People's History, Founding Myths, and the American Revolution
Ray Raphael - People's Historian

 

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Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation

The New Press, 2009

Starred Review in KIRKUS, 3/15/09 "[A] highly readable history about the messy work of revolution and nation-building. . . . Raphael's scholarship and scrupulously fair treatment deepens our understanding and appreciation of what our ancestors wrought. Splendid storytelling that effectively captures and humanizes the tumult of the Revolutionary Era." full review

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"Raphael is a fine writer and does an outstanding job of interweaving his themes with the lives of the individuals he follows into a coherent narrative. Though his book is obviously targeted at a mass audience, Raphael has written a serious history based on extensive research and a reliance on primary- source documents. As popular history, Raphael’s book certainly succeeds. Even for specialists, Founders warrants attention. Any scholar not already possessing extensive knowledge of all seven individuals profiled by Raphael would certainly gain from reading Founders." – Journal of the Early Republic
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"[Founders] will delight readers and no doubt add to their knowledge through a tale rarely told so well." – Publishers Weekly
full review

“Entertaining yet informative . . . a highly readable work of popular history that is sure to be a hit.” – Library Journal
full review

"In Founding Myths (2004), Raphael exhorted readers to repair to original sources, and in this volume he is as good as his word. Extensively quoting seven [participants], he revives their routes to becoming revolutionaries, their often discordant aspirations for the revolution, and their personal contributions to its outcome. … Raphael's robust storytelling makes for almost an evangelizing introduction to the American Revolution." – Booklist
full review

Comments from other historians:

"Dramatize, personalize, localize: this is the way Ray Raphael has brilliantly explored the American Revolution. Readers will devour this stirring account. The author teaches us more about the multiple dimensions of the American Revolution than one could ever have imagined.” — Gary B. Nash, Professor of History, UCLA; Director, National Center for History in the Schools; author of The Unknown American Revolution.

“Raphael delivers a rich cast of characters in this fascinating account of how the new American nation found its footings. Founders will find a secure place in American historical literature.” – Joyce Appleby, Professor Emerita of History, UCLA; past president, Organization of American Historians and American Historical Association

"Raphael deftly reconstructs the lives of women and men of the Revolutionary generation who are unfamiliar to many of us. A natural storyteller, he helps us feel the urgency of their choices, fears, and expectations." — Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Baruch College & The Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of Revolutionary Mothers.

Taking the reader well beyond the familiar and obvious, Raphael has framed an in-depth tableau of the emerging nation. A provocative and highly readable account, Founders helps redefine our understanding of that most mythologized and misunderstood period in America's past." — Kenneth C. Davis, author of America's Hidden History and Don't Know Much About History

"In vivid prose and with clear thought, Ray Raphael broadens the story of the American Revolution by revealing an array of compelling characters, common and genteel, free and slave, native and settler. He illuminates the dramatic struggle for power at home within a revolution that was more than a push for home rule." — Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize winning author of William Cooper’s Town and The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution.

 

Kirkus starred review (3/15/09):
Popular historian Raphael (Founding Myths, 2004, etc.) expands the traditional cast of America's founders and examines "the collective work of the Revolutionary Generation."

"Great men get great praise; little men, nothing." So said Continental Army veteran Joseph Plumb Martin, one of the "little men" Raphael highlights in this highly readable history about the messy work of revolution and nation-building. The author reminds us that this was not merely the business of a few talented geniuses, but rather a collective enterprise that also engaged such people as Dr. Thomas Young, the political firebrand who gave Vermont its name, and Timothy Bigelow, a Worcester blacksmith whose armed resistance to the British preceded Lexington and Concord. The narrative features three other primary characters: Robert Morris, the financier whose personal credit sustained the Army; Henry Laurens, the South Carolina aristocrat and reluctant revolutionary; and Mercy Warren, Plymouth's poet and historian, who looked on disapprovingly as her countrymen betrayed the Revolution's ideals. Raphael orders their stories around well-known career markers of the founder, George Washington. As the author charts Washington's familiar progress, he checks in periodically with each of his six principals, updating us on their activities, their contributions to and sacrifices for their country, which included imprisonment, destitution and death. Even as he credits them, though, Raphael doesn't shy away from noting their vanity, contradictions and self-promotion. Cameos by "second-tier" founders-including James Otis, Ethan Allen, John Laurens (Henry's son), Thomas Paine and George Mason-and numerous others add color and context to a narrative that covers more than 30 years and touches each section of the colonies. Mercifully free of any political agenda-there's no attempt to diminish the likes of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or Franklin-Raphael's scholarship and scrupulously fair treatment deepens our understanding and appreciation of what our ancestors wrought.

Splendid storytelling that effectively captures and humanizes the tumult of the Revolutionary Era.

Publisher’s Weekly (3/30/09):
In this brisk narrative survey, Raphael offers a history of the events between the outbreak of colonial protest in the 1760s and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. He does so through the lives of seven people, some, like George Washington, justly celebrated, others obscure. All seven and many others come alive in their acts and words, their stories serving as the spine of the book. No one will come away without a better idea of how social class, ideas, careers, ambitions and plain luck interwove themselves into the revolution carried on by an entire people. Raphael also weaves his tale around such staple themes of American history as the growth of popular sovereignty and westward expansion. From the author of A People's History of the American Revolution, none of this is surprising, nor is the skill of his pen. The book adds nothing to what's already known, but it will delight readers and no doubt add to their knowledge through a tale rarely told so well.

Library Journal (4/1/09):
Raphael (A People's History of the American Revolution; Founding Myths) again attempts to give credit to patriots whose contributions to the nation's founding are not celebrated or even widely known. Stars of this entertaining yet informative account include military bankroller Robert Morris, conservative politician and reluctant rebel Henry Laurens, blacksmith-turned-insurgent Timothy Bigelow, young and eager soldier Joseph Plumb Martin, rabble-rousing country doctor Thomas Young, and Puritan poet-turned-political commentator and historian Mercy Otis Warren. The final key player in this narrative is George Washington, and Raphael manages to put a fresh spin on his overly familiar story. The author relies heavily on primary sources, especially diaries, letters, and Martin's and Warren's published works, to craft a highly readable work of popular history that is sure to be a hit among readers who prefer to look at history from a bottom-up perspective. A worthy complement to Raphael's previous works, this is recommended for American history collections in all public libraries.

Booklist (4/15/09):
Availing himself of the biographical method to order the welter of events of the American Revolution and War of Independence, Raphael sketches seven participants, separating patricians and plebians. George Washington, Robert Morris, and South Carolinian Henry Laurens represent the former; blacksmith Timothy Bigelow, farmer Joseph Plumb Martin, and doctor and radical democrat Thomas Young the latter. Raphael’s seventh subject is Mercy Otis Warren, sister of patriot James Otis, prolific political correspondent and author of an early history of the revolution. In his debunking Founding Myths (2004), Raphael exhorted readers to repair to original sources, and in this volume he is as good as his word. Extensively quoting the chosen seven, he revives their routes to becoming revolutionaries, their often discordant aspirations for the revolution, and their personal contributions to its outcome. Written accessibly and without fear of using modern colloquialisms, Raphael’s robust storytelling makes for almost an evangelizing introduction to the American Revolution.

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