Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts

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I like history and I always want to know more about American History. But in all the nonfiction and fiction about the Revolutionary War, it’s rather limited to dead white guys who fought the battles and otherwise founded our nation.

Enter: Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts. In a conversational tone, Roberts shares some of the stories about the women who founded the country. She, too, had been tired of hearing about how remarkable the men were founded the country: what about the women? This, then, is full of some of their stories. Roberts’ conclusion was (interestingly) that the women behind those men were no more extraordinary than you and I: they simply did what was asked of them.

The book had plenty of flaws. Most of the author’s asides and explanations were rather distracting, and it sometimes felt rambling and off-topic. I do wish it was better written or at least better organized. The casual tone made me feel like I was listening to random anecdotes rather than a comprehensive historical account. It didn’t feel comprehensive, nor did it feel like a true historical record. It was a collection of stories about women, full of sometimes extraneous detail. And there were a lot of women!

However, because I was listening to the audiobook in short intervals, such an anecdotal format was okay for me. And the details did make it interesting.

I may remember some interesting facts and the names. I’m already forgetting most of the details, and some of the women are mixing up in my mind. That’s okay for me. I’ve had an entertaining and yet informative introduction to the founding ladies of the United States. I’m glad I checked it out.

The audio book was narrated by the author. Overall, I enjoyed it, with one exception: to my disappointment, I noticed only after checking it out that it is “Unabridged Selections.” In other words, it is abridged. I have no idea how much was excised from the book, and I wholeheartedly wish there was a completely unabridged option in audio. The author’s asides were still annoying in the audio format. Did she just add them because she was reading it aloud?

Will you like this book? I don’t know. It’s casual almost to a fault. But that may be just what you’re looking for.

What woman from the U.S. Revolutionary Era would you like to learn more about? Can you name any influential women from the 1700s and what they did?

As I listened, I kept remembering David McCullough’s powerful, carefully researched, and comprehensive biography of John Adams. That’s a biography I’d love to reread. I’m fascinated by Abigail Adams, and I’d love to learn more about her.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed Founding Mothers on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on June 19, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Have you read America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmeets and Heroines? I listened to it on audio last November and really enjoyed it, but then I found out that even though it says ‘unabridged’ it wasn’t the whole book. So I’m going to have to read it in print!

    I think Abigail Adams is fascinating too. And I love her name!

    Oh, and since you live in Chicago, have you read Jane Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull House? I read it in high school, and I remember just being fascinated by it!

  • Catherine the Great form Russia definitely comes to mind. Alas most women who made history were sailors and soldiers disguised as men.

    War is such a big part of history that we rarely see what happens in between. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the women walking West alongside or behind covered wagons delivering their children along the way. Women would pull or push handcarts, not ride elegantly in the seat behind 4 matching horses!
    But unfortunately books come from letters and journals and many women were illiterate or their daily journals never were discovered for the most part.
    Of course, everything that George Washington ever said was kept but what about the women on the front lines in all revolutionary wars including Russia, France, or the USA?

  • Kathy, that’s what I was thinking, but one of the other reviewers (linked to above) said that reading the book was frustrating because of the author asides too. So apparently it wasn’t just because she was reading it aloud! Too bad.

    Eva, I haven’t read the America’s Women book. It sounds very good; great reviews on Amazon and LibraryThing! I do dislike it when the audiobook is abridged and not clearly marked. I feel cheated! Ashamed to say I know very little about Jane Adams and Hull House. I’m on a Chicago kick this month, so I may have to look in to it. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Helen, this book is excellent for trying to bring out what it was the women did when the men were off fighting. Because the women were married to the influential men, many of the letters between them survived. But you are completely right: their history is limited only to what they wrote in letters. I think that is why Cokie Roberts came to the conclusion that the women were not any more ordinary than we are today; she didn’t get to hear about their intimate struggles as we do with the men.

    I don’t know much about Catherine the Great. Thanks for the heads up. I should read about her.

  • David Herbert Donald wrote THE definitive book on “Lincoln.” Since this is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, I read all 700 pages. Fascinating!! I had no idea that he wrote poetry from an early age and that he only had one year of formal school. He would walk four miles to get a grammar primer. He led a hard, exciting life and moved often until he settled in Illinois and ran for the state legislature at the age of 23 just so that he could get a river dredged and further his business associates’ getting supplies from upriver. He memorized entire books of poetry and would recite them in the town square. The author feels that Lincoln got his extraordinary intelligence from his mother’s side. Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, died before Abraham was 11 years old. It was known that his mother was the product of an illegitimate affair between a common woman and a rich Virginia plantation owner. The Lincoln side of the family never read or tried to do anything but hunt and shoot and do a little farming.
    It’s a wonderful book!
    I also finished three of Barack Obama’s books. His auto biography, “Dreams From My Father” written in 1995 was given an Grammy for spoken word album. He led a very different life in many places. His anger at discrimination comes through loud and clear(audio version)…especially with the mostly white private school that he attended here in Hawaii. It’s interesting to hear his classmates speak now how they were great friends with “Barry”, but in his book they wouldn’t even sit with him or let him play much basketball!
    “Audacity of Hope” (which I read again and again) was written in 2006 and he has matured into an introspective, elegant writer.
    I also read “Barack Obama: In His Own Words” which is simply a compilation of his quotes from 2002 through 2008 edited by Lisa Rogak. But it isn’t worth reading because it is just a bunch of sound bites.
    I hope Michelle Obama writes her own book as she comes across in his books as being a very strong, intelligent woman.

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