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


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Idiots Guide

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Founding Fathers and the Birth of Our Nation

Alpha Books (Penguin), 2011

Washington and Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, Hamilton and Madison appear center stage in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Founding Fathers – and taking a rightful place at their sides are “The Farmer” (John Dickinson), “The Financier” (Robert Morris), and others who were household names in Revolutionary Era America. Though several have largely disappeared from view, if it were not for this larger crew— and for “the body of the people,” as common folk were called— our country might not exist. This book will take you back in time and show you how they all shaped a nation.

The framers of the Constitution were not like a team of high-bred horses pulling a carriage in sync. They were a diverse and often contentious lot. Many owned slaves; a few wanted to abolish slavery. Many believed Congress should choose the president; only two argued that the people should. Some believed passionately in a Bill of Rights; others thought it nothing more than a meaningless add-on. When it came down to the nuts-and-bolts business of nation building, they knew that their visions mattered as never before. They wrangled vigorously and argued with fervor. It was, and is, high drama.

At stake then, as now, were hot-button issues. Should judges judge laws? Are we a Christian nation? Do people have the continuing right to revolution? Here is a complete and balanced account that is based on original documents and placed directly in the context of that time, not ours. Without bias, it speaks to the compelling questions: What did the Founding Fathers really say and do – and what does that mean for us today?


Idiot’s Guide, schmidiot’s guide. Despite the silly title, Ray Raphael’s book is a thorough and sophisticated synthesis of all the cutting-edge scholarship on the American Revolution. I learned a lot from it, and I think other specialists in the founding era will, too. But Raphael has done what most of us academic historians never bother to do: he has distilled the hundreds of discoveries he made while researching his four previous books on the American Revolution into a fast-paced narrative. Also on display here is Raphael’s trademark skill at detecting and deflating the modern-day myths that turn flesh-and-blood Founders into marble monuments. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Founding Fathers is a must-read, but it’s a wanna-read too.” – Woody Holton, author of Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (a National Book Award finalist), and Abigail Adams.

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