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New York Times Bestseller Editors' Choice —New York Times Book Review "Ricks knocks it out of the park with this jewel of a book. On every page I learned something new. Read it every night if you want to restore your faith in our country." —James Mattis, General, U.S. Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense  The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and #1 New York Times bests New York Times Bestseller Editors' Choice —New York Times Book Review "Ricks knocks it out of the park with this jewel of a book. On every page I learned something new. Read it every night if you want to restore your faith in our country." —James Mattis, General, U.S. Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense  The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author offers a revelatory new book about the founding fathers, examining their educations and, in particular, their devotion to the ancient Greek and Roman classics—and how that influence would shape their ideals and the new American nation. On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, Thomas Ricks awoke with a few questions on his mind: What kind of nation did we now have? Is it what was designed or intended by the nation’s founders? Trying to get as close to the source as he could, Ricks decided to go back and read the philosophy and literature that shaped the founders’ thinking, and the letters they wrote to each other debating these crucial works—among them the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato, and Cicero. For though much attention has been paid the influence of English political philosophers, like John Locke, closer to their own era, the founders were far more immersed in the literature of the ancient world. The first four American presidents came to their classical knowledge differently. Washington absorbed it mainly from the elite culture of his day; Adams from the laws and rhetoric of Rome; Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, especially Epicureanism; and Madison, both a groundbreaking researcher and a deft politician, spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist. Each of their experiences, and distinctive learning, played an essential role in the formation of the United States. In examining how and what they studied, looking at them in the unusual light of the classical world, Ricks is able to draw arresting and fresh portraits of men we thought we knew. First Principles follows these four members of the Revolutionary generation from their youths to their adult lives, as they grappled with questions of independence, and forming and keeping a new nation. In doing so, Ricks interprets not only the effect of the ancient world on each man, and how that shaped our constitution and government, but offers startling new insights into these legendary leaders.


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New York Times Bestseller Editors' Choice —New York Times Book Review "Ricks knocks it out of the park with this jewel of a book. On every page I learned something new. Read it every night if you want to restore your faith in our country." —James Mattis, General, U.S. Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense  The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and #1 New York Times bests New York Times Bestseller Editors' Choice —New York Times Book Review "Ricks knocks it out of the park with this jewel of a book. On every page I learned something new. Read it every night if you want to restore your faith in our country." —James Mattis, General, U.S. Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense  The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author offers a revelatory new book about the founding fathers, examining their educations and, in particular, their devotion to the ancient Greek and Roman classics—and how that influence would shape their ideals and the new American nation. On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, Thomas Ricks awoke with a few questions on his mind: What kind of nation did we now have? Is it what was designed or intended by the nation’s founders? Trying to get as close to the source as he could, Ricks decided to go back and read the philosophy and literature that shaped the founders’ thinking, and the letters they wrote to each other debating these crucial works—among them the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato, and Cicero. For though much attention has been paid the influence of English political philosophers, like John Locke, closer to their own era, the founders were far more immersed in the literature of the ancient world. The first four American presidents came to their classical knowledge differently. Washington absorbed it mainly from the elite culture of his day; Adams from the laws and rhetoric of Rome; Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, especially Epicureanism; and Madison, both a groundbreaking researcher and a deft politician, spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist. Each of their experiences, and distinctive learning, played an essential role in the formation of the United States. In examining how and what they studied, looking at them in the unusual light of the classical world, Ricks is able to draw arresting and fresh portraits of men we thought we knew. First Principles follows these four members of the Revolutionary generation from their youths to their adult lives, as they grappled with questions of independence, and forming and keeping a new nation. In doing so, Ricks interprets not only the effect of the ancient world on each man, and how that shaped our constitution and government, but offers startling new insights into these legendary leaders.

30 review for First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Thomas Ricks' thoughtful and well-crafted First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country demonstrates the sweeping influence of classical thinking on our Founding Fathers. Greek and Roman philosophers, historians, and civic heroes exemplified the principles upon which the American republic was based. This influence survived until the late 1790s when the advent of the vigorous give and take of competing interests took over (“faction,” Thomas Ricks' thoughtful and well-crafted First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country demonstrates the sweeping influence of classical thinking on our Founding Fathers. Greek and Roman philosophers, historians, and civic heroes exemplified the principles upon which the American republic was based. This influence survived until the late 1790s when the advent of the vigorous give and take of competing interests took over (“faction,” as it was known then). Party politics – and the end of public virtue as it was known in the 18th century -- carried forward into the early 19th century when industrialization and commercialization finally subdued the power of classicism. In his epilogue, Ricks cites ten steps that could be undertaken to realign America with the goals of our Founders. Three among them struck home with me: 1. “Wake Up Congress” – The branch of the federal government that has failed most in recent years has been Congress. Two of its major functions are to be the voice of popular will and to act as a check on the executive. Congress has been unwilling to perform these functions. Ricks wrote: The framers of the Constitution probably would be surprised and chagrined by the passivity of Congress in recent decades, and especially its failure to assert firmly its role as a co-equal branch of government with the executive. They intended Congress to be active, expecting it to be the most energetic branch of federal government... One of the hallmarks of oligarchy is a legislature that is elected but tame, just active enough to divide and weaken the democratic spirit. I don't believe the Founders anticipated the creation of a permanent class of careerist office-holders whose primary objective it to maintain their grip on elective seats at any cost -- irrespective of the public good. It's difficult to keep an eye on the public interest when one is always on the next election and the other is on the lookout for donors. There are no eyes left for the good of the people. 2. Curtail the influence of money in politics. Ricks supports: We should drop the bizarre American legal fiction that corporations are people, enjoying all the rights of citizens, including unfettered campaign donations as a form of free speech... (T)he founders would have considered corporate campaign spending the essence of political corruption. Too many acts of our government, particularly those of Congress, are bought and sold like the shoddiest of Walmart merchandise. 3. “Know Your History” – I am astounded at the lack of understanding of how we reached our current state as a nation. Many who should know better don't. The death of education in civics is part of the problem. You can't appreciate the present situation if you don't understand how the system works (or doesn't work). As for our history, you can't know where you are if you don't know where you've been. First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country is the right book for our times. It's thought-provoking and deserves to be read widely. It earned a solid Four Star place in my library

