Joseph J. Ellis

Easton Press Joseph J. Ellis books

American Sphinx - Thomas Jefferson Biography - part of a 6 book, The Founding Fathers set
Founding Brothers - Signed Limited Edition - 2007


Historian Joseph J. Ellis

Joseph John Ellis, born on July 18, 1943, is a distinguished American historian and author renowned for his expertise in early American history. Born in Washington, D.C., Ellis developed a passion for history from a young age. He attended the College of William & Mary and later earned his master's and doctoral degrees in history from Yale University. Ellis has had a remarkable career as a scholar, educator, and author. He has held teaching positions at various institutions, including West Point, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Ellis's academic contributions and engaging teaching style have garnered him recognition and respect in the field of American history.

One of Joseph Ellis's most notable works is his biography of Thomas Jefferson, titled American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, published in 1997. This book, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, delves into the complexities of Jefferson's character, exploring the contradictions within his personality and political beliefs. In 2001, Ellis received the Pulitzer Prize for History for his book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. This work examines the relationships and interactions among key figures of the American Revolution, providing insight into the personal and political dynamics that shaped the nation's early years. Ellis is also known for his book His Excellency: George Washington, published in 2004. In this biography, he offers a nuanced and insightful portrayal of the first President of the United States, examining Washington's leadership during the Revolutionary War and his role in the early days of the American republic.

Despite his significant contributions to the field, Ellis faced controversy in 2001 when it was revealed that he had embellished aspects of his own biography, particularly his claimed service in the Vietnam War. He publicly apologized for these misrepresentations, acknowledging the importance of maintaining accuracy and integrity in historical scholarship. Joseph J. Ellis has continued to be an influential voice in the study of early American history. His works not only contribute to a deeper understanding of the nation's founding period but also showcase his ability to make history accessible and engaging to a broad audience. Through his books, teaching, and public speaking engagements, Ellis remains a prominent figure in the field of American history.


American Sphinx - The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Following his subject from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to his retirement in Monticello, Joseph Ellis unravels the contradictions of the Jeffersonian character. A marvel of scholarship, a delight to read, and an essential gloss on the Jeffersonian legacy.

Founding Brothers - The Revolutionary Generation

Informs our understanding of American politics then and now and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.

An illuminating study of the intertwined lives of the founders of the American republic John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

During the 1790s, which Ellis calls the most decisive decade in our nation's history, the greatest statesmen of their generation and perhaps any came together to define the new republic and direct its course for the coming centuries. Ellis focuses on six discrete moments that exemplify the most crucial issues facing the fragile new nation: Burr and Hamilton's deadly duel, and what may have really happened; Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison's secret dinner, during which the seat of the permanent capital was determined in exchange for passage of Hamilton's financial plan; Franklin's petition to end the "peculiar institution" of slavery his last public act and Madison's efforts to quash it; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address, announcing his retirement from public office and offering his country some final advice; Adams's difficult term as Washington's successor and his alleged scheme to pass the presidency on to his son; and finally, Adams and Jefferson's renewed correspondence at the end of their lives, in which they compared their different views of the Revolution and its legacy.

In a lively and engaging narrative, Ellis recounts the sometimes collaborative, sometimes archly antagonistic interactions between these men, and shows us the private characters behind the public personas: Adams, the ever-combative iconoclast, whose closest political collaborator was his wife, Abigail; Burr, crafty, smooth, and one of the most despised public figures of his time; Hamilton, whose audacious manner and deep economic savvy masked his humble origins; Jefferson, renowned for his eloquence, but so reclusive and taciturn that he rarely spoke more than a few sentences in public; Madison, small, sickly, and paralyzingly shy, yet one of the most effective debaters of his generation; and the stiffly formal Washington, the ultimate realist, larger-than-life, and America's only truly indispensable figure.

Ellis argues that the checks and balances that permitted the infant American republic to endure were not primarily legal, constitutional, or institutional, but intensely personal, rooted in the dynamic interaction of leaders with quite different visions and values. Revisiting the old-fashioned idea that character matters, Founding Brothers informs our understanding of American politics then and now and gives us a new perspective on the unpredictable forces that shape history.


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