Nicholas Dungan

 

On his book Gallatin: America’s Swiss Founding Father

Cover Interview of May 18, 2011

A close-up

I wrote this book for the reader—I wanted the reader to be able to participate in a good story, and for Albert Gallatin to come alive in the pages.

But I was also aware that reading a book—even a book as short, as concise as this one—is a journey that different travelers, different readers, take at their own pace and in their own fashion.

So the Introduction is a roadmap—and yet one with room for surprises and unexpected detours…  You can start the book at the beginning of chapter one and not get lost—but if you read the Introduction, you will feel quite sure of where you are throughout the rest of the book.

I begin the Introduction with an abbreviated life of Albert Gallatin, so that you have all the highlights and accomplishments of his life in chronological order, from his birth in Geneva to his death in New York 88 years later—all in less than three pages.

Gallatin’s life and legacy shed a new light on an early America rooted in Europe, an America that was one country among many in a complex world.  Only after Gallatin had successfully negotiated the end of the War of 1812 did the United States develop on its own.  And by that time the European foundations of the United States had already solidified.

So in the Introduction I lay out the inspiration for this book and examine “The Quandary of Gallatin’s Obscurity”—a haunting question throughout the research and writing.

The Introduction also explains my goal of helping Albert Gallatin’s human story come alive to “a new audience in a new era.”  I describe my impressions of who he was, with his strengths and weaknesses, qualities and limitations, successes and failures.

The Introduction ends with a glimpse of the architecture of the book.  The nine chapters, organized in three parts, follow Gallatin’s rise, his achievements at the pinnacle of power, and his role as a senior statesmen.  But, in a fortuitous pattern, within each of the three parts, there is a similar sequence: he progresses, then has to overcome difficulties, then progresses still further.  He does that all three times!

And even covering all this, the Introduction is only six pages long.