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    I have read many books on the "Revolutionary period" in American history, and after reading Mr. Ricks' book, "First Principles," I am convinced that if I read a thousand more books on this period I would only know about half of what there is to know. Mr. Ricks' book is an amazing analysis of where our first four Presidents, and many of the founders like Alexander Hamilton, got their ideas about how to form a government, and how these ideas are present in the 'Declaration of Independence,' and the I have read many books on the "Revolutionary period" in American history, and after reading Mr. Ricks' book, "First Principles," I am convinced that if I read a thousand more books on this period I would only know about half of what there is to know. Mr. Ricks' book is an amazing analysis of where our first four Presidents, and many of the founders like Alexander Hamilton, got their ideas about how to form a government, and how these ideas are present in the 'Declaration of Independence,' and the 'US Constitution.' It was what these individuals learned from the Greeks and Romans that would form the foundation of our country. Except for Jefferson, Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison were greatly influenced by Roman writers such as Cicero, Cato, and stories of Cincinnatus, Ceasar, and Catiline. On the Greek side, Jefferson, especially, was influenced by Plato and Aristotle, and works like "Iliad and Plutarch's Lives." Jefferson, who designed much of the Capital in Washington, DC, literally got all his ideas from Roman structures, and that's the reason there are so many dome buildings in the Capital. In short, anyone interested in the Revolutionary period and the men behind the construction of America should read this amazing, and informative book. One final thought, I always felt that George Washington was the most important person in American history, and this book undeniably proves that he was "The Indespensible Man," in the creation of our nation.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Virtue. The 18th century definition of virtue “putting the common good before one’s own interests” came from ancient Roman philosophy. The Enlightment theorist, Montesquieu believed that virtue was the one indispensable quality in a republic. Washington, whom did not have college degree, strove to live his life virtuously. Adams, educated at Harvard, was immersed in the Roman principles. Jefferson, who studied at William and Mary and was exposed to the teachings of the Scottish Enlightenment and Virtue. The 18th century definition of virtue “putting the common good before one’s own interests” came from ancient Roman philosophy. The Enlightment theorist, Montesquieu believed that virtue was the one indispensable quality in a republic. Washington, whom did not have college degree, strove to live his life virtuously. Adams, educated at Harvard, was immersed in the Roman principles. Jefferson, who studied at William and Mary and was exposed to the teachings of the Scottish Enlightenment and preferred the Greet philosophers over the Romans. He was attracted to Epicurean thought emphasizing happiness as “the aim of life”. Madison, was educated at King’s College (Princeton) which drew students from throughout the colonies. He was the main force behind the Constitution and decided that virtue among public leaders could not be counted on, that self-interest would triumph without checks and balances. Hence, our divided government to counter the temptation of tyranny. Ricks made a study of what the four key founders read, how they were educated, and what influenced their thinking. Based on his research, Washington’s and Madison’s reputations rose in esteem, Adams’ definitely fell, with Jeffersons’ not much better. Having read biographies of all four men, Ricks’ book is an indispensable addition to understanding what these founders were thinking. Importantly, it is clear that they would be appalled by the rise of an oligarchy of wealthy individuals and leaders—including the bizarre concept that corporations are people. Highly recommend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Hill Krishnan

    First Principles by Thomas Ricks 1. The book’s main theme is how the founding fathers acquired, and applied the knowledge of the 1000 year ancient Greek and Roman governments and it’s heroes. 2. Unlike other biographical books this author is trying to find the books the founders read and how it impacted their thinking and actions. 3. Washington: Washington is not known as a scholar and didn’t have a college degree. He is known as someone who acts rather than thinks. Adams and others criticized Wash First Principles by Thomas Ricks 1. The book’s main theme is how the founding fathers acquired, and applied the knowledge of the 1000 year ancient Greek and Roman governments and it’s heroes. 2. Unlike other biographical books this author is trying to find the books the founders read and how it impacted their thinking and actions. 3. Washington: Washington is not known as a scholar and didn’t have a college degree. He is known as someone who acts rather than thinks. Adams and others criticized Washington as not well read for his station in life. A) Washington’s favorite Roman was Cato (Stoic) and even had his play in Valley Forge. B) Washinton took time to come to terms that he cannot fight an offensive war against the British if he wants to win. So, chose the Fabian Strategy. The strategy is named after Roman Fabius who fought a defensive war of attack and run against brilliant Carthagian military general. C) Washington also followed the Roman general Cincinnatus as a role model to give up power and going back to be a normal citizen. 4. Adams: Adams was a Harvard graduate and lived with books. For him books are the means to achieve power, purpose and upward mobility in life. For Adams Roman Cicero is his role model. Following his role model he become a lawyer and worked on his “virtues.” Virtues at that time is about doing what benefits “common good” compared to personal benefit. Adams brought the revolutionary spirit to the continental congress to win Independence. The only founder who didn’t own slaves. It reminds me of the quote by Samuel Johnson: "Why Do We Hear the Loudest Yelps for Liberty from the Masters Drivers of Negroes?" 5. Jefferson: Jefferson went to William and Mary College but tutors were from Scotland. Scotland had great literacy rate even in 17th century it was about 75%. Ships coming from Scotland brought tutors to Chesapeake. We know the ideas of Jefferson from Locke (Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness) in Declaration of Independence. But also the idea of the government govern based on the consent of the governed is a Scottish idea. Jefferson for all his curiosity never went west. He gravitated towards Europe and had books mostly in different languages. When he gave his library to congress, 90% of congressmen couldn’t read his books in different languages. 6. Madison: Madison went to Princeton. Compared to other schools Harvard, Yale, etc. Princeton was a national school. All other were more regional. So, Madison was able to think nationally amidst the 13 different colonies. Jefferson sent him trunk load of 200 plus books and permitted him to study in his library. Madison idea of checks and balances was from “Spirit of Laws” written by French philosopher Montesquieu who was a constitutionalist and acted as a bridge between ancient world and classical American world. Madison used Montesquieu idea to create the system where ambition is checked by ambition. Not only checks and balances between the branches but also between political factions (political parties).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jon Stout

    Having an interest in Greek philosophy, I was drawn to Ricks’ book on the influence of Roman and Greek thought on the founding fathers of the American Revolution. The book is a kind of recap of American history, but with an emphasis on what the major players were reading, and how it influenced them. The founding fathers of the United States were profoundly influenced by classical thinkers, more than we can imagine today, because college education was oriented around Latin and Greek studies, and Having an interest in Greek philosophy, I was drawn to Ricks’ book on the influence of Roman and Greek thought on the founding fathers of the American Revolution. The book is a kind of recap of American history, but with an emphasis on what the major players were reading, and how it influenced them. The founding fathers of the United States were profoundly influenced by classical thinkers, more than we can imagine today, because college education was oriented around Latin and Greek studies, and even for those who were not college educated, such as George Washington, landed gentry took for granted the models of classical history. One strong tangential impression, not intended by the author, was of how the founding fathers as young adults faced the world in ways totally familiar to modern experience. George Washington, who as a youth had lost his father and older brother, had to face the challenge of earning a living. As a teenager, he learned surveying as a profitable skill. At the first opportunity he took on a military reconnaissance task for the colonial governor of Virginia, and soon after enlisted in the colonial army. Sounds like any teenager today: if one doesn’t go to college, one learns a skill or joins the army. John Adams was fortunate to go to college (Harvard was in the neighborhood), but when he graduated, he needed to find a job. He became a school teacher in an isolated small town, until he eventually undertook to study law. Again, sounds like the kind of choice any young person would find themselves making today. Roman history provided the models for the founding fathers. George Washington admired Cato, a model of rectitude, who exposed the conspiracy of Catiline and countered the ambition of Caesar. John Adams admired Cicero, who rose from humble beginnings to high position though his rhetorical skills. Thomas Jefferson was more influenced by the Greeks than by the Romans, and admired Epicurus, summarizing virtue as consisting of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. James Madison studied, in addition to Horace and Cicero, the Greek military writer Xenophon, who described an ancient constitution with equal rights and freedom of speech. All were shaped by the classics. As an admirer of Plato, I was disappointed in Jefferson’s take on Plato’s Republic, noting the “whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work.” In fairness, I would not take the Republic as a guide for designing a constitution, though it does have its political insights (such as that democracy tends to degenerate into tyranny). By the first part of the nineteenth century, the emphasis on intellectual ideals and civic virtue, favored by the Federalists, gave way to the idea that everyone’s opinion counted equally, favored by the Democratic-Republicans. The rationalist secularism of the founding fathers gave way to a flourishing of religious sects as a result of religious freedom. The last president to have a classical education was John Quincy Adams. The influence of Greek and Roman writers was useful in designing an enduring United States Constitution, but not so useful when politics became the battle of competing political parties against which George Washington had warned.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    A great book, providing a study of the way the education and cultural environment of our founding fathers influenced their political thoughts and actions. The books closely follows Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison in explaining how classical concepts developed their principles and shaped their actions in the development of American independence and government. The author, noted journalist Thomas Ricks, dives deep into the idea of Virtue - a concept with important implications for Americ A great book, providing a study of the way the education and cultural environment of our founding fathers influenced their political thoughts and actions. The books closely follows Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison in explaining how classical concepts developed their principles and shaped their actions in the development of American independence and government. The author, noted journalist Thomas Ricks, dives deep into the idea of Virtue - a concept with important implications for America’s early years but one which also requires a thorough understanding of the background and culture for those who wielded that word as a weapon and a shield. Ricks delivers that understanding in a well-developed and clear history of the Revolutionary period and its aftermath. The book follows the education and experiences of the four main characters. He shows how their education, though widely different in execution, shared a common classical foundation. That classical foundation permeated the world in which they lived, surrounding them as they lived their lives. It was interesting to learn the details of this classical education, the particular writers and characters who were most admired, the view of Greek vs Roman culture, and the stark absence of Christianity in these realms of thought. Most of the second half of the book is spent dissecting key documents, actions, and writings of the four principal figures; though many other key members of the founding father set are given due regard for their work and contributions. The importance of the classical roots in these foundational American concepts are well explained. While the unique stamp each figure made on the collective American ideal is also described. Along the way we learn that Washington, though the least educated of the four, was in thought and deed the one who most closely resembled the epitome of the classical statesman. Adams was, to the end, the most devoted to the philosophical vice practical. Whereas Madison, described as the key politician of the revolutionary era, was the exact opposite, seeking out practical applications in the pages of classical philosophers. Finally Jefferson, the figure with the strongest predilection for Greek vice Roman thought, presaged the turn from classical enlightenment to classical romanticism with his strong epicurean ideals. All in all, it is a fascinating re-appraisal of the way in which Cato, Cicero, Tacitus, and many other Ancients greatly contributed to America’s foundational ideas. I especially appreciated the insights into various oft-quoted statements by Adams and Jefferson - the book provides needed philosophical context which very much alters some of the thrust of these quotes. Highly recommended for those wanting to better understand the importance of Virtue in the American citizen’s participation in the republic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    B: Ricks’ publicity campaign lead me to expect more, and it didn’t live up to the Mattis quote on the dust cover. That being said FIRST PRINCIPLES is a very good book and an excellent primer on the philosophical foundations of our nation. I agree with much he has written and the conclusions he draws. Washington’s virtues and Madison’s realization that interests and factions are features of our national character that still stand tall in our history. Both Jefferson and Adams take their lumps but B: Ricks’ publicity campaign lead me to expect more, and it didn’t live up to the Mattis quote on the dust cover. That being said FIRST PRINCIPLES is a very good book and an excellent primer on the philosophical foundations of our nation. I agree with much he has written and the conclusions he draws. Washington’s virtues and Madison’s realization that interests and factions are features of our national character that still stand tall in our history. Both Jefferson and Adams take their lumps but still are valuable contributors to our national expectations.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Best book I read this year. First Principles is a rollicking intellectual history of America's founding. Ricks takes a new approach: He reports on what the founders read, where they studied and who tutored them. He reads their writings to find out who they quoted, and what classical ideas informed their thought. The book is wide-ranging. It examines the first four Presidents -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- in the years before the Declaration of Independence, through the war, past th Best book I read this year. First Principles is a rollicking intellectual history of America's founding. Ricks takes a new approach: He reports on what the founders read, where they studied and who tutored them. He reads their writings to find out who they quoted, and what classical ideas informed their thought. The book is wide-ranging. It examines the first four Presidents -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- in the years before the Declaration of Independence, through the war, past the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, and well into the first decades of the new nation. Of course Hamilton and Burr and Franklin and Paine and more are in that story. He explains how their thinking evolved, and how the culture and politics of the nation changed around them. He takes progressively bigger steps across those early decades, dealing with slavery, the emergence of political parties and finally reaching Lincoln and the Civil War. This was both an insightful history of the founding and an exciting approach to the topic. I never realized how fundamentally classical Washington was, and apparently on purpose. I had no idea that the Catiline conspiracy in Rome was so nearly a current event for the founders. I got new insights into our founding documents, by understanding the how the drafters thought. I understand the founders better as people.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dave Courtney

