cover image The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783–1789

Joseph J. Ellis. Knopf, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-35340-3

Few can tell a historical tale as well as Ellis, as many readers will be aware from his eight previous studies of the Revolutionary War era (Revolutionary Summer, etc.). True to form, here he reviews this short but important time in America’s history through the eyes of its major figures—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison—rather than offering an analysis of the weighty interval between the nation’s failed first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and the ratification of the second (and successful) constitution and its first 10 amendments, which we now know as the Bill of Rights. Ellis’s approach employs deft characterizations and insights into these politicians and philosophers, who bested their opponents by “imposing their more expansive definition of the American Revolution” on the American people. With his usual skill, Ellis brings alive what otherwise might seem dry constitutional debates, with apt quotations and bright style. There may be equally solid surveys of “the second American Revolution,” a term Ellis borrows from other historians, but this one will be considered the standard work on its subject for years to come. It lacks the fresh interpretations and almost lyrical prose of Ellis’s previous books, but it’s a readable, authoritative work. Agent: Ike Williams; Kneerim, Williams & Bloom. (May)