Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book Review: "Something That Will Surprise the World"

Williams College Humanities professor Susan Dunn has collected some of the best-known letters and essay excerpts from some of the framers in Something That Will Surprise the World: The Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers. Collections like this are of some limited use in certain cases, but their necessarily subjective nature severely hobbles their usefulness.

Dunn's omission of Benjamin Franklin is rather odd (she includes writings from Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson and Madison), and while for the most part I found her introductions to the writings of each author fairly good, I felt she over-simplified Hamilton and Madison to dangerous degrees (two-page caricatures of these men - and the others - are hardly adequate).

Distilling the massive collections of the framers' writings into less than a hundred pages apiece is
an effort perhaps destined to the same litany of complaints - why not this letter over that? Why excise this paragraph here? It's simply not an easy thing to do. Dunn has carried it off fairly well, but if you seek a full picture of any particular character here, seek out the wider context.