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First Principles: What America's…
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First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and… (2020 original; edició 2020)

de Thomas E. Ricks (Autor)

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1945111,374 (3.81)1
Membre:chadamsadams
Títol:First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country
Autors:Thomas E. Ricks (Autor)
Informació:Harper (2020), 416 pages
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First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country de Thomas E. Ricks (2020)

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Thomas Ricks book First Principles garnered lots of positive press when it came out last fall. It has a 4.6 out of 5 rating on Amazon, and a 4.18 out of 5 on Goodreads. So I came at the book with high expectations.

I found it to be an entertaining read. Ricks takes a unique approach to understanding the motivations of our founding fathers. Yet, in the end, I can't say that I took away a significantly new, or profoundly impacted understanding of our nation's founding.

Ricks' unique approach is through the classical learning -or lack thereof - of the first four of our US Presidents. In his words he wanted to explore, “what our first four presidents learned, where they learned it, who they learned it from, and what they did with that knowledge.” He does a great job telling that story, and it was an interesting story to read.

A couple of the things that were let downs to my high expectations -

The heart of the answer to Ricks' quest is with Madison and the drafting of the Constitution. Here I wish he had spent more time and done more analysis to address the subtitle of his book. Instead the Constitution is covered in a single chapter, and much of that chapter relates to the politics of ratifying the Constitution rather than the basis of Madison's ideas in the Constitution.

The first two thirds of the book build the argument for how the ideas of the Greeks and Romans were instrumental to the thinking of the Founding Fathers and influenced the shape of the US government. In the final third of the book Ricks tries to explain why that classical thinking disappeared with the next generation. This to me was the weakest part of the book, and I don't know that the question was answered satisfactorily.

Despite these things I do recommend this book. If you are a fan of American history and particularly of the history of the nation's founding, you will find much to like in this book, and hopefully feel as I did that it is an entertaining read and a good refresher. Just don't go at it with high expectations thinking it will be revelatory and re-align your thinking about our Founding Fathers. I rate First Principles Three Stars ⭐⭐⭐. ( )
  stevesbookstuff | Sep 5, 2021 |
This is a book which makes you think. One recurring character is Cataline the scoundrel I so painfully decoded in translating Cicero from the Latin more than fifty years ago. In a way this book is patriotic to the extent that it translates the influence of the ancients upon the founders, suggesting that both for us and for the founders it pays to understand from whence we came. ( )
  cjneary | Aug 21, 2021 |
If it weren't for the Prologue and Afterword of this book, I'd have given it 4 stars. Unfortunately, Ricks must pollute what is otherwise a well written, well formatted book with his hate for Donald Trump. Had he at least pointed his fingers at other previous presidents for their faults (Clinton's dishonesty; Obama using the power of the presidency to go after political enemies) it would have been more objective. But no, things only started going wrong in 2016 and only Trump does bad things. For the record, I can't stand Trump as a person. But I supported virtually all of his policies.

I really like how "First Principles" was formatted. Overall, it covers how our first four presidents used classical education in their thoughts, actions, and policies. The first section focuses on their education (or, in Washington's case, lack thereof). Other than GW, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison were educated at what we'd now called Ivy League schools and were taught to read Latin and Greek. They also studies those ancient civilizations and its attempts at republics and democracies. Other sections cover how those ideals were implemented during the Revolution; the Constitutional Convention; each of their presidencies; etc.

I've spent years reading about our founding and always seeing references to Plutarch, Cicero, etc. but not really understanding what they believed or how those beliefs influenced the founding generation. This book certainly helped me in this regard. I was quite familiar with most of the events in the book, but Ricks did a good job showing it in a new light from the perspective of the ancients.

If you can ignore the blatant bias, which again really only shows up at the beginning and end, you'll enjoy the book. ( )
  Jarratt | Mar 4, 2021 |
Ricks’ First Principles gives us insight into the literary and philosophical factors that influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States. These influences formed the personal values of the individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence and who contributed to the US Constitution.

The book is relatively short and easy to read. That, combined with the fair amount of research behind it, makes it a good refresher course in how the US was formed. Published just a couple of months ago, it is an up-to-date perspective drawing relevant comparisons and contemporary points of view. The author shows some bias in his personal likes and dislikes of certain Founders, and he weaves in some Trump parallels, which reads like an odd cameo appearance of a current personality in an eighteenth-century story. Maybe better to stick to the characters of the period (there’s no shortage of characters back then).

Sometimes the author’s comparisons of issues of today are useful; for example, many today view the two-party system as corrupt and detrimental to democratic process. Others view the two-party system as balanced, providing an ever-present give-and-take as checks and balances. The same tension existed in the 1790s.

