First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country

First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country

New York Times Bestseller
Editors' Choice 
New York Times Book Review

"Ricks knocks it out of the park with this jewel of a book. On every page I learned something new. Read it every night if you want to restore your faith in our country." —James Mattis, General, U.S. Marines (ret.) & 26th Secretary of Defense 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author offers a revelatory new book about the founding fathers, examining their educations and, in particular, their devotion to the ancient Greek and Roman classics—and how that influence would shape their ideals and the new American nation.

On the morning after the 2016 presidential election, Thomas Ricks awoke with a few questions on his mind: What kind of nation did we now have? Is it what was designed or intended by the nation’s founders? Trying to get as close to the source as he could, Ricks decided to go back and read the philosophy and literature that shaped the founders’ thinking, and the letters they wrote to each other debating these crucial works—among them the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato, and Cicero. For though much attention has been paid the influence of English political philosophers, like John Locke, closer to their own era, the founders were far more immersed in the literature of the ancient world.

The first four American presidents came to their classical knowledge differently. Washington absorbed it mainly from the elite culture of his day; Adams from the laws and rhetoric of Rome; Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, especially Epicureanism; and Madison, both a groundbreaking researcher and a deft politician, spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist. Each of their experiences, and distinctive learning, played an essential role in the formation of the United States. In examining how and what they studied, looking at them in the unusual light of the classical world, Ricks is able to draw arresting and fresh portraits of men we thought we knew.

First Principles follows these four members of the Revolutionary generation from their youths to their adult lives, as they grappled with questions of independence, and forming and keeping a new nation. In doing so, Ricks interprets not only the effect of the ancient world on each man, and how that shaped our constitution and government, but offers startling new insights into these legendary leaders.

Title:First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country
ISBN:9780062997470
Format Type:

    First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country Reviews

  • Manray9

    Thomas Ricks' thoughtful and well-crafted First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country demonstrates the sweeping influence of classical ...

  • Joseph Sciuto

    I have read many books on the "Revolutionary period" in American history, and after reading Mr. Ricks' book, "First Principles," I am convinced that if I read a thousand more books on this period I wo...

  • Kathleen

    Virtue. The 18th century definition of virtue “putting the common good before one’s own interests” came from ancient Roman philosophy. The Enlightment theorist, Montesquieu believed that virtue ...

  • Hill Krishnan

    First Principles by Thomas Ricks1. The book’s main theme is how the founding fathers acquired, and applied the knowledge of the 1000 year ancient Greek and Roman governments and it’s heroes.2. Unl...

  • Jon Stout

    Having an interest in Greek philosophy, I was drawn to Ricks’ book on the influence of Roman and Greek thought on the founding fathers of the American Revolution. The book is a kind of recap of Amer...

  • Casey

    A great book, providing a study of the way the education and cultural environment of our founding fathers influenced their political thoughts and actions. The books closely follows Washington, Adams, ...

  • Ellen

    Loved reading this -- especially as it gave me a lot of perspective on 2021's already saddening and scary events at the Capitol building. I have a new appreciation for James Madison. He earnestly want...

  • Paul

    B: Ricks’ publicity campaign lead me to expect more, and it didn’t live up to the Mattis quote on the dust cover. That being said FIRST PRINCIPLES is a very good book and an excellent primer on th...

  • Mike

    Best book I read this year.First Principles is a rollicking intellectual history of America's founding. Ricks takes a new approach: He reports on what the founders read, where they studied and who tut...

  • Dave Courtney

    This book had been sitting on my shelf for a long time. A couple other books on enlightenment era thinking, politics and history had me thinking this would be a good pick to begin to wrap up my 2020 r...