What We're Actually Reading: Founding Brothers

Just in case you had any doubt that there isn’t much in the way of recurring themes in my reading list, here’s some historical non-ficion.

Founding Brothers

If you want to read about Revolutionary War-era history, but without actually touching that Revolutionary War thing.

founding brothers

I typically read nonfiction on the subway during my commute. Sometimes it gets tricky, though, like with Founding Brothers, which really likes to flesh out these people from the time period which have basically been diluted into mere characters throughout history.

Skipping over the Revolution entirely, the content mostly focuses on the issues dividing the nation while they were trying to actually create it. It was weirdly comforting to know that there was basically always a two party system tearing the country apart, and Founding Brothers really tries to dig into what created those different beliefs, rather than simply go over what they were, who pushed for what, and who won. As political concessions went back and forth, I was really feeling the frustrations of whoever was losing political ground that chapter, even if I wasn’t so sure I agreed with their politics. Maybe it’s because the American Revolution works nicely as a single, thematic focal point, in contrast to the utter clusterfuck of stuff whenever I try reading about politics closer to present day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (to anyone familiar with the rest of this blog), reading about the period’s apparently sole notable woman, Abigail Adams, was a highlight. It benefits extensively from Ellis’s almost postmodern style of jumping around all over the place without really telling the reader why, so she gets to be a recurring figure. And that was nice, because I liked seeing her pop up holding her political own in one place and then having her surprisingly touching love with her husband in others. And then seeing her lay some serious smack down on Thomas Jefferson. Maybe what I really want is just a book about women writing scathing letters to men throughout history. Does that book exist? I want to read it.

On that note, there’s also Ellis’s explanation at the beginning, basically saying, yes, history is mostly just a bunch of white men, and, yes, there’s not much we can do about that. He gets a little unapologetic about it all, which wasn’t quite necessary (“In my opinion, the central events and achievements of the revolutionary era and the early republic were political”, yes, that is how social power works in a cultural context, now, isn’t it?), but it does almost unintentionally provide a nice thought: maybe all books should start with a disclaimer that there are other books that aren’t just about white men.

Can You Explain It In Terms Of Other Books We Read On This Blog?

Ok, sure, it looks like I got myself pretty stuck with this one pretty quickly. It’s a non-fiction account of the years following the American Revolution. It does seem that there would be basically nothing that the books we read on this blog have in common with a book that basically just repeatedly describes how super duper awesome some men are.

Wait, that’s every book we read on this blog.

Reading this book is sort of like reading any scene praising the glorious and magnificent achievements and abilities of your Christian Greys, your Gideon Crosses, your Travis Maddoxes, and your Four/Tobiases. Except you know what it doesn’t do? It doesn’t do this totally blind to their faults. Nor does it constantly rationalize or forgive them. So if you’re gonna write something praising a man, maybe recognize that their faults are not endearing, and might even piss a lot of people off.

And Also Currently Listening

Honestly, I wrote a “What We’re Actually Reading” post this week more so that I could freak out about the new Mountain Goats song than to talkĀ about a book I read recently. Last week they announced their new album, which is entirely going to be entirely based on pro wrestling, because why the hell not. Extra weird for me (probably not for many people) was how much this actually reminded me of mid-90s Barenaked Ladies (it’s particularly reminiscent in places of “Shoebox” or “It’s All Been Done”), since Barenaked Ladies were my favorite band for a long, long time before I came across the Mountain Goats. Full circle, huh?

There was a pretty interesting piece on The AV Club recently about Rancid‘s fourth album, Life Won’t Wait. Rancid is a band I’ve liked since my later years of high school, when I like to think that my musical tastes were getting slightly more respectable, but I never really got that into Life Won’t Wait. Probably because it strays pretty far from what pre-twenties me thought about punk music. The piece inspired me to give it another listen last week, though, and I really got into it. Probably not surprisingly, almost especially the songs that would have alienated a younger me, like the dub-experiment, “Crane Fist”.

I also finally got around to listening to the new Flying Lotus album, which is delightfully all over the place. I only gave it a distracted first listen this week, but it offered plenty of reasons to come back, like this fantastic, funky number with Kendrik Lamar. I love how that tiny little piano comes in, briefly guiding the drums, bass, and vocals flying all around it.



  1. Bellomy Reply

    I just finished “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, then watched “Blade Runner”.

    Consensus: The book was better overall, but the chase scene in the movie with Roy Batty followed by that magnificent dying monologue is the best scene in the Android/Blade Runner franchise, period. It’s one of the best movie scenes I’ve EVER seen.

    More philosophy and humanity was communicated in Batty’s rescue of Decker and his final soliloquy then anything Dick wrote in the entire book.

