Juan Williams makes frequent appearances on Fox News as a member of The Five. I observed him make frequent observations that were well thought out but not always in agreement with the “other four.” When offered an early reviewer copy of his book by Library Thing, I accepted because I wanted to see if his writing style differs from his appearance “voice.” It does not. In return for the early copy, what follows is the review I submitted.
Juan Williams has written a comprehensive review, update, and redefinition of the term “founding fathers.” A look at the 19 chapter headings in the table of contents presents a list of interesting familiar and not-so-familiar names to present day readers. How do these relate to the founding fathers? Williams will tell you in a fast reading, approximately 400 page book. I recommend budgeting time so you can read it in one session. Each chapter pulls the reader into the next account and I would have been annoyed if I had to stop for routine daily tasks. I read this on a Saturday and it took about six hours; it took longer than usual because I stopped to highlight things I found particularly interesting.
Just as family names span generations, think Roosevelt, Williams substitutes “founding fathers” for a family name. Many students in the USA think of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the participants at the Constitutional Convention as the founding fathers; case closed. Williams suggests that later historical figures such as JFK, Martin Luther King, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, through their interpretations and implementation of original founding father principles deserve to be in the extended founding father family.
The original founding fathers did not spend their lives only in pontification of great political and philosophical principles. They had jobs; Franklin was a printer; Jefferson was an inventor and farmer. Supporting this, Williams details the contributions of Charlton Heston, Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan, and Billy Graham, to name a few. These individuals were not primarily political; their non-political occupations affected political developments. The reader will also find accounts of Reagan, Kissinger, Goldwater, and key political figures who bent and twisted original principles to present day realities.
This is truly the age of the life-long learner, but for too many learning stops at a certain point, like at the point where all our attentions are focused on earning a living. The 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s are familiar ground to me, at least in memory. Since we lived it, we know it, and don’t always pay a lot of attention. Kissinger, sure, I know all about him. In fact, once he left government service in the Reagan years, he dropped out of sight, at least for me. Williams provides an update to the question “Where are they now?” Influential people don’t always lose their influence just because they are out of the public eye. Williams makes this point repeatedly.
I liked the way that Williams makes a point, focuses on it, and resists the temptation to make mean spirited, unnecessary, sensationalist asides. In his chapter on Billy Graham, he mentions other influential religious figures, such a Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Jim Bakker. Only one paragraph is devoted to Jim Bakker and the reason for his success. Nothing else needed to be said, and it was not said.
Here are some of the things I found particularly interesting in the reading.
Williams explored the evolution of the “broken windows” theory of policing in chapter 4. Here, and elsewhere, in his chapter on Heston and gun control, Williams examines the necessary compromises a society must make between absolute security and absolute freedom.
In chapter six, Williams compares economic theories of Keynes and Friedman, describes their impacts on such present day realities as the minimum wage issue and entitlement programs, and includes these economic theory giants in the Founding Father family.
This is a carefully written, well referenced book. Occasionally I found myself in disagreement with an assertion. When I reread the section, I saw that statements were carefully phrased to include several variables. I only found myself in disagreement with him on one point.
In chapter 5, on the military, Williams writes that military reserves had not been called on to go to Vietnam. As a policy matter, units were not mobilized and deployed as a result of actions from the White House; that is correct. However, there were National Guard units that served. Some of them volunteered. Company D (Long Range Patrol) 151st Infantry Regiment, Indiana National Guard served in Vietnam.
I would be very happy to attend a university level class where this book serves as a text in a survey course on US history.