James Madison

James Madison

James Madison led one of the most influential and prolific lives in American history, and his story—although all too often overshadowed by his more celebrated contemporaries—is integral to that of the nation. Madison helped to shape our country as perhaps no other Founder: collaborating on the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights, resisting government overreach by asse...

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Title:James Madison
Author:Richard Brookhiser
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Edition Language:English

James Madison Reviews

  • Ed

    Well-researched biography deals more with the politics and writings of JM. It gave me a good overview of the man which is what I wanted.

  • Jimmy Reagan

    Prolific writer Richard Brookhiser tackles President James Madison in this short biography. Though the writing skills I have come to respect in Brookhiser are present, this volume is not quite as good as the others of his that I have read. As a biography, I did not think it was as good as David Stewart’s “Madison’s Gift” either.

    The book begins with a riveting retelling of the British marching on Washington during his time as President. Then, it backed up and took the story chronologically. When

    Prolific writer Richard Brookhiser tackles President James Madison in this short biography. Though the writing skills I have come to respect in Brookhiser are present, this volume is not quite as good as the others of his that I have read. As a biography, I did not think it was as good as David Stewart’s “Madison’s Gift” either.

    The book begins with a riveting retelling of the British marching on Washington during his time as President. Then, it backed up and took the story chronologically. When you finally got back to that point of his life’s story, you could never figure out what device the author had in mind by opening the book with it. I thought of it as a missed opportunity.

    Still, the prose is agreeable and the reading easy in this volume. While the biography is not standout, his premise that Madison brought us the partisan politics that since has defined us was much more successful. Some think he overstated his case, and surely Jefferson had a role, but he was an essential element as Brookhiser proves.

    This is not my first choice for Madison, but still a fine read.

  • Bob

    Over the past year, I've added something to my bucket list. Before I die, I plan to read at least one book on every US president, in order of the dates of their presidencies. I have read a number out of order, having read several books on Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton over the past few years. But, this book on James Madison follows Chernow's Washington, McCullough's John Adams, and Ellis's Jefferson, American Sphinx.

    While Brookhiser's biography of Madison provides

    Over the past year, I've added something to my bucket list. Before I die, I plan to read at least one book on every US president, in order of the dates of their presidencies. I have read a number out of order, having read several books on Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton over the past few years. But, this book on James Madison follows Chernow's Washington, McCullough's John Adams, and Ellis's Jefferson, American Sphinx.

    While Brookhiser's biography of Madison provides a great historical timeline of his life, it really does not capture who Madison was. He goes to great lengths to paint a human portrait of his wife Dolley, but fails to capture anything about the personality of the "father of the US Constitution. Following the detail shown for this type of writing by Chernow and McCullough, I found this unsatisfying as if something was missing from the book.

    Overall, the history is fine and the prose well written. The book itself was easy to follow and understand. But if you are a student of the psychology of leaders, this book leaves something to be desired.

    For a historical perspective, this book does near 5 stars. For a complete profile of James Madison he man, it was a little disappointing.

  • Carrie

    Can't say I was bowled over by this one. Brookhiser is capable relator of information, but his prose is not literary in the manner of McCullough or Ellis. I found a handful of curious copy editing decisions (sentence fragments, writing in first person) that were jarring when juxtaposed with Brookhiser's otherwise dry style. Furthermore, I found his disdain for Adams tedious -- yes, Adams was a pragmatist and a Federalist, and his ego got in the way at times, but he was a true patriot who rose to

    Can't say I was bowled over by this one. Brookhiser is capable relator of information, but his prose is not literary in the manner of McCullough or Ellis. I found a handful of curious copy editing decisions (sentence fragments, writing in first person) that were jarring when juxtaposed with Brookhiser's otherwise dry style. Furthermore, I found his disdain for Adams tedious -- yes, Adams was a pragmatist and a Federalist, and his ego got in the way at times, but he was a true patriot who rose to the challenges of leadership not from pure ambition but from a sense of duty and a love of God and country. Brookhiser's unfair treatment of Adams made me question his judgment of other historical figures. (Hamilton was honorable? News to me.) This is unfortunate because Madison is an interesting study. Our society owes a great debt to him; we enjoy daily the freedoms he wrote into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Brookhiser gives him his due in that regard, so my rating on this one is more like three and a half stars instead of three.

  • Brian Pate

    Brookhiser focused on Madison as a thinker. And he was a great one. The first half of the book explained Madison's reasoning in the debates over the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not a terribly exciting read, but important nonetheless.

