Sex and the Founding Fathers

January 21, 2014 Biography, History, non-fiction 20

sex and the founding fathersTitle: Sex and the Founding Fathers
Author: Thomas Foster
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Review Summary: This book included a lot of interesting stories written in a not very interesting, not very organized way.

Sex and the Founding Fathers does not directly deal with sex and the founding fathers, as you might expect. Instead the author examines how people have remembered the founding fathers and their sex lives throughout history. He argues that how we view the founding fathers says something about our values. We like to imagine that the founding fathers were paragons of virtue. How we remember them shows what we think an ideal American should be like.

I was quite excited to start this book. However, the book I expected was actually about the founding fathers, with commentary on their biographies on the side. I also expected some good narrative non-fiction from the parts describing the founding fathers. This book met neither of those expectations. Instead of talking directly about the founding fathers, the author only describes them through the medium of other biographies. At times, this degenerated into lists of quotes from other biographies, which could get quite dry. The organization was a bit iffy as well. Organizing by topic was a wise choice, but the author didn’t always stay on topic. He   repeated himself quite a bit, both between topics and between founding fathers.

Despite the dry tone and disorienting organization, I still could have liked this book if the topic was handled well. However, the author is constantly making sweeping assertions about the type of biographies published at different times. He only supports these assertions with cherry picked examples. If he wants to make broad claims, he needs to support them with numbers. For instance, he claims that more biographies considered the possibility Washington was infertile once infertility became a prevalent social problem. In that case, a greater percentage of published biographies should begin to include that possibility. Just sharing a few examples of such biographies tells me nothing. Alternately, the author could have added scholarly acumen to his book by sharing the truth of the founding father’s lives, instead of just sharing what previous biographers have claimed. In the absence of any scholarly contribution, it’s hard to overlook the fact that this just wasn’t an entertaining read. I had high hopes for this book going in, but I find myself unable to recommend it.



20 Responses to “Sex and the Founding Fathers”

  1. Jennine G.

    It makes me wonder sometimes how a book gets published. That’s an awful lot of holes in the story and format. Counting on the title for shock value, I’m sure.

    • DoingDewey

      Unfortunately, I think you hit the nail on the head. I picked it up because I thought because the title sounded interesting, even though there weren’t any reviews available at the time, and I was quite disappointed.

  2. Charlotte @ Thoughts and Pens

    Err~ I am so sorry that this was an utter disappointment, Katie. Since I haven’t yet read any biographies, I don’t what know to look for in them. And what makes them bad or good.

    It seems like the author didn’t know his statistics since he failed to support his claims with the valid numbers.

    I hope that your next non-fiction read would be better. 😀

    • DoingDewey

      I usually look for a connection with the characters and a story that actually reads something like fiction, with a good plot. This was a bit dry because of the author’s focus on secondary sources. And I really would have liked to see more stats!

      Thanks Charlotte! I hope my next read will be better too 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I know! The topic alone should have been enough to make this interesting. Unfortunately, it sounds as though the founding fathers were very aware that they would be remembered and took great pains not to leave any record of their sex lives. That means the author of this book can only talk about what people have said about the presidents’ sex lives and that made for a pretty dry book.

  3. Aylee

    Dang, this could’ve been interesting if it was well executed! The way the author chose to write it… how totally lame and unoriginal.

    • DoingDewey

      Yeah, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I really couldn’t recommend this one. It was a lot more commentary and a lot less narrative non-fiction then I had hoped for.

    • DoingDewey

      I’m not sure. I suppose in an audiobook, I might notice the repetitive bits less and a good narrator could possibly inject a bit more excitement. However, I think the lack of organization would be hard to deal with in any format. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to a friend either way.

  4. Shay

    The unusual title was certainly what got me to stop to read this review, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised the title was all shock and no substance. Oh well.

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, yep, that’s about how I felt about it. The stories he described could have made for fascinating narrative non-fiction, but one of the only things I learned from this book is that we just don’t have enough information to piece these stories together. Most disappointing.

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