Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Founding Folks

I picked up the latest from David Liss in paperback (he has one newer one out in hardback) called Whiskey Rebels. Liss remains my favorite AgeOfReason Noir writer. Or Econ Noir, except that doesn't convey the historical nature. This novel takes place a decade past the revolutionary war, and one of the main character is a scoundrel, a former spy and accused traitor, who gets a chance to redeem his lost honor. The other character, a woman, makes her way into the wilds of Pennsylvania to make a living with her new husband only to find that there are scoundrels everywhere.

Revolutionary characters come into the story -- Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Washington, as well as forgotten characters, all set in a complex world of finance and a very familiar, fierce and bitter partisan squabble. Liss deflty places his fictional characters in the murky areas of history.

The story captivated me enough, that when I came across a copy of Founding Brothers, I gave it a read. The book is an examination of the relationships of some of our Founding Fathers: Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. With ease it took apart my myths of the founding fathers, if only by knowing (as one might expect, if one thought of it) that they were just men, flawed in different ways, who by luck and good timing pulled off this amazing feat, and managed to keep it going often through their common rather than individual effort. Despite intense and often hard feelings, our revolution did not "eat itself" as have others in the peace that followed victory.

The book mostly focuses on what happened after the revolution, the divisions that grew over the Federalists and Republicans, those who wanted more federal power, those who wanted states power, the way that most parties came to terms (aka silence) over the issue of slavery, issues of finance, foreign policy, and issues of populism over elites. Intense hatreds developed, friendships floundered and were restored.

It's a marvelous retelling of our history worth reading for the complexity and ideas that we will still see reflected in the politics of today.

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