    I enjoyed both, though “Androids” was depressing.

    • A Reply

      I just DON’T GET Blade Runner. I love “Androids” because it’s all about how there’s this inherent quality about life that we just need to be around other life, but the film? I don’t know. It kind of takes away from that point if there’s all sorts of people around–not really the wasteland I pictured from the book. Also I do not believe that Decker is a robot. No way, no how.

      I think the key moments in the book are in actions. The most memorable scene to me is when Decker’s at the end of his rope and drives out in the middle of nowhere and then finds the frog. The movie has made such a strong decision to be a mysterious futuristic noir that it has no memorable moments for me.

      • Bellomy Reply

        Maybe I’m think, but Mercerism was just bizarre. Seriously weird stuff.

        Dick apparently loved the whole feel of the movie. I think it matched. The cities are where everybody – literally almost everybody – lives. It’s everywhere else that’s empty, and Sebastian’s (AKA Isidore’s) apartment complex is suitably empty.

        Harrison Ford as Decker was inspired.

        The scene with Batty and Decker on the rooftop in “Blade Runner” was just amazing. I think the movie did a better job handling the question of whether or not androids are people. In that one scene – one moment – Batty, who we’ve seen be a real psychopath up to this point, becomes more human than the human, Decker. He shows Decker the mercy that Decker never would have given, and in that moment reveals himself to be just as human as anybody else.

        It’s there that it really hits home that Decker is an assassin. The androids are people. They’re capable of more than being murderous psychopaths. They can can also show mercy.

        As for the book, I liked it a lot, and Blade Runner could be very dull when the book never was. There were, however, no scenes in the book that truly stuck out to me, and the only characters that stood out were Decker and Isidore. I ended it feeling like it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

  2. Bellomy Reply

    Also, this is actually now on topic, since it’s about other stuff we’ve watched: HEY ARIEL WHERE ARE YOU IN JUSTIFIED. I just watched episode 2 of season 2 tonight and WOW this might be the best start to a season “Justified” has ever had.

    • 22aer22 Reply

      I’m at the beginning of season 3 now! Like so in love with the show and the characters – I just wish there was at least one female character on it currently that I really could get behind. Mags and Loretta aren’t in it anymore šŸ™ Eva is growing on me from time to time, but my boyfriend pointed out to me that the times I like her best are when she’s mimicking Boyd, which is fair because BOYD CROWDER <3333333

      Also, not enough Tim! He’s hilarious and needs to snark at Raylan like constantly.

      • malcolmthecynic Reply

        Time gets his very own subplot in season 4, and it’s great.

        So I was right about the finale of season 2, because the playing of that song over Mags’s suicide is seriously one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a show.

        Season 3 is good. Quarles is awesome. He starts season 3 pretty good but by the end of the season he’s just killing that role.

  3. Dana Reply

    GUYS I READ THE MACHINE OF DEATH THINGY. Well, I read the first one, because I found a free PDF version online, and I read eight sample stories from “This is How You Die,” because I’m a poor college student and I hate spending money. It was actually a lot better than I was expecting! I sort of assumed every story was going to end with a cheap rug-pull trick that would get super irritating after a while, but it wasn’t like that at all.

    As to what I’m reading right now, well, I’m in the middle of “Atonement”, and I just finished rereading “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates, which is one of my personal favorites. I plan on reading “The Way the Crow Flies” next based on my mom’s good word. I also still have a few B&N giftcards, so I’m trying to decide what I should buy next (of course, the B&N at my school kind of sucks, so I’ll likely have to wait for a visit back home to actually purchase the books I want).

    • matthewjulius Reply

      Mhm! The stories in the first book rely on the twist ending more so than the second does, but the stories don’t all do the same thing. An early favorite of mine was the one with the doctors who get the patients with “tests” and have to figure out what the hell they can do. I’m glad you liked i! Wha were your favorites?

      • Dana Reply

        I really liked that one as well. I also liked “Starvation,” “Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions,” “Almond” (the logbook one), “Cocaine and Painkillers” (the one about marketing the machine) and “While Trying to Save Another” (the one about the support group for the minority of people who know when exactly they’re going to die).

  4. Judy Reply

    I’m currently reading/listening to a fantastic nonfiction book,that reads like a novel called Behind the Beautiful Forevers- Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,, It was written by Katherine Boo and won the National Book Award in 2012.

    • matthewjulius Reply

      I take it you’ve got an audiobook? I’ve always wanted to give those a shot, but I’ve never really figured out an ideal time for them.

  5. shivani Reply

    judy i agree its a fantastic non fiction book… And i too had the audio book…

    Currently i am trying to read ‘the lives of others’ by neel mukherjee..


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