    This book had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. A couple other books on enlightenment era thinking, politics and history had me thinking this would be a good pick to begin to wrap up my 2020 reading schedule. And I'm so glad i finally got around to it. This was so good. It has me extremely puzzled why it seems so many Americans seem to be unaware of this basic history. To be fair, Ricks is challenging some basic and long held tenants of popular understandings of the nation's early founde This book had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. A couple other books on enlightenment era thinking, politics and history had me thinking this would be a good pick to begin to wrap up my 2020 reading schedule. And I'm so glad i finally got around to it. This was so good. It has me extremely puzzled why it seems so many Americans seem to be unaware of this basic history. To be fair, Ricks is challenging some basic and long held tenants of popular understandings of the nation's early founders, and also positing what he would suggest to be some new ideas that flow from his research. But most of this is readily available and even known. That it is not clear that partisan politics and Western idealism has led to some harmful ideas of governance and bad definitions of "virtue" is perhaps where it is most puzzling. To summarize this in a very superficial terms, I think the author is making two central points. 1. America needs to come back to the foundational values that it's Country was built upon 2. Those values are not what most Americans think they are At the heart of the matter are two facts: 1. The early fathers that helped shape America were closer to the ancient world than we often realize 2. The early father's did much work to distance itself from Greek and therefore the East, essentially adopting a narrowed Western view which was gradually compromised and polluted as these ideas were adopted into a developing American society. All save for Jefferson were adopters of the West, with Jefferson being the lone leader with awareness and ties to the East. Thus what we get with the words of Alexander Hamilton, "the Roman Republic attained to the utmost height of human greatness". What often gets missed in this assertation is that "Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all came from what the historian Annette Gordon Reed calls 'a society built on and sustained by violence, actual and threatened." The book narrows in on Adams, Washington, Jefferson and Madison among otheres to demonstrate how their views and their allegiances paved the way for some of the more problematic views of liberty and virtue to take root. This includes Adam's allegiance to Cicero as a model for his life and thus a model for the Country, the gradual shift in definitions of virtue from law and Country to oppressive indivdual ideals, Washington's allegiance to Cato, and the gradual evolution of the relationship between religion and American life. If the enlightenment was seen more as a "process than a result", or in Kant's words a "true reform in ways of thinking", then this led to "examining the world with skepticism and self-confidence", the "sublime confidence of the intellectuals and societal leaders in the power of man's reason" being the the most important facet of the age of reason. This would become the means by which "classicism was thrown out with "federalism", leaving the ancient world behind them as they forged new ground. The question then becomes, what precisely does this new ground become when so definitively detached from the world in which they came. The author will argue that true American ideals and virtues are not as detached from the classical world as we think they are, and that in many ways it is in stepping out of this way of thinking that sees America as the great experiment, the stand alone embodiment of enlightenment ideals, the bastion of liberty and freedom, and stepping back into the grander narrative of history that set its foundation. As he writes, "by the early ninteenth century, America had already emerged as one of the most egalitatian, most materialistic, most individualistic- and most evangelical Christian- societies in Western history. In many respects this new democratic society was the very opposite of the one the revolutionary leaders had envisaged." In a very real way, "the revolution had not failed- rather, it had exceeded the expectations of those who led it", which is precisely where it went off the rails. At this time, "in both politics and religion roused Americans could invoke fundamental documents- the constitution and the scriptures. American evangelism and commericalism would go hand in hand', with a "competitive free market in three cruicial areas: commerce, politics, and religion. In sharp contrast to the ways of Europe, all three of those realms were unregulated, non-hierarchical, and driven by individual decisions." In many ways the person the author saves most of the positive words for is Jefferson, as he is the outlier of the bunch. But the problem with trying to locate any of these early voices in American history is that American history quickly evolved into a bit of a mess of individualized focus and concern. It became a convoluted and highly modified version of an already problematic Enlightenment world. Which isn't to say that Enlightenment ideals are entirely bad, simply that they became quickly misplaced in this idea of an ongoing evolution. Knowledge becomes a concrete idea upon which revolution offers something formed, not something that is forming, and this is what we see in both American politics and American, largely Protestantized religion. It's a confusion of ideals. What makes this ironic is that in the process of creating an idealistic and confused American style liberty, this foundation appears to completely ignore the foundation that preceded it and gave it life. This hyperstylized version of individual liberty was not what the early minds, indebted to the classical world, had in view, and partisan politics came into view this became more and more muddled to the point where the way their views are demonstrated today is hardly recognizable in light of these new definitions of liberty and virtue, neither of which are really classical or Christian in nature, even as they masquerade as both. To peek behind the curtain of this masquerade is to find an early foundation that valued socially minded governance and a fusion of liberty and regulatory vision. Publicly funded arts and community minded policies that afford people democratic process looks a whole lot closer in fact to something like what you find in Canada and England, as much as America would hate to admit. Peel back the curtain a bit more and what you find is not an exponential growth at the time in the discovery the new world based on the liberty we recognize today, but rather that growth came from the decision to marry this liberty to a profound sense of individualism, power and capitalist pursuit. Which again, is far from the classical view that informed the world of the early founders from their very diverse sensibilities. The great American experiment in the eyes of the author, if I understand him correctly, has more to do with actually implementing the ideas of the classical world's interest in democratic society rather than upending it. Thus to get back to the essence of that experiment, which many other Countires I think are much ahead in at this point in time, America needs to return to the lessons that formed the world of it's pre-birth reality. Because when you don't have proper context, a lot of things can go very, very wrong, very quickly.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sigrid Fry-Revere

    I haven't been good about keeping up with entering the books I read on Goodreads, but this one irked me enough to want to warn people. First Principles got on my nerves almost right away. I was so excited about the topic, after all, I'm a philhellene and admire the ancient Romans almost as much as I admire the ancient Greeks. I also am a great admirer of James Madison and the whole enlightenment project that the U.S. Constitution represents. Because of this, a book with the subtitle "What America I haven't been good about keeping up with entering the books I read on Goodreads, but this one irked me enough to want to warn people. First Principles got on my nerves almost right away. I was so excited about the topic, after all, I'm a philhellene and admire the ancient Romans almost as much as I admire the ancient Greeks. I also am a great admirer of James Madison and the whole enlightenment project that the U.S. Constitution represents. Because of this, a book with the subtitle "What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped Our Country" sounded fascinating. Well, don't bother. Thomas Ricks lacks both an understanding of ancient Greek and Roman thought and, most surprisingly, given all the reading he says he did in preparation for writing this book, any clear notion of what those ideas meant to men of the 18th-century enlightenment. Perhaps worst of all is his obviously, and needless, over-arguing. Just one small example will give you an idea of why I question his intellectual integrity. Right in the beginning, he talks about one of my favorite topics -- the ancient concept of virtue. He states on p. 6 that the word "virtue" appears more than the word "freedom" in the Founders Online database at the National Archives. I appreciate the point he is making, namely that the ancient concept of virtue was important to the Founding Fathers BUT why does he set up a false dichotomy? Hardly anyone in the 1700s used the word "freedom" -- they used the word "liberty." So why does Ricks mislead his readers? I would not have considered his discussion of virtue any less interesting if he had said the Founding Fathers' concerns about virtue were only second to their concerns about liberty. But Ricks misrepresents the facts because he wants to make his point about virtue even stronger by giving us the impression the Founding Fathers cared about it more than "freedom" -- which they did not -- they cared about it only second to "liberty," the word they used to mean what we more commonly speak of as "freedom." Anyway, there are other examples like the one above. So I asked myself, given the misrepresentations I did find, how many did I miss? Instead of giving us a book that explains how the ideas of the ancients were understood by the founding fathers, Ricks gives us a book that mostly just criticizes the Founding Fathers by looking at their ideas (and those of the ancients they admired) through a modern lens that is so tainted by current prejudices that it does little to nothing to deliver on the book's subtitle. If you want to understand what the Founders learned from the Greeks and Romans, you are better off reading some of the documents in the Founders Online database yourself, or alternatively, watch the Great Courses lectures on The Federalist Papers. Either one of those approaches would be more worth your time than reading Thomas Ricks' First Principles.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I'm debating a four and five star. I really enjoyed the focus on the education our founding fathers had received and how it had transformed into our government. Very interesting to see how the founding fathers embraced a classical education but it pretty much vanished from society along with the true meaning of virtue. A fascinating book for people that want to continue to learn. I'm debating a four and five star. I really enjoyed the focus on the education our founding fathers had received and how it had transformed into our government. Very interesting to see how the founding fathers embraced a classical education but it pretty much vanished from society along with the true meaning of virtue. A fascinating book for people that want to continue to learn.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margot Peter

    Such a lovely, easy history read, lots of anecdotal information on each of the first four Presidents, but the best part, imho is the afterword with his suggestions on how to right the ship of state which is floundering right now.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris Ingram

    Highly recommended as a gift idea for that friend, co-worker, or family member that calls themselves a “patriot”, “strict-constructionalist”, or “constitutionalist” and argues we should return America to “the way the ‘founders’ intended”.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard Marney

    A refreshing approach to the history of the founding and founders of the US. Where are you, Washington, Madison, et. al. when we need you?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Loni

    It was alright. His personal political rants detracted from his stated thesis. Who cares what you think about our current politics Mr Ricks. I just want to learn about what your title stated your book would be about.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen Troutman

    First Principles What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country by Thomas E. Ricks HarperCollins Publishers You Like Them You Are Auto-Approved Harper Biographies & Memoirs | History Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 05 Jan 2021 I am unlikely to purchase this book for our library. It was not the book for me. Thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley. 3 star First Principles What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country by Thomas E. Ricks HarperCollins Publishers You Like Them You Are Auto-Approved Harper Biographies & Memoirs | History Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 05 Jan 2021 I am unlikely to purchase this book for our library. It was not the book for me. Thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley. 3 star

