canbelto, I admit to a certain puzzlement about where you’re finding these essays and biographies you mention. It’s true that some popular biographies take such views, but there are a large number of responsibly written books that don’t contain the kinds of simplifications and generalizations you mention – visit the library, browse the shelves there, and you’ll see what I mean.
As mentioned, the topic of books about the Founders came up in another thread and was discussed at some length here.
Sample quotes from the LBJ thread:
Read Walter Isaacson's bio of Ben Franklin. It is probing, thorough and written in breezy, conversational style.
Brodie's bio of TJ failed in an important regard for me. What I need from a biography is a sense of what it's like to be in the subject's presence. However, the more I've read about Jefferson, and the more I've learned from living, this may not have been Brodie's fault. Apparently, on the personal level, he cultivated a certain inscrutability.
I liked Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton a lot, as well as Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers. I disliked the much lauded David McCullough biography of John Adams; I had to force myself to finish it.
I thought the Brodie biography did give a sense of Jefferson as a man, especially the letters he wrote to his daughters and also the Adamses (John and Abigail). He was a very complex person, I think. Very crafty, tough, and manipulative under that genial surface.
Oh I forgot to mention Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton as an excellent political biography. But, warning: fans of Jefferson will not be pleased.
I agree, Helene, about the Adams biography: I thought it bordered on hagiography.
Actually, come to think of it, thats my beef with many political biographies, which is that they always set the rival as a villain (or hero). Sometimes even with marriages -- Eleanor is the villainess in many biographies of FDR, while FDR is the villain of the Eleanor biographies. Ditto RFK and LBJ.