Ricks discusses 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.
Fresh from the 2020 presidential election, there probably isn’t a better book to read than Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas E. Ricks’ First Principles. Well informed, gracefully written and brimming with contemporary relevance, regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, it’s a bracing antidote to the presentism that’s one of the worst afflictions of our public life ... Ricks is well attuned to the differences in the role that classical sources played in shaping the thinking of each of his subjects ... a rich lode of material for any engaged citizen seeking hope and some encouragement.
First Principles marks a departure for Ricks, a prizewinning journalist, the author of several works on contemporary military and national security affairs and a columnist for The Times Book Review. In this instructive new book, he offers a judicious account of the equivocal inheritance left to modern Americans by their 18th-century forebears ... Ricks concludes that the classically trained founders bequeathed us a mixed legacy. On the plus side, he commends the nation’s eventual extension of political rights to far more people than the landholding white male minority enfranchised in the Revolutionary era ... Ricks urges Americans to fix their government so that it protects citizens from the inevitable lapses of a fallible people and, perhaps, even more fallible leaders.
... a rich compendium of the ancient wisdom that Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison believed they were gleaning from Aristotle or Tacitus, and the formation of 'classically shaped behavior' in the early republic ... As Ricks’s searching account shows, what feels truly elegiac is to be reminded of a time in American history when political leaders, for all their faults, valued erudition and, yes, a certain brand of virtue as ideal qualities in public life.