Impressive research resonantly informs Bordewich’s interpretation of events, and he does not hesitate when appropriate to step aside and let the people moving those events have their say. His use of quotations is consequently abundant but not digressive, the attribute of a fine narrative technique.
Bordewich shrewdly avoids the perils of 'presentism,' which is defined as an attitude toward the past in thrall to present-day attitudes, mores and shibboleths. He lets these men speak for themselves (one of them from his diary), and trusts his readers to make up their own minds about the wisdom or lack of same in their decisions.
Fergus M. Bordewich has transformed the recent multivolume collection of sources on the First Federal Congress into a lively narrative ... Despite its readability, The First Congress has almost as many problems as the Congress itself had. Its fast pace, for example, means that everything is covered but that nothing is covered in all its complexity.
Gracefully written, his narrative weaves in much about the members’ day-to-day lives. One learns interesting details about where they resided; with whom they dined; what they ate, and drank; their states of health, and many illnesses; diversions; reading habits and so on.
Bordewich’s achievement here is to demonstrate that representative government can be unappealing and inefficient and still produce good results. Some of the best strategists in the new government recognized that 'the great machine was clumsy by design,' balancing states’ rights with the national interest, and creating federal branches that often checked each other.