“The study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present from which we all have much to learn,” write Joseph Ellis in his new book, American Dialogue: The Founders and Us. The book serves as Ellis’s attempt to sit with several of the Founders and carry on that conversation, with “us,” the readers, as spectators. As John Adams so often did with his own books, we can engage in the conversation by writing notes in the margins and underlining passages, and we can even read the original works of the Founders ourselves. Knowing they were writing as much to history as to each other, they left behind a rich documentary legacy.
Ellis’s book plumbs these writings to explore four salient points that trouble the American present. “By definition, all efforts to harvest the accumulated wisdom of the past must begin from a location in the present…” he admits. The present he writes from and that we read from, he says, is “inescapably shaped by our location in a divided America that is currently incapable of sustained argument and unsure of its destiny.” Continue reading “Review: American Dialogue by Joseph Ellis”