From The Washington Post:
Benjamin Franklin — the subject of one of the essays in this stimulating new collection — once said that “Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed.” Most historians would agree with that gently cynical proposition, though they would wish to add a proviso that interpretations of the past should always rest on evidence — on what was “done,” as Franklin said. Among historians in universities these days, essays often tilt toward sheer interpretation, leaving the substance of the past scanted. Gordon S. Wood’s book bucks that trend, offering a good deal of empirical evidence — what was “done” — in these absorbing essays from one of our leading scholars of the American Revolution.
Eight of the 10 chapters of Revolutionary Characters are biographical, featuring Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr. The founders are often considered as a group, as indeed they are here, and widely admired as being “different” (the key word in Wood’s subtitle) from our current leaders in their commitment to enlightened principles. Looking at the founders together, it is hard not to conclude that though they deserve our admiration, they may not have constituted the group we have imagined. Certainly, they acted at times as if they had nothing in common.