37 pages 1 hour read

Joseph J. Ellis

American Creation

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2007

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


The Founders Were Flawed but Admirable

Perhaps the greatest theme in the book is that the founders of the American republic were not demigods but humans with flaws like the rest of us. Those flaws, however, should not lead us to dismiss them for what they were unable to accomplish. Ellis includes some of their failures in the book, noting that “if flawless, they would have nothing to teach us.” He reviews their two greatest failures, the inability to solve the issues relating to slavery and Native Americans, taking pains to note good intentions and honest efforts as well as blind spots and events outside their control.

By viewing the founders as having human foibles rather cut from mythological stone, Ellis makes them more accessible. As John Adams himself argued, their accomplishments are even greater knowing that they were normal individuals like us. The implication is that such achievements are not out of reach. 

The American Revolution as an “Evolutionary Revolution”

Ellis argues that comprehensive change did not happen overnight. Instead, he writes, “the calculated decision to make the American Revolution happen in slow motion was a creative act of statesmanship that allowed the United States to avoid the bloody and chaotic fate of subsequent revolutionary movements in France, Russia, and China” (21).