What We’re Actually Reading: Founding Brothers

Posted on January 28, 2015 by


Just in case you had any doubt that there isn’t much in the way of recurring themes in my reading list, here’s some historical non-ficion.

Founding Brothers

If you want to read about Revolutionary War-era history, but without actually touching that Revolutionary War thing.

founding brothers

I typically read nonfiction on the subway during my commute. Sometimes it gets tricky, though, like with Founding Brothers, which really likes to flesh out these people from the time period which have basically been diluted into mere characters throughout history.

Skipping over the Revolution entirely, the content mostly focuses on the issues dividing the nation while they were trying to actually create it. It was weirdly comforting to know that there was basically always a two party system tearing the country apart, and Founding Brothers really tries to dig into what created those different beliefs, rather than simply go over what they were, who pushed for what, and who won. As political concessions went back and forth, I was really feeling the frustrations of whoever was losing political ground that chapter, even if I wasn’t so sure I agreed with their politics. Maybe it’s because the American Revolution works nicely as a single, thematic focal point, in contrast to the utter clusterfuck of stuff whenever I try reading about politics closer to present day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (to anyone familiar with the rest of this blog), reading about the period’s apparently sole notable woman, Abigail Adams, was a highlight. It benefits extensively from Ellis’s almost postmodern style of jumping around all over the place without really telling the reader why, so she gets to be a recurring figure. And that was nice, because I liked seeing her pop up holding her political own in one place and then having her surprisingly touching love with her husband in others. And then seeing her lay some serious smack down on Thomas Jefferson. Maybe what I really want is just a book about women writing scathing letters to men throughout history. Does that book exist? I want to read it.

On that note, there’s also Ellis’s explanation at the beginning, basically saying, yes, history is mostly just a bunch of white men, and, yes, there’s not much we can do about that. He gets a little unapologetic about it all, which wasn’t quite necessary (“In my opinion, the central events and achievements of the revolutionary era and the early republic were political”, yes, that is how social power works in a cultural context, now, isn’t it?), but it does almost unintentionally provide a nice thought: maybe all books should start with a disclaimer that there are other books that aren’t just about white men.

Can You Explain It In Terms Of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Ok, sure, it looks like I got myself pretty stuck with this one pretty quickly. It’s a non-fiction account of the years following the American Revolution. It does seem that there would be basically nothing that the books we read on this blog have in common with a book that basically just repeatedly describes how super duper awesome some men are.

Wait, that’s every book we read on this blog.

Reading this book is sort of like reading any scene praising the glorious and magnificent achievements and abilities of your Christian Greys, your Gideon Crosses, your Travis Maddoxes, and your Four/Tobiases. Except you know what it doesn’t do? It doesn’t do this totally blind to their faults. Nor does it constantly rationalize or forgive them. So if you’re gonna write something praising a man, maybe recognize that their faults are not endearing, and might even piss a lot of people off.

And Also Currently Listening

Honestly, I wrote a “What We’re Actually Reading” post this week more so that I could freak out about the new Mountain Goats song than to talk about a book I read recently. Last week they announced their new album, which is entirely going to be entirely based on pro wrestling, because why the hell not. Extra weird for me (probably not for many people) was how much this actually reminded me of mid-90s Barenaked Ladies (it’s particularly reminiscent in places of “Shoebox” or “It’s All Been Done”), since Barenaked Ladies were my favorite band for a long, long time before I came across the Mountain Goats. Full circle, huh?

There was a pretty interesting piece on The AV Club recently about Rancid‘s fourth album, Life Won’t Wait. Rancid is a band I’ve liked since my later years of high school, when I like to think that my musical tastes were getting slightly more respectable, but I never really got that into Life Won’t Wait. Probably because it strays pretty far from what pre-twenties me thought about punk music. The piece inspired me to give it another listen last week, though, and I really got into it. Probably not surprisingly, almost especially the songs that would have alienated a younger me, like the dub-experiment, “Crane Fist”.

I also finally got around to listening to the new Flying Lotus album, which is delightfully all over the place. I only gave it a distracted first listen this week, but it offered plenty of reasons to come back, like this fantastic, funky number with Kendrik Lamar. I love how that tiny little piano comes in, briefly guiding the drums, bass, and vocals flying all around it.