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First Principles

by Thomas E Ricks

Publishers Weekly Pulitzer Prize winner Ricks (Churchill and Orwell) delivers an immersive and enlightening look at how the classical educations of the first four U.S. presidents (George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison) influenced their thinking and the shape of American democracy. According to Ricks, the evolution of Washington’s military strategy during the Revolutionary War drew from Roman general Fabius’s defeat of Hannibal in 203 BCE. Ricks also documents classical antecedents in the construction of the Constitution and Thomas Jefferson’s architectural plans for government buildings in Washington, D.C., and analyzes 18th-century opinions on the ancient world expressed in Robert Dodsley’s textbook The Preceptor (“a blueprint for the Declaration of Independence”) and Joseph Addison’s play Cato (which inspired Patrick Henry’s famous line “Give me liberty—or give me death”). The Amphictyonic League, a confederation of early Greek cities, is partly responsible for the U.S. Senate’s equalized representation regardless of state size, Ricks points out. The book closes with suggested steps for returning America “to the course intended by the Revolutionary generation,” including “don’t panic,” “re-focus on the public good,” and “wake up Congress.” With incisive selections from primary sources and astute cultural and political analysis, this lucid and entertaining account is a valuable take on American history. (Nov.)

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Library Journal After the 2016 election, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist and No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Ricks (Fiasco) sought to understand what the Founding Fathers really had in mind. So he looked at their main reading materials, which comprised not so much the political thinkers of the era but the classics, from Xenophon and Aristotle to Cicero and the Epicureans. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

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