Virtue, Valor & Vanity:
The Founding Fathers and the Pursuit of Fame
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". . . a glimpse of the men behind the myths."
Virtue, Valor and Vanity : A solidly researched, in-depth look at the historical figures who fought for liberty and their attitudes about fame.
Benjamin Franklin was the darling of France, so much so that when he died all of France mourned him more than they would mourn a native son. Men and women wept openly, grieving publicly for the man who set new fashions and charmed a nation. Franklin was America’s first international celebrity.
John Adams, who served with Franklin in Paris during the Revolutionary War, railed against Franklin’s lack of focus on America’s business while courting the French people whose language he butchered. Adams envied George Washington his height and fashionable clothes as much as he disliked and mistrusted Thomas Jefferson’s politics. In short, Adams envied everyone.
Washington took his appearance very seriously because he represented the American people. For Washington, his clothing was a symbol of respect for the office and positions he held and the colonists for whom he fought. He was America’s first choice in war and in peace and the first to be immortalized and mythologized.
Eric Burns uses excerpts from letters and diaries to focus on the Founding Fathers’ attitudes towards fame and their vanities – or lack of vanities. What emerges is a fascinating picture of the men who led the colonists to victory against the English and established a new country. From Washington’s shyness and diffidence, to Alexander Hamilton’s pride, drive and anger at not being eligible to become president because he was born abroad, Burns offers a glimpse of the men behind the myths. Burns handles the personal enmities and petty grievances with delicacy and honesty, balancing the bad with the good, and illustrating the forces that shaped a country and its leaders. Virtue, Valor and Vanity should be on every American’s bookshelf as a reminder of the truly amazing men who guided America through a difficult birth and its early growing pains. Burns is a true historian who writes without bias to show the truth behind the myths as well as the real mythic dimensions of the Founding Fathers.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell