essays on key leaders of the American Revolution is a valuable contribution and a stimulating read. Some essays are better than others, and a couple, although short, seem longer than necessary. Nevertheless, the range of scholarship and the depth of reflection that Wood brings to his subjects furnish him with an extraordinary ability to see new and interesting things about familiar people and ideas. His discussion of the ways in which John Adams' core political assumptions made his ideas increasingly irrelevant in the evolving marketplace of ideas and his description of the underlying unity between the Federalist and the Republican periods of James Madison's political life not only clarify our views of these men; they illuminate the times in which they lived. An epilogue nicely describes how the Founding Fathers made themselves obsolete: the democratic forces that made the American Revolution ultimately undermined the social power and position of the elites who led it. Wood remains at the peak of his form, and after a lifetime of distinguished contributions in a competitive field, he is still finding new and important things to say.