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James Madison: A Biography

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The best one volume biography of Madison's life, Ketcham's biography not only traces Madison's career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It also captures a side of Mad The best one volume biography of Madison's life, Ketcham's biography not only traces Madison's career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It also captures a side of Madison that is less rarely on display (including a portrait of the beautiful Dolley Madison).


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The best one volume biography of Madison's life, Ketcham's biography not only traces Madison's career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It also captures a side of Mad The best one volume biography of Madison's life, Ketcham's biography not only traces Madison's career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It also captures a side of Madison that is less rarely on display (including a portrait of the beautiful Dolley Madison).

30 review for James Madison: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    I debated the rating because this is like a 4.5-star, or 4.75 star. But it's just so good in the way it plunges you into Madison's world! And there are all these anecdotes peppered throughout that give the flavor of the colonial world and really humanize the people who are known to us as abstract historical figures. I loved that stuff! It's really detailed, though. So if you don't like details (which - why not? It's A)historical B)biography, a good place for details, no?) you might not be thrill I debated the rating because this is like a 4.5-star, or 4.75 star. But it's just so good in the way it plunges you into Madison's world! And there are all these anecdotes peppered throughout that give the flavor of the colonial world and really humanize the people who are known to us as abstract historical figures. I loved that stuff! It's really detailed, though. So if you don't like details (which - why not? It's A)historical B)biography, a good place for details, no?) you might not be thrilled. I did read 40-50 pages at a time several times. I recommend reading it in big chunks if it all possible -- just taking a couple Sunday afternoons and doing 150-200 pages. In short, James and his Virginia buddies and Dolley and her parents and Lafayette and many others are just awesome, and they are worth your time. And we all owe Ketcham a huge debt for painstakingly researching and writing this thing. On to Monroe...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2013/... “James Madison: A Biography” by Ralph Ketcham was published in 1971 and has long been considered by many the pre-eminent single volume biography of our fourth president. As an early editor of The Papers of James Madison, Ketcham was fortunate to have access to materials not available to earlier biographers. He is Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University (where he earned a PhD in 1956) and his most recent book “The Madisons at Montpelier” was published in http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2013/... “James Madison: A Biography” by Ralph Ketcham was published in 1971 and has long been considered by many the pre-eminent single volume biography of our fourth president. As an early editor of The Papers of James Madison, Ketcham was fortunate to have access to materials not available to earlier biographers. He is Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University (where he earned a PhD in 1956) and his most recent book “The Madisons at Montpelier” was published in 2009. Although James Madison is not as well-known as other “Founding Fathers” he played a critical role in our nation’s earliest years – directly and behind-the-scenes. He is considered the “Father of the US Constitution” for his role in its drafting and passage, was a primary champion and author of the Bill of Rights, was a key advisor to Presidents Washington and Jefferson, served as Jefferson’s two-term Secretary of State and was the fourth President of the United States. Ketcham’s “James Madison” is a sober, detailed, well-researched and lengthy treatment of Madison covering most aspects of his life – from his birth in 1751 at Belle Grove Plantation (more on this interesting site in a later post) until his death at Montpelier in 1836. While reading this 671 page tome, one imagines there must be little about Madison’s life which Ketcham did not include. And on the whole, Ketcham’s biography seems quite well-balanced and objective. Though bias in Madison’s favor shows slightly at times, the author is generally critical of Madison’s leadership style, his handling of the War of 1812, and his actions (and inactions) regarding slavery. Ketcham provides a particularly detailed and penetrating account of the drafting, passage and ratification of the Constitution, describing Madison’s role as well as the parts played by numerous antagonists. After absorbing this section of the book and reflecting on the multitude of perils faced through ratification, it seems little short of a miracle that this pillar of our government survived the fractious political environment into which it was born. A few books focused on the founding of our country will soon appear on my “must read” list as a result of Ketcham’s description. As seems typical for a book of this vintage, the author’s writing style can be garrulous and difficult to traverse and the subject matter frequently proves dense. Some have described large portions of the book as “boring” – a complaint difficult to argue, particularly when reflecting on the seemingly endless pages leading up to, and including, the War of 1812. Others lament occasionally tedious diversions into discussions of political philosophy. But given Madison’s particular skill set, it seems difficult to imagine a complete treatment of this deep political thinker not examining in detail his core political beliefs. More regrettable in my view is that the one thing missing from this otherwise complete biography…is Madison himself. Despite its length and tendency for detail, the biography seems utterly devoid of vitality or warmth – or passion of any type – relating to its primary subject. Some of the blame may rest on Madison, who has been described as erudite but austere, mechanical and emotionally distant. However, by the end of the book I felt exceedingly well-acquainted with Madison’s political activities…yet knew virtually nothing of him or his family on a personal level. And given her reputation as the nation’s most-loved “First Lady” I would have enjoyed getting to know better his famously gregarious wife, Dolley. I also felt the author missed an opportunity to better describe the extraordinarily unique and powerfully symbiotic relationship between Madison and Thomas Jefferson. But what it may lack in personality or frivolity, Ralph Ketcham’s “James Madison: A Biography” makes up for in depth. It is a fabulously insightful, extremely detailed and objective examination of Madison’s political life, and his enormous contributions to this country. Certainly, this biography is missing is a personal touch which would serve to humanize Madison and animate the sometimes tedious aspects of his life. But while readers expecting a David McCullough style journey will be sorely (and quickly) disappointed, as an academic matter, this biography was excellent. Overall rating: 3¾ stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    James Madison just may have been the brightest of the Founding Fathers, and probably one of the 3 or 4 smartest Presidents. His intellectual gifts were beyond dispute, acing his way through Princeton at the age of sixteen as he did. Yet his weaknesses as a leader showed up in his somewhat bumbling efforts during the War of 1812, where he apparently knew what needed to be done but couldn't bring these steps to fruition. His lifelong "republican" ideology, which viewed strong government as anathem James Madison just may have been the brightest of the Founding Fathers, and probably one of the 3 or 4 smartest Presidents. His intellectual gifts were beyond dispute, acing his way through Princeton at the age of sixteen as he did. Yet his weaknesses as a leader showed up in his somewhat bumbling efforts during the War of 1812, where he apparently knew what needed to be done but couldn't bring these steps to fruition. His lifelong "republican" ideology, which viewed strong government as anathema, taxes as theft and strong military forces as a threat to democracy was fine and good during peacetime, but in the event of a war with a major power, this style of governing was almost the cause of a national catastrophe. However, one should remember that Madison enjoyed a long and fruitful career, became known as the "Father of the Constitution" and was revered as a great man both by his contemporaries and posterity. And his wife was the model that all First Ladies must still live up to! This readable biography is an excellent introduction to the man and to his era.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Craig