Equality wasn’t exactly as we think of it today. The most glaring example of course is the institution of slavery, built into the early nation as a terrible compromise to get the southern states to join into one nation. Many founders viewed the slavery compromise as a curse that would doom the nation. They predicted that such a “deal with the devil” would destroy the nation in the near future. Interestingly, plenty of leaders in the period viewed slavery as the evil that we think of today. Condemning slavery is not a case of projecting today’s morals and world view onto a past culture. Many people (though not enough) had the decency and conscience to condemn it back then as well.

Early American norms also included a definite ranking system. Liability and injury, for example, depended partly on rank. Libel or injury to a high-ranked individual carried harsher punishment than the same injury to a person of lower rank.

The early days of the republic were fraught with violent disputes about the basic principles of governance. After more than ten years of war to gain independence, internal wars were just heating up. John Adams, for example, wanted an authoritarian central federal government (Federalist), Thomas Jefferson wanted very little power in the federal government. Jefferson knew the Constitution would not be perfect—determining liberty for the people, he wanted to err on the side of too much liberty, rather than too little. Jefferson even favored periodic armed rebellion by the rabble. He thought bloodshed was a healthy way to refresh democracy and prevent the government from gaining authority over the people, instead of people having authority over the government.

Civil discourse did not hide extreme antagonism. The party in power viewed the other party as traitors and seditionists who should be jailed or put to death. This was not a reference to some fly-by-night troublemakers. This was John Adams talking about Thomas Jefferson. Newspaper editors who favored the party currently not in power were routinely kept in prison until the power shifted at the next election. 3rd-President Thomas Jefferson released many journalists from jail who had been imprisoned by 2nd-President John Adams.

After being voted out after one term as president, John Adams refused to attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. Adams thought the American people had become degraded, having lost all virtue and sense (for voting against him). He left the Whitehouse at 4 a.m. the morning of Jefferson’s inauguration to avoid seeing him, or anyone else.

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But fewer are aware that a lesser-known founder, James Madison (4th US President), wrote the US Constitution. Madison was a brilliant and prolific writer, having written the famous Federalist Papers. He wrote so much, in one example, he wrote George Washington’s speech to the House of Representatives, he wrote the House’s Response to the speech, and he wrote Washington’s response to the House’s response. Madison’s writings largely constitute the entire history of the early nation.

A fair portion of the book is devoted to George Washington’s evolution as a military strategist—his rôle in the British military, then as the American Commander in Chief during the seven-year American Revolution. He shifted dramatically from sudden-impact engagements to a longer-term strategy of relentless precision harassment and guerilla warfare. Washington’s ability to adapt and optimize his approach fluidly in response to British military behavior, shifted the balance of power to make the revolution successful.

The book includes interesting historical trivia, such as the early years of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other nascent American institutions, and their political alliances. In 1828, Federalist newspaper editor Noah Webster published the first edition of a dictionary he conceived and authored on his own, known as “Webster’s Dictionary,” with Noah Webster’s own 70,000 hand-written entries. Another tidbit—many years after George Washington died, a well-meaning sculptor created a statue of George Washington in a Roman robe. It received its most devastating criticism from Davy Crockett: George Washington in a Roman Gown? “This ain’t right.” It was removed.

One weakness in the book is the overdone connection with Roman and Greek influences. It is true that Roman and Greek history and literature was widely known in those days. But the claim of particular influences upon the Founders might have been either less emphasized, or better documented.

In the final analysis, the book is an entertaining and informative window into the founding era of American political and philosophical history. It highlights some of the most extraordinary events and legendary figures during a fifty-year period before, during, and after the American Revolution. I recommend it to anyone interested in the people who formed the nation. ( )
  Coutre | Jan 18, 2021 |
A fresh look at the Founders and the conditions that led to the begfinning of the US and how lucky we wer to have such men in such a time. A period that I should know more about. Ricks uses the education of the first 4 Presidents and shines a light on their Classical Education and how this framed their thoughts. Only vaguely heard of the Scottish Enlightenment but now I know how much it infused the thinking of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Washington.
Was put off by the wokeness of some termes (Slaves?, First Peoples?, him and her generals?) but nonetheless a good read. ( )
1 vota JBreedlove | Jan 3, 2021 |
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Unless we can return a little more to first principles, & act a little more upon patriotic ground, I do not know...what may be the issue of the contest.

-- George Washington to James Warren,
March 31, 1779
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For the dissenters, who concieved this nation,
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If on a spring morning in May 1778 following that hard winter at Valley Forge, we could approach a soldier warming himself by a fire and ask him his opinion of the great Roman orator Cato, he probably would not find the inquiry odd.
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This entry for "First Principles" is for the 2020 work by Thomas E. Ricks regarding the founding fathers and founding principles of the USA. Please DO NOT combine this work with any of the numerous other works by this title. A bit of caution will cost a few seconds, and save hours of extracting various works from this entry.
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