    Apart from a general lack of readability, my main criticism is how Brookhiser approached Madison's life. There are times in the book that I wondered, "Where did Madison go? I wonder what he's up to during this time?" It felt like a history of the USA with an

    Brookhiser focused on Madison as a thinker. And he was a great one. The first half of the book explained Madison's reasoning in the debates over the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not a terribly exciting read, but important nonetheless.

    Apart from a general lack of readability, my main criticism is how Brookhiser approached Madison's life. There are times in the book that I wondered, "Where did Madison go? I wonder what he's up to during this time?" It felt like a history of the USA with an occasional "and Madison agreed" or "Madison was upset but held his peace because he knew he would soon be president" thrown in.

    Leadership lesson: The burning of Washington was the worst thing that happened during his presidency. Most of the blame belonged to Armstrong (Sec. of War), and Madison did not hesitate to use him as the scapegoat. But everything rises and falls on leadership. Madison had appointed Armstrong. "It was [Madison's] responsibility to spot incompetence and be rid of it, or misdirection and correct it, and he had done neither" (p. 211). Leaders may not be at fault, but they accept the responsibility. It's what leaders do. I am looking forward to hearing a modern-day president say, "Many mistakes were made. I accept full responsibility." But I'm not holding my breath.

  • Jay Schutt

    I'm giving this biography of James Madison 2.5 stars rounded up generously to 3 stars. Madison was not a very charismatic man. Perhaps that is why the book was not very inspiring. He is best known for being the Father of the Constitution and starting party politics with the formation of the Republican Party (now known as the Democratic Party) with Thomas Jefferson. He wasn't a very good public speaker and did his speaking mainly through his writing. The book did not seem to have a good flow from

    I'm giving this biography of James Madison 2.5 stars rounded up generously to 3 stars. Madison was not a very charismatic man. Perhaps that is why the book was not very inspiring. He is best known for being the Father of the Constitution and starting party politics with the formation of the Republican Party (now known as the Democratic Party) with Thomas Jefferson. He wasn't a very good public speaker and did his speaking mainly through his writing. The book did not seem to have a good flow from the beginning and didn't get much better as it progressed. It switched from subject to subject too quickly and could have been longer.

  • Kent

    To end with the positive, I’ll begin with the negative. The author inserts himself too much into the book. I’m not accustomed in this genre to being aware of the author as much as I am in this bio. At points I’m not convinced of the author’s interpretation of either the persons or events he’s addressing at that moment. To the degree that David McCullough admires John Adams, this author disdains Adams. The fact that he has nothing good to say about Adams, for example, leads me to question the aut

    To end with the positive, I’ll begin with the negative. The author inserts himself too much into the book. I’m not accustomed in this genre to being aware of the author as much as I am in this bio. At points I’m not convinced of the author’s interpretation of either the persons or events he’s addressing at that moment. To the degree that David McCullough admires John Adams, this author disdains Adams. The fact that he has nothing good to say about Adams, for example, leads me to question the author's understanding a bit more.

    But all of the above is really minor. Overall I find the book credible, informative, and interesting. Reading much tangentially about Madison, I wanted to fill in my knowledge about him. This bio was a great help. The Founders were flawed giants, and Brookhiser does us a great service in helping us see Madison's greatness as well as his weaknesses.

  • Brian Willis

    I purchased this paperback at Mount Vernon, and it serves as a good, compact biography. It is just the nuts and bolts, however; the analysis is very limited and it moves at a quick pace. If you want a brief (250 p.p.) bio, this will do just nicely. As somebody else noted here, it feels like "this happened in America and then Madison did this" rather than portraying Madison as a mover of events. But then again, Madison may be even harder to know as a person than Jefferson.

  • Abigail

    The fourth President of the United States, James Madison - whose two terms as chief magistrate of the nation stretched from 1809 through 1817 - is often referred to as "The Father of the Constitution," in honor of his central role in creating that document, and shepherding it through the rocky process of ratification; and is celebrated as one of the three contributors, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, to

    . In this brief biography, Richard Brookhiser sets out to

    The fourth President of the United States, James Madison - whose two terms as chief magistrate of the nation stretched from 1809 through 1817 - is often referred to as "The Father of the Constitution," in honor of his central role in creating that document, and shepherding it through the rocky process of ratification; and is celebrated as one of the three contributors, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, to

    . In this brief biography, Richard Brookhiser sets out to explore another aspect of Madison's long career: his role as the "Father of Politics" (by which we are clearly meant to understand "American Party Politics"), and the result is a book that, while it falls somewhat short as a general biography, will undoubtedly be of interest to those students of history who are particularly concerned with the development of our political system, in the early days of the republic.

