Two time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bernard Bailyn has distilled a lifetime of study into this brilliant illumination of the ideas and world of the Founding Fathers. In five succinct essays he reveals the origins, depth, and global impact of their extraordinary creativity.
The opening essay illuminates the central importance of America’s provincialism to the formation of a truly original political system. In the chapters following, he explores the ambiguities and achievements of Jefferson’s career, Benjamin Franklin’s changing image and supple diplomacy, the circumstances and impact of the Federalist Papers, and the continuing influence of American constitutional thought throughout the Atlantic world. To Begin the World Anew enlivens our appreciation of how America came to be and deepens our understanding of the men who created it.
While the five essays in this slim volume neither pack the stylistic wallop nor make the powerful contributions to knowledge of so many of the author's previous works, they are vintage Bailyn. The two-time Pulitzer-winning historian's focus is the creative imagination applied to statecraft. His subjects are the nation's founders, whom he believes to be idealists as much as realists. As usual, Bailyn's ebullient if nuanced admiration for the Framers carries the reader along. Characteristically, he emphasizes how the Framers' provincialism allowed them to spring free of European modes of thought to create something genuinely new. Bailyn (Voyagers to the West, etc.) brilliantly uses pictures to reveal the different aspirations and bearing of the British and founding gentry. A superb chapter also uses iconography to demonstrate how Benjamin Franklin took an active hand in fashioning and altering his own likeness in paintings and medals and then used them to create crucial sympathy in France for the American cause. Of all the "tempered idealists" he deals with, none tangles Bailyn up, as he does just about everyone else, like Thomas Jefferson. But essays on the Federalist Papers and the complex, paradoxical, ever-changing reception of American constitutionalism abroad rescue the work from momentary confusion. One comes away with a rounded appreciation of the founders' limitations, failures and moral failings as well as their extraordinary achievements. 65 b&w, 4 pages color illus. (Jan. 15) Forecast: Can Bailyn sell as well as Joseph Ellis on the founders? Perhaps two Pulitzers, a colorful, inviting cover and a text filled with visuals will help him break out saleswise. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.