Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: Founding Mothers:The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

3 of 9 for the Fall Reading Challenge
genre: nonfiction
rating: 3/5

I am ashamed that it took me so long to get around to reading this book - it was given to me for Mother's Day in 2004. That's me looking sheepish :) Although I am a big fan of historical fiction, straight up history tends to make my eyes droopy - so I either really have to be motivated or have some sort of external force urging me onward. Since my online book club chose this for our book of the month, I knew this was the time to remove the dust jacket and sink my teeth into some American History.

In this case, the history was not particularly dry - in fact, Cokie's writing was full of anecdotal and interesting stories about the wives, daughters and relations of our Founding Fathers. Her style was readable and informal - I felt like I was sitting in a lecture hall, being taught by a professor with a healthy sense of humor and irony. The book is divided into historical periods, which was helpful. What was not so helpful, for me, was how often I felt the narration jumped around - either from person to person or from past to present (well, Revolutionary Present). There were so many people and names that when we kept jumping back and forth I had a really hard time keeping everyone and their story straight.

To remedy this, instead of trying to be 100% aware at all times of who I was reading about, I tried to mostly just appreciate what this book intended to teach me: that these women deserve to have their stories told. And while Martha Washington and Abagail Adams are familiar names, many more women were influential on not only their own men, but on pre-Revolutionary society as a whole. A good part of what our country is today is a result of their opinions and their valiant efforts both during the Revolution and while our country was being slowly pieced together. Not all the women in this book made great choices, of course. Some had affairs with married men - and these affairs affected the course of historical events. Some women even held their husbands back from public office, adding to the workload of other Revolutionaries. For good or bad, these ladies had an important place in the events of the Revolution.

What Cokie did particularly well was to place these women in the context of the lives of their men. And by doing so, without ever stating it outright, she helps us to realize that these men, immortalized on our money and in the names of our elementary schools, they were just that: mortal men. They had flaws and they made mistakes and they loved their wives and cheated on them. They mourned the loss of their children, traveled back and forth constantly throughout a war torn land and fought tirelessly for a dream of governing themselves. And while these men worked in the public sphere, the women oversaw plantations alone, ran fundraising campaigns for the soldiers, wrote political plays, raised children and buried them. Martha, Abagail and all the others who supported the Founding Fathers absolutely deserve three cheers of their own.

4 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Sounds like a great Mother's Day present!

Beth F said...

Thanks for the review. I like reading history, and I've been curious about this book.

Melissa said...

My thoughts were pretty similar: interesting stories, but a very confusing way of presenting them. That, and I never got over being annoyed at Cokie...

Trish said...

Nonfiction like this is really tricky--sometimes it can be really dry but others not so much. I think it takes a very skilled author to take a subject like this and make it exciting. It does sound like a fascinating book--but maybe one to take in small doses? And 2004 isn't too bad! I have a couple on my shelf that have been there for almost 10 years!! (not including the strange books my grandma gave me when I was a child--Shepard of the Hills? Really Grandma?)

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