“Popular biographers tend to elevate and glamorize the Founders, seeing them through a nostalgic haze,” says Nancy Isenberg (Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, 2007, etc.), a history professor at Louisiana State University who co-wrote the dual biography of the third and the fourth presidents with her partner Andrew Burstein (The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving, 2007, etc.), also a professor of history at LSU. “As professional historians, we take issue with nonhistorians who are unfamiliar with the literature in this field and misconstrue the past,” says Isenberg. Indeed, their monumental and lucid work, which received a starred review from Kirkus, takes great pains to describe not just the truths of the lives lived by these two extraordinary (and in many ways ordinary) men—so critical to the founding of the nation—but also to re-examine many of the assumptions we make about our country’s earliest days. “We are no less committed to writing a lively and fascinating narrative than popular writers are,” says Burstein. “But we are educated to interpret 18th-century texts without writing as cheerleaders for our subjects. Maintaining a critical distance is how one should write history…The third and fourth presidents were fascinating, complicated men who deserve to be understood within their political and emotional universe—not made to resemble us.”
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Madison and Jefferson
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg
Random House / September / 9781400067282 / $35.00
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010