by James D. Best
This is a historical novel based on the true events surrounding the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It’s based mainly on the notes of James Madison and the letters and personal writings of Roger Sherman. Sherman was one of the few in attendance at the convention who had signed the Declaration of Independence and was considered Madison’s chief rival and leader of the smaller states in attendance.
The story unfolds from both Madison and Sherman’s perspectives, though the switching back and forth is handled masterfully – no crappy storytelling like Stephen King’s It, with it’s continual character switching. Nearly everything is historically accurate and the few exceptions are well-noted by Mr. Best.
The novel puts the Constitutional Convention into real terms and creates people out of the historical figures we have grown accustomed to seeing with a happy-haze of distance. Madison is shown as the hard-nosed idealist who must learn the real rules of how the political game is played. Sherman is shown as the pragmatic and strong-willed man he was – and as a genius at manipulation and dealings. Hamilton is shown as mainly a lackey of General Washington, who is himself shown as a quietly practical, but mainly enigmatic man – and his uncanny ability to have just the right flair and just the right dramatics, which solidified his current personal, heavily shrouded in lore.
Others present in the background of the convention, such as Benjamin Franklin, are shown as real people with flaws and strengths. Most, like real politicians, are extremely conniving, but most with a good cause at heart.
It’s this sort of portrayal of characters that makes the book so hard to put down and enlightening at the same time. It’s a truly great read and is one of the few books I’ve picked up in the past year that I ended up reading more than 200 pages from in one sitting.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in our nation’s founding, the principals involved, and in great historical writing. The research Best must have done for this book was obviously exhaustive, but it doesn’t drag the book down in factoids. Instead, it fleshes out the story and makes it inforatively entertaining.