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    With many fathers, our views evolve as we learn more about them. Similarly, the “Founding Fathers” initially command a certain reverence, then provoke a little rebellion and, once we see them as the fallible people they are, engender a level of respect, in part, because they accomplished what they did despite that fallibility. Ricks looks at four of these men (Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Adams) and their writings to examine what books and ideas inspired them to strive for ideals greater With many fathers, our views evolve as we learn more about them. Similarly, the “Founding Fathers” initially command a certain reverence, then provoke a little rebellion and, once we see them as the fallible people they are, engender a level of respect, in part, because they accomplished what they did despite that fallibility. Ricks looks at four of these men (Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Adams) and their writings to examine what books and ideas inspired them to strive for ideals greater than their time and, in all cases, greater than what they themselves personally achieved. Growing up in the United States, I knew the general ingredients: take the democracies of Greece with a bit of Roman pomp folded in. Then, mold in Montesquieu and Locke, and you have America. Quick, easy, and you have leftovers for two centuries. Maybe longer. If refrigerated and kept away from authoritarian tendencies. But the specifics are so much more fascinating. Ricks combs through these men’s letters to each other as well as their published writings to find what spoke to them. The inspirations are unique. Jefferson loved Greece and built a life around Epicurean empiricism and the pursuit of pleasure. Or, more fittingly said, the pursuit of happiness. Madison, scholarly, sickly, and underappreciated, methodically created a system for a republican Rome more democratic and stable than Rome ever sought to be. Adams, possibly overrated according to Ricks, initially emulating Cicero, sought Catalines around every corner and eventually fell, possibly like Cicero, to insults against own vanity. Seeing betrayal and abandonment by his friends and the press. Finally, the great Washington, is portrayed as a man intellectually out of sync with his compatriots. Not as well read nor as educated, instead he absorbed the virtue of the day. He lived a life much more in line with Greek arête rather than simply read about it. Posterity has granted Washington a mythic level of civic virtue. What is most amazing, his contemporaries seemingly thought the same of this impressive, yet still flawed, man. In an age when civil discourse could easily incorporate comparisons to Cincinnatus, Cataline, and the Amphictyonic League, to persuade not only opponents, but the population in general, it unavoidably causes some pause when lookiing at discourse today. But that era was not immune to scandalous claims and libel either. Even though I wish, as many, that political discussion could be of a higher caliber, I took some great comfort that these men had similar battles and came out of the mud with things like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And these men, especially after living through the trials of the Revolutionary War, learned that not all who seek public office would be virtuous. Fortunately, as Madison purposely designed, the system is meant to gridlock when the overly ambitious obtain power and seek no compromise. It is not a flaw in the system, it is the system. Hopefully, as we veer between those seeking “mandates” to pursue their respective agendas, we will one day re-learn the lesson of our Founding Fathers that compromise is not weakness, but the key to living with one another in peace.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks wondered what had become of the nation. Ricks could have chosen any number of unproductive activities to cope with Trumpism's ascendance to the White House. Instead, he dove into ancient history--Greek, Roman, and the Revolutionary generation--and surfaced with his delightful and timely book "First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped our Country." Ricks After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Thomas Ricks wondered what had become of the nation. Ricks could have chosen any number of unproductive activities to cope with Trumpism's ascendance to the White House. Instead, he dove into ancient history--Greek, Roman, and the Revolutionary generation--and surfaced with his delightful and timely book "First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped our Country." Ricks filters the first principles of the Revolutionary generation through the lives and education of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison--America's first four presidents. Although these men differed in their learning and their personal paths to politics, Ricks shows that they shared a common, classical understanding of virtue, which Ricks writes "meant putting the common good before one's own interests." The idea of virtue in the classical sense provided a "shared vocabulary" for public service. As Ricks suggests at the end of his book, the United States would do well to draw lessons from the way the founding generation spoke about politics so to improve the way we communicate about important political issues today. Of course, the 1790s were no paragon of polite political discourse. But the four founders' ideal seems to have been to stay above factions or what eventually grew into political parties by the time of Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800. If the Revolutionary generation sought to mold America after the classical world, the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison rejected the old order for a more Romantic brand of republicanism that was more democratic and less elitist. After the 1800 election, the Federalist Party fizzled out of existence and with it Americans' preference for looking to the ancient world for answers. As Ricks explains, Americans adopted an attitude of self-reliance and sought their own guidance in an expanding and young nation. Still, "First Principles" shows that Cicero, Cato, and Catiline mattered to the first four presidents and continue to have resonance in the modern world. Ancient Greek and Roman history informed the Revolutionary generation's intentions for the new United States of America. Whether we have lived up to their intentions may in part be answered by a jaunt through, say, ancient Roman history, and Ricks's book serves as an accessible tour guide. Ricks's returned from his sojourn through the old world with a terrific book. "First Principles" surveys its subjects fairly, but does not venerate them. Three of the first four U.S. presidents enslaved human beings. One may wonder how these men could discuss virtue when they tolerated laws that enforced unspeakable cruelty. "First Principles" does not resolve the contradiction at America's founding. Nor does it aim to. It does make a good argument, though, for continuing engagement with these Revolutionary thinkers, their ideas, and their influences--even as we wrestle with their sins. The ancients may still have something to teach us about becoming a more perfect Union.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    This was just a pleasure to read despite the fact I knew much of the detail around Madison and Jefferson already, the way the Ricks frames the discussion and works on the macro and micro levels of American government and founding documents broadly as well as the finest points of each founder's biography more specifically kept this on point and engaging. Though Washington is the least classical educated of the lot, he is always the one onto which various titles of classical fame are attached, wil This was just a pleasure to read despite the fact I knew much of the detail around Madison and Jefferson already, the way the Ricks frames the discussion and works on the macro and micro levels of American government and founding documents broadly as well as the finest points of each founder's biography more specifically kept this on point and engaging. Though Washington is the least classical educated of the lot, he is always the one onto which various titles of classical fame are attached, wily Fabius wearing out the marauding hordes on the battlefield, and the altruistically patriotic Cincinnatus content to secure victory for his nation and retire to his fields. A true leader crafted by experience on the battlefield, commitment to learning from disastrous decisions, and a keen perception as to the import of precedent and leadership by example. Adams had to follow in the shadow of such an icon and as such, had an outgrown worry of how he was perceived by others, though never abandoning the desire to be seen as a later day Cicero. Never the oratorical genius he wished to be, he nevertheless was always looking for the next Cataline to purge from the early union. His depth of reading and training was formidable, however how he applied them once he had power was less than satisfying. Jefferson was of course the most nebulous of the lot, though admittedly and obviously the most Greek influenced of them all, frequently being branded an Epicurean. So detached was his reading in the classics from the generation immediately after his that there was concern of the use of his library to replenish the recently destroyed Library of Congress following the War of 1812, as most of his volumes were "paganistic" in a way that alarmed the more pastorally christian voices of that era. Madison the deeply read student of republics from antiquity who brought all of this to bear on the forming of the Constitution and the checks and balances contained therein. Again, one whose presidency is not remembered entirely as an outstanding or extraordinary period of leadership, but an example of what a radical (Princeton in the late 18th century) education and deep reading of the classics can provide as background for the formation of a new nation's founding documents. It's comforting to know how deeply read our founders were, for all of their numerous faults, in this area and how committed they were to learning from the mistakes both of persons but also of state policy from Greece and Rome. The notion of any of our current policy-makers and leaders knowing more than a single "academic-sounding" and a-contextual quote they saw in someone else's profile on social media from any of the numerous authors of/about antiquity favored here (Cicero, Thucydides, Xenophon, Gibbon, Horace, Homer, Epictetus, Lucretius, Epicurus, etc...) is, as we know, an absurdity. How refreshing to hear of presidents and lawmakers who did.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) As of late, when reading either the memoirs or leadership books of various generals, such as Gen Mattis or McCrystal, these former military commanders tend to reference classical works, such as those from ancient Greece or Rome. It is not that surprising that Thomas Ricks, who has written about military action and leadership would decide to offer his own insight into the impact of classical authors. However, Ricks does not do this from a solely military perspective. He offers an asse (Audiobook) As of late, when reading either the memoirs or leadership books of various generals, such as Gen Mattis or McCrystal, these former military commanders tend to reference classical works, such as those from ancient Greece or Rome. It is not that surprising that Thomas Ricks, who has written about military action and leadership would decide to offer his own insight into the impact of classical authors. However, Ricks does not do this from a solely military perspective. He offers an assessment of how those Greek and Roman writers impacted the Founding Fathers of America, specifically, the first four US Presidents. This work briefly follows the lives of the first four Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison) with emphasis on how their reading and interpretation of the ancient works and authors impacted their lives. Where appropriate, Ricks will engage in a comparative biography, as when he compares the lives of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus and George Washington when it comes to military strategy and engagements. However, Ricks is more interested in highlighting how the works influenced the thinking of the American leaders, and how their worldview, from their writings and figures of speech, took so much from men who had walked the Earth 2000 years before they did. There is a growing emphasis on the works of the classics and how others, not just the military, could use those readings to enrich and educate themselves and others. Ricks compares the Founders and their use of classical writers to enhance their thinking with Trump, who has shown absolutely no inclination to use any type of writing to educate himself. As such, a Trump fan will steer clear of this book. Also, Ricks probably over does it on the first 4 presidents, and while he will mention other figures like Hamilton, Patrick Henry or Thomas Payne, it is in brief and does short-change how other key non-presidential figures also used these ancient writings to focus their thoughts and create a nation. Worth at least one listen/read. It is best as a starter into looking into the works that perhaps are due to return to the modern educational curriculum.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I have learned many things from this book. One of them was what the word "virtue" meant to our founding fathers and how it was a part of the structures, like the Constitution, that they built into America at its outset. For them "virtue" was "putting the common good above one's own interests (Ricks 5). Founders such as Washington, Adams and Hamilton felt that this personal ethic essential to the life of a Republic. They looked to the classical author's of Greece and Roman, Cicero, Cat0, Herodotu I have learned many things from this book. One of them was what the word "virtue" meant to our founding fathers and how it was a part of the structures, like the Constitution, that they built into America at its outset. For them "virtue" was "putting the common good above one's own interests (Ricks 5). Founders such as Washington, Adams and Hamilton felt that this personal ethic essential to the life of a Republic. They looked to the classical author's of Greece and Roman, Cicero, Cat0, Herodotus and the like, to discover patterns for their own lives and the lifeblood of the new nation they founded. I also learned that the public life based on virtue was to give way to the model based on competition by various factions, which is way after two federalist presidents, Washington and Adams, the Federalists lost power to the Jeffersonian Republicans who formed the first and oldest political party in America. I also learned that Washington won the revolution by following the tactics of the Roman Quintus Fabius Maximus' fight against Hannibal, which he had read in Plutarch. Washington had suffered losses when he attempted to fight his battles in the standard 18th century method of posting his soldiers opposite the well-trained British soldiers and slugging it out. Instead he adopted the model avoiding these battles and instead seek to wear the enemy out (Ricks 136). This was the method North Vietnam used to defeat the United States. I expect I will be returning to this book in the future.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This was such a great book! It makes me sad that my formal education was sorely lacking in regard to the founding of our country. In all of the history classes I had we never touched on the huge contributions of James Madison! This book does not only delve into the first four presidents but Thomas Ricks illustrates how each one of our presidents was influenced by the histories of Rome and Greece. Whether it be Washington and his view of "virtue", or Jefferson and his dedication to epicureanism; This was such a great book! It makes me sad that my formal education was sorely lacking in regard to the founding of our country. In all of the history classes I had we never touched on the huge contributions of James Madison! This book does not only delve into the first four presidents but Thomas Ricks illustrates how each one of our presidents was influenced by the histories of Rome and Greece. Whether it be Washington and his view of "virtue", or Jefferson and his dedication to epicureanism; classical history steered the founders and inspired them to form the government that we have now. Even though these men are thought of as demagogues today, what troubled me was their blatant disregard of slavery. Jefferson acknowledged it as wrong, but really never moved a finger to do a thing about it. Washington did free his slaves once his wife had died. Adams was the only founding father and president that did not own slaves. I especially liked how Ricks pointed out that while all of these me, astute scholars of history, seemed to forget or ignore the history of Spartacus-the man who led a slave uprising. It really defines how slavery was woven into the American story. Great book whether you are a fan of history or not. I do believe that every American should know how we got started. It will instill a great appreciation for our country, and allow a better understanding of fallible men who strove to create a nation of the people.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chad Manske

