Men on Horseback: David A. Bell with Annette Gordon-Reed

Thu. Jul 30, 2020 8:00pm - 9:00pm EDT
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The history of modern charismatic leadership is the shadow history of modern democracy.

Men on Horseback book coverIn the 18th and 19th centuries, as revolutions across Europe and the Americas shook nations free of monarchy, their leaders wrestled with the idea of authority in a world where power is no longer drawn by divine right. In his new book, Men on Horseback, Princeton historian David A. Bell chronicles five of those leaders—Pasquale Paoli, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, and Simón Bolívar. Intersecting with each other at points, influencing one another at others, each one struggled to reinvent political power—and as they did, not only the era of modern democracy was born but also one of hero worship and the cult of the strongman.

David A. Bell researched and wrote Men on Horseback during his 2018–2019 fellowship at the Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He discusses his book with Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, and past Cullman Center Fellow, Annette Gordon-Reed.

Produced in partnership with The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

David A. BellDavid A. Bell is the Lapidus Professor in the Princeton History Department. He was educated at Harvard, the École Normale Supérieure, and Princeton. Before returning to Princeton in 2010 he taught at Yale and Johns Hopkins, where he also served as Dean of Faculty. A specialist in French history, he is the author of seven books, including The Cult of the Nation in France and The First Total War. He has held Guggenheim, Wilson Center, and ACLS Fellowships, and is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books

Annette Gordon-ReedAnnette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School and a Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. Gordon-Reed won sixteen book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2009 and the National Book Award in 2008, for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Her other works include Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American ControversyVernon Can Read! A Memoir, a collaboration with Vernon Jordan, Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History, a volume of essays that she edited, Andrew Johnson, and, most recently, with Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination. She is the current President of the Ames Foundation. A selected list of her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship in the humanities, a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Humanities Medal, the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, and the George Washington Book Prize, and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Prize. Gordon-Reed was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011 and is a member of the Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. In 2019, she was elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society. She worked on “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” during her Cullman Center Fellowship in 2010–11.


Readers everywhere who wish to purchase copies of David A. Bell's Men on Horseback (signed) and Annette Gordon-Reed's The Hemingses of Monticello can do so at The New York Public Library Shop. All proceeds benefit The New York Public Library. Plus, receive a free commemorative 125th anniversary tote bag with your purchase!

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