Thomas Hayden
March 21, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

With the supply of unbiographied Founding Fathers running thin, Gary Nash and Russell Gao Hodges dig deep for a warm, unexpected survey of three late-18th-century men — the famous (Thomas Jefferson), the forgotten (Revolutionary War hero Tadeusz Ko´ciuszko), and the unknown (Agrippa Hull, Ko´ciuszko’s free black orderly). The real focus is slavery, as Jefferson breaks his pledge to Ko´ciuszko to free his Virginia slaves. As a triple bio, Friends of Liberty is slightly forced. But as a study of three very different lives in the context of liberty and bondage, it’s a gem: a truly new perspective on America’s birth. B+

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