    Less than two months off the press, Ricks publishes an astonishingly refreshing and necessary book for these times. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who found himself at the end of 2016 wondering where America was headed, writes an unlikely work of historical art (he has written extensively on military topics in the past) and a must read for those who appreciate the Constitutional roots of the US republic and its influences and formation. Drawing deeply on letters the founding fathers wrote on Less than two months off the press, Ricks publishes an astonishingly refreshing and necessary book for these times. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who found himself at the end of 2016 wondering where America was headed, writes an unlikely work of historical art (he has written extensively on military topics in the past) and a must read for those who appreciate the Constitutional roots of the US republic and its influences and formation. Drawing deeply on letters the founding fathers wrote one another as they debating revolution and its aftermath, Ricks came to discover the deep and varied educational backgrounds and upbringings of our first four presidents. The first four American presidents each came to their classical knowledge differently. “Washington absorbed it mainly from the elite culture of his day; Adams from the laws and rhetoric of Rome; Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, especially Epicureanism; and Madison, both a groundbreaking researcher and a deft politician, spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist.” The letters and debate between the founders included the writings in the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato, and Cicero. For though much attention has been paid the influence of English political philosophers, like John Locke, Scotsman David Hume, and French philosopher Montesquieu, the founders were far more immersed in the literature of the ancient world.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ben Pratt