    I found Brookhiser's

    , chosen as the fourth selection for my Presidential Book-Club - begun as a personal project to improve my own knowledge of American history, it has grown to a bi-monthly book-club with friends and family, and involves reading a biography for each president, in chronological order - a moderately informative read. I learned a little bit more about Madison - details about his political and intellectual partnerships, about his wife, Dolley, and about his retirement - that I hadn't gleaned from our previous selections (Chernow's

    , McCullough's

    , Bernstein's

    ), but was left with the impression that there was so much more to know, so much not being presented. I didn't get much sense of Madison as a man, perhaps because the author's focus was more political than personal, and I have to confess that I missed having a section of images included. Granted, this latter is a minor point, but I would have liked to have an image of Dolley, about whom some risque remarks were made, over the years, or of the Madison home at Montpelier to refer to, when reading about them.

    In addition to wishing for a more extensive account of Madison's life - he came from a large, close-knit family, for instance, but the details of his family life, and how they affected him, are not to be found here - I also sometimes found the author's tone rather off-putting. Stray references to modern realities and technologies - no, I don't need to be reminded that they didn't have Twitter, back in the 18th century! - find their way into the text, as does an oft-repeated reminder that the Republican Party of the late-18th/early-19th centuries (the fore-runner of the modern-day Democratic Party) is wholly unrelated to the modern party of the same name. Supplying your readers with this information once might be considered helpful, doing it two or three times can start to look like condescension, particularly when you made a point to include it in your foreword. It begs the question - does Brookhiser not trust his readers to recall this vital piece of information?

    Finally, and perhaps most troubling of all to this reader, was Brookhiser's rather inconsistent analysis of the events he sets out for his readers, his editorializing - presented as statement of fact, in the text, rather than as opinion - and his apparent inability to separate himself from his subject's viewpoint. This latter is particularly evident any time the character of John Adams is raised, and one gets the sense that Brookhiser, rather than just presenting Madison's views on our second president as one perspective amongst many, has embraced them as gospel, content to ignore any evidence to the contrary. He will occasionally admit that Adams may not have been as dastardly a fellow as Madison imagined - he grudgingly allows, at one point, that, despite Republican fears, Adams was not really a monarchist - but is curiously silent on the fact that Adams, whatever one might have to say against him (and the Alien and Sedition Acts certainly provide ample material, on that score), did not engage in the same sort of party politics as Madison, and was quite willing to stand against his own "side" (ie: the Federalists), when he thought it right. Perhaps Brookhiser is conscious that a more detailed exploration of the tense relationship between these two founding fathers - something like that found in McCullough's

    - might show his hero in a negative light? Or is it party politics itself - something the author, a political commentator for most of his life, clearly revels in, and sees as self-evidently beneficial - that he doesn't wish to see tarnished, by an honest analysis of Adams' more independent virtues?

    However that may be, it's fascinating to see him, without blinking an eye, or offering any negative commentary, describe Madison as engaged in "the politics of personal destruction," whilst subsequently labeling James Callender - the pamphleteer and journalist that Jefferson and Madison used to attack both Washington and Adams, without getting their own hands dirty - as sleazy, for revealing the sordid details of Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings. Apparently the difference, between a perfectly acceptable "gentleman" engaged in party politics, and a sleazy political journalist, employed by that selfsame gentleman, is that one was powerful and managed to conduct his character assassinations in secret, while the other was humble, and conducted his dirty business before the public eye. There is even the implication, presented by Brookhiser as a throwaway possibility (and nothing to worry too much about!), that Callender was assassinated for his activities.

    Needless to say, I finished this slim volume with some significant qualms about Brookhiser, who seems, as a historian, to lack objectivity, and as an analyst, to have some curious moral blind spots. This was a low three-star title for me - I found it easy to read, and did learn some new things, so I can't in good conscience give it only two stars - and I came away with the wish that I had chosen a more substantial analysis of Madison for my club. Although I think this book has something to offer readers with an interest in the development of the American political system, I recommend reading it with caution. When it comes to the recent crop of authors writing about the founding generation, Brookhiser is no Chernow or McCullough, and I don't think I'll be picking up any more of his work.

  • Arsenio Santos

    This biography never delves into any particular event, opting to cover a lot of ground as quickly as possible. Worse, there's not much of the personality of the President, either. The result is a book that feels more like a Wikipedia entry (and, for certain situations, the Wikipedia page is more informative).

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