• American Dialogue

  • The Founders and Us
  • By: Joseph J. Ellis
  • Narrated by: Arthur Morey
  • Length: 8 hrs and 41 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (237 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The award-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Quartet now gives us a deeply insightful examination of the relevance of the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams to some of the most divisive issues in America today. 

The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue, Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question "What would the Founding Fathers think?" He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today's political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, and Madison and the doctrine of original intent. 

Through these juxtapositions - and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice - Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues.

Cover image: Three Flags, 1958 by Jasper Johns. Encaustic on canvas (three panels) © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Print: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA/Bridgeman Images

©2018 Joseph J. Ellis (P)2018 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Vivid.... Ellis writes with insight and acuity in the present tense, just as he always has in the past tense, and in American Dialogue he draws connections between our history and our present reality with an authority that few other authors can muster." (Jeff Shesol, The New York Times Book Review)

“Joe Ellis knows that history is not simply about the past, it’s about the present having a conversation with the past. In this elegant and fascinating book, he conducts a discourse between our current troubled times and the period when our founders crafted our national creed. The result is an exploration of our values that is both timely and timeless.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo Da Vinci

 

"Ellis has taken those recurring questions and those astonishing founders and held them up against our current agonies, seeking to make sense of the present through the prism of the past...thoughtful and thought-provoking...this book may prompt readers to consider that there may be no certainties in a world where philosophy, practicality, and personal interest collide." (The Boston Globe)

"Ellis is not concerned with quiet insights or reassurance. He means to mark out where we have strayed from, and how we have betrayed, America's founding ideals." (The Washington Post)

What listeners say about American Dialogue

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A fine work, even with the editorializing

I have read/listened to every one of Mr. Ellis’ works pertaining to the American Revolution and Founding Fathers, and am a big fan of his. After the first “Now” chapter of this book I almost shut it off and requested a refund due to the blatant Progressive bias. His past works around this subject have had very little subjectivity, so it was a bit of a shock.

But, after some reflection I decided to listen to the entire book with an open mind. While there are points I still strongly disagree with, the 2nd Amendment chapter in particular, I did find myself having an internal debate about some of my long-held beliefs. His chapters about the 14th Amendment and American foreign policy were particularly compelling for me.

As usual with his books, the historical aspects of this work are outstanding.

If you lean to the left of the political spectrum you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you lean right, hopefully you can listen to this book with an open mind and at the very least gain some understanding of views that differ from yours.

20 people found this helpful

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My first J. Ellis book and I'm disappointed,

Disappointed it ended. I am excited to venture back into his collection of work and experience more.

5 people found this helpful

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Great History!

Excellent essay's on Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington. Ellis really demolished the idea of Original Intent of the Framers in the Madison chapter.

4 people found this helpful

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What would the Founders think?

I will admit, my rating for this book is probably a little higher than it deserves. More like 3 and a half stars but... Ellis is kind of a go to historian of the early Republic writing for the layman. This book is enjoyable but much more ideological than his other books, primarily because he is looking at the America of today and how it resonates or not with the America of the Founding Era. Naturally in many regards today comes off a pretty poor second. Unfortunately, I think the only readers of history who will not read this objectively or at least fairly will be the ones who put our lamentable president in office. Ellis will probably lose a lot of the buyers of his books who tune in to Fox News who most need the urgent history lessons.

But to be fair, the topicality of the book is one of the reasons why this book is one of my least favorite of his books. The reason I feel this way is that I think that there is too much reverence for the Founders (we still capitalize the word after all) and too little contextualization of why we got to the point we are. Trump is not an aberration, he is a culmination of the degradation of the political process. We are not too political, we are too little. The Americans who despise politicians elected this man because political office became something vulgar. Our Founders and the politicians of the early Republic were not perfect men. But they cared about our nation, and they cared about ideas. Not sure I can say the same about today's politicians of either party.

3 people found this helpful

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Very Informative

Mr Ellis, first of all, exceptional! I enjoyed it thoroughly and found it to be incredibly revealing that 240 odd years has not elevated human nature very much. The founders faced many of the same social issues and political brinksmanship that we are confronted with today. I especially appreciated the section on George Washington and the partisan treachery he faced during his presidency.

My only complaint is the language used and the style of writing. Not the founders but yours. I felt like I was listening to work intended for academic peer review. I reversed the audio often just so I could translate a sentence back to myself in a more common form of speech. Sadly you may leave a portion of your audience behind and some great insights might be lost. I hope that is not the case, because I think you need to send a complementary case of this book up to the Caoital Hill and it should be mandatory reading for the house, senate and judiciary . Thanks

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent

This will give you a huge insight into what actually happened at the beginning of the United States.

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Desperately needs to be updated. Out of touch given the last few years.

Clearly Joseph Ellis has a liberal agenda in mind. Many of his perspectives on how the deck is unfairly stacked with a conservative bent are out of touch with the current times. Many of his commentaries on social justice miss the great riots and looting of the last few years. While I’ve enjoyed many of his books over the years. This was a serious disappointment.

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  • ER
  • 07-27-22

Could Not Get Into It...

Gave performance and story both 5 stars, but an overall rating of 2 stars. The story was excellent, the reader was excellent, but for some reason I just did not click with this book. I had to keep rereading portions of it over and over.

I hope you have a different experience, because the content is excellent I just wish I could stay focused on this book

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Could Not Put it Down

I should have read this book a long time ago. It gave some amazing details I was not privy to before reading this text. I cannot wait to share this book with my students.

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thought provoking interpretation

narration was good. Substance of book very interesting. Conclusions thought provoking.
Reccomend to history buffs.