Something That Will Surprise the World: The Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers, edited by Susan Dunn.
This collection of writings from our most important founders—Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—runs the gamut from political essays to letters to diary entries. Williams College professor of humanities Susan Dunn entices the reader with her introduction, ably depicting these men and the contradictions they embodied. "On the surface," she writes, "they appeared reluctant to lead" and looked forward to receding from the public stage. Yet a young John Adams declared, "Reputation ought to be the perpetual subject of my Thoughts, and Aim of my behavior."
Readers familiar with the founding generation, however, likely have little use for the documents presented in this collection, most of which can be found elsewhere. For those unfamiliar with the founding, this is not the place to begin because Dunn's well-meaning selections lack the context and editorial guidance that are necessary to keep non-specialists from feeling adrift. Perhaps a better point of departure would be one of the extraordinary biographies of the founders that have appeared in recent years.
Council on Foreign Relations
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This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Claremont Review of Books