    I did not expect this book to be as engaging and insightful as it ended up being. I hated putting it down. It was interesting to see the founders from the perspective of their educations, and to consider classicism as a unifying principle for how this country was initially conceived and shaped in the early years - and the challenges the surviving founders had trying to understand a country that had moved on and was adopting new ways of thinking about themselves, their country, and their place in I did not expect this book to be as engaging and insightful as it ended up being. I hated putting it down. It was interesting to see the founders from the perspective of their educations, and to consider classicism as a unifying principle for how this country was initially conceived and shaped in the early years - and the challenges the surviving founders had trying to understand a country that had moved on and was adopting new ways of thinking about themselves, their country, and their place in the world. I also appreciated the way Ricks took the founders to task on slavery. One of the quotes in the last portion of the book has stuck with me: “Slavery was not a stain on the country, it was woven into the original fabric.” Overall it reinforced my understanding of America as a work in progress, that it is still very much an experiment, and that there are no guarantees of a good outcome. We need to see our founders both as flawed men who made some catastrophically poor decisions, while also recognizing their courage and genius in devising and birthing this extraordinary experiment based on timeless classical principles so succinctly and poignantly states in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. I finished the book on this note, reminded of Leonard Cohen’s “Three Line Poem:” Oh, and one more thing You aren’t going to like What comes after America

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dick Heimbold

    This book does what it sets out to do: describes the influence of Greek and Roman classical authors and Enlightenment thinkers (Locke, Montesquieu) on the lives and works of the First Four American Presidents. How George Washington conducted the Revolutionary War was explained in (partly) terms of campaigns in Italy against Hannibal. Founding fathers Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison were steeped in the classics—Washington less than the others because he did not go to college—and their speec This book does what it sets out to do: describes the influence of Greek and Roman classical authors and Enlightenment thinkers (Locke, Montesquieu) on the lives and works of the First Four American Presidents. How George Washington conducted the Revolutionary War was explained in (partly) terms of campaigns in Italy against Hannibal. Founding fathers Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison were steeped in the classics—Washington less than the others because he did not go to college—and their speeches and writings are replete with references to Cato, Cicero, etc. The influence on the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of classical and Enlightenment sources is fascinating. The eventual turning away from these sources by a more pragmatic and less educated populace is briefly treated. A worthwhile and fast read. Recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Holloway

    What kind of country are we... The country has been through rough waters. Doubt and uncertainty confuse its course. Truth is relative to opinion, ideology, emotions, noisy mob slogans. I saw Mr Ricks on MSNBC, who was invited over three or four days to discuss the 2020 election, the history of other presidential elections and the present political environment. I picked up his book. I was disappointed in the first few pages. I thought the book would be stale, rote, and a reworking of common knowle What kind of country are we... The country has been through rough waters. Doubt and uncertainty confuse its course. Truth is relative to opinion, ideology, emotions, noisy mob slogans. I saw Mr Ricks on MSNBC, who was invited over three or four days to discuss the 2020 election, the history of other presidential elections and the present political environment. I picked up his book. I was disappointed in the first few pages. I thought the book would be stale, rote, and a reworking of common knowledge. It is not. Mr Ricks' scholarship is complete. His thesis on several events is novel. While the 2020 election bobbed in rough waters around me, Mr Ricks' crisp rolling of events in our history helped balance my outlook on the nation's future of possibilities.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sandford Parker

    Writing about the intellectual history of the United States can make for some dry reading (I won’t name names but an author often-quoted in this book is an example) but Ricks pulls it off and the result is an very accessible, fascinating work. First Principles is a chronological telling of the first four presidents’ intellectual disposition beginning with a young George Washington on the frontier prior to the Seven Years War that he helped kick off and winds down after the death of the youngest Writing about the intellectual history of the United States can make for some dry reading (I won’t name names but an author often-quoted in this book is an example) but Ricks pulls it off and the result is an very accessible, fascinating work. First Principles is a chronological telling of the first four presidents’ intellectual disposition beginning with a young George Washington on the frontier prior to the Seven Years War that he helped kick off and winds down after the death of the youngest of the four, James Madison. Highly recommended for those interested in the Revolutionary Period and the framing of the Constitution. Now I’m off to read about the Cataline rebellion!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Fascinating read on how the classical education of the Founders was the most important influence on their design of the republic, and how ultimately the American Experiment would quickly stray from that foundation. Analyzed through the lens of the first four American Presidents, First Principles is a worthy read for novice and expert alike who gains something from the facilitation Mr. Ricks provides in clearly describing the connections between the classics and the intellectual milieu of the Ame Fascinating read on how the classical education of the Founders was the most important influence on their design of the republic, and how ultimately the American Experiment would quickly stray from that foundation. Analyzed through the lens of the first four American Presidents, First Principles is a worthy read for novice and expert alike who gains something from the facilitation Mr. Ricks provides in clearly describing the connections between the classics and the intellectual milieu of the American Founders.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chase Metcalf

    Philosophy and the Founders Enlightening read exploring the influence of classical period on the founding fathers. Authors style is easy to read and the material enlightening - even for someone with a general understanding of the founding fathers. In concluding the author offers a short list of recommendations to include don’t panic, refocus on the public good (vice individual property rights), and know your history. Recommended read for anyone who seeks to better understand the major philosophic Philosophy and the Founders Enlightening read exploring the influence of classical period on the founding fathers. Authors style is easy to read and the material enlightening - even for someone with a general understanding of the founding fathers. In concluding the author offers a short list of recommendations to include don’t panic, refocus on the public good (vice individual property rights), and know your history. Recommended read for anyone who seeks to better understand the major philosophical influences on the founding fathers.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gerry Connolly

    Thomas Ricks has written a gem in First Principles recounting the influence of Roman and Greek classicism on our founders. The orations of Cicero and the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle permeated their thinking. Madison immersed himself in the history of republics while building checks and balances in the constitution against a Catiline or Caesar. Trump has tested those guardrails but Biden’s election suggests their durability

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