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From hot-tempered Mary Ball Washington to promiscuous Rachel Lavien Hamilton, the founding fathers’ mothers powerfully shaped their sons’ visions of domestic life. But lovers and wives played more critical roles as friends and often partners in fame. We learn of the youthful Washington’s tortured love for the coquettish Sarah Fairfax, wife of his close friend; of Franklin's two “wives,” one in London and one in Philadelphia; of Adams’s long absences, which required a lonely, deeply unhappy Abigail to keep home and family together for years on end; of Hamilton’s adulterous betrayal of his wife and their reconciliation; and how the brilliant Madison was jilted by a flirtatious fifteen-year-old and went on to marry the effervescent Dolley, who helped make this shy man into a popular president. Jefferson’s controversial relationship to Sally Hemings is also examined, with a different vision of where his heart lay.
Fleming nimbly takes us through a great deal of early American history, as the founding fathers strove to reconcile their private and public lives, often beset by a media every bit as gossip-seeking and inflammatory as ours today. He offers a powerful look at the challenges women faced in the late eighteenth and early 19th centuries. While often brilliant and articulate, the wives of the founding fathers all struggled with the distractions and dangers of frequent childbearing and searing anxiety about infant mortality. All the more remarkable, then, that these women loomed so large in the lives of their husbands—and, in some cases, their country.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By anne on 04-25-11
some interesting dirt on our national heroes
One of the best books written about the founding fathers; people we thought were gods. Surprisingly, these "gods" had very human failings. George Washington, it seems, hated being president and refused to run again, until he was absolutely pressured into it. Jefferson failed miserably at being the Governor of Virginia. Alexander Hamilton, who set up this country's banking system, and was the first Sec. of the Treasury, had to admit to an affair to keep from being indicted for stealing out of the public coffers (found to be not true when he died.)The book is interesting, well written, and the narration is superb.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Devon on 07-03-14
Interesting, but unbalanced, angle
I did learn some new things in this book, and some of the chapters were quite enjoyable. However, throughout the whole thing, the author seemed to display judgmental prejudice against some founding fathers while giving a much more generous and fair treatment to others on similar topics (morality, slavery, debt).
I learned a few things and enjoyed hearing more about the founding father's personal lives and how they shaped their public personas. This book has some good content, but is detracted by its lack of impartial discussions on historical figures - particularly Jefferson, whom Fleming seems to think was lucky, but overrated and under-talented - a fact he drives home whenever he can. I most sincerely disagree.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful