Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Favorite Historian

Whenever I am desperate for a book to read or listen to while waiting for my reserved items to become available, I look for something by Joseph Ellis. Professor Ellis is an expert in the era of the American Revolution and has written extensively on this period and the people who made things happen (relying on a surprisingly large amount of luck) at this tumultuous time.

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull,
 commissioned in 1817

In his recent book, Revolutionary Summer: the Birth of American Independence, Professor Ellis gives readers a detailed narrative of just one small part of the struggle that would last for years, the months from May to October 1776. While we usually think of the American Revolution as a whole, Ellis points out that it actually had two components, the military actions that had already been going on for a year and the political side, centered in the Continental Congress. Revolutionary Summer is a fascinating look at how the two components, although usually at odds, intertwined throughout the course of the war and, surprisingly, managed to produce a new nation.

Some ideas discussed in Revolutionary Summer still speak to controversies and discussions we have today: the reluctance of the states (and their citizens) to pay the pensions of officers who served in the Continental Army; the ideal of relying on local militias versus the creation of a standing army, which proved unrealistic then and has led to our current heated discussions about the Second Amendment; the desire of the losing side to find someone to blame for military defeat.

Professor Ellis also does a wonderful job in exploring the personalities of the people involved in these world-changing events. First Family: John and Abigail Adams gives readers a glimpse into the lives of John and Abigail Adams in their own words. Fully aware of their place in history, this couple made sure that their correspondence and other documents would survive as testimony to what had been accomplished.

Equally enlightening are these other works by Joseph J. Ellis:

Please check the library’s catalog for availability of these titles in a number of formats and discover why Joseph Ellis is my favorite historian.
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