The so-called "Great Man" theory of history is distinctly unfashionable these days, and has been for quite some time. In explaining historical events, historians tends to emphasize social, cultural, and economic developments rather than the actions of certain prominent individuals. In Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation Ellis turns current historiographical practice on its head by focusing on the lives of eight important men who together made and shaped the American Revolution.
Ellis presents us with a detailed account of the personal and political relationships between these extraordinary men and how they made a lasting impact on the institutions of American government. Indeed, as Ellis constantly reminds us, the personal and the political were often inextricably linked during the Revolutionary era and its aftermath. This is illustrated by a detailed account of the bitter feud between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, which culminated in Hamilton's death at the hands of Burr in a notorious duel.
In contrast to most contemporary historians, Ellis plays down the ideological motivations of the Founding Fathers, seeing differences of personality and temperament as being much more important. That's not to say that ideology wasn't a factor in the making of the American Revolution or the subsequent building of government institutions. But as Ellis constantly reminds us, the individual personalities of the great men of that unique generation are more important in helping us understand this formative period of American history.