    This is the best one-volume biography on Madison. Although it is dense and not altogether geared to a general audience, Ketcham does a fine job in his balanced view of Madison. Ketcham's writing style is crisp as he skims along each topic giving you just enough, and I did not feel too bogged down. Madison shines through the Revolutionary/Early Republic period, but his presidency was not as strong. He did his best during the War of 1812, but his leadership in war were not as skilled as Washington This is the best one-volume biography on Madison. Although it is dense and not altogether geared to a general audience, Ketcham does a fine job in his balanced view of Madison. Ketcham's writing style is crisp as he skims along each topic giving you just enough, and I did not feel too bogged down. Madison shines through the Revolutionary/Early Republic period, but his presidency was not as strong. He did his best during the War of 1812, but his leadership in war were not as skilled as Washington, Lincoln, or FDR. You do appreciate him more after reading this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This one took me awhile - it's extremely detailed & well-researched. Very well done. I had no idea how much Madison contributed to the country before, during, and after his presidency. It's astounding. I'd kill to sit down to dinner with him, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Muckerman

    Too much of a good thing. Clearly a labor of love, in his quest to provide us the fullest picture of Madison, the author fails in the most fundamental responsibility of a biographer: to consume, process and digest every iota of information, but then to sort the significant from the insignificant, in order to paint a picture of a man that is complete, but is relevant. Ketcham fails miserably; in producing a volume of 650+ pages to tell a story that needed no more than 400. I've only read the one b Too much of a good thing. Clearly a labor of love, in his quest to provide us the fullest picture of Madison, the author fails in the most fundamental responsibility of a biographer: to consume, process and digest every iota of information, but then to sort the significant from the insignificant, in order to paint a picture of a man that is complete, but is relevant. Ketcham fails miserably; in producing a volume of 650+ pages to tell a story that needed no more than 400. I've only read the one biography on Madison (and rest assured, it's put me well off any desire to read another), but I'm confident that Ketcham has produced the definitive work on our fourth President in terms of completeness of research and minutae of detail. Therein lies his undoing, as what could be a great story of one of our greatest, and most overlooked Founding Fathers, instead becomes a laborious exercise in tedium; a quest for the reader to persevere, in which each new chapter restarts a Sysiphan struggle for progress. It is important to know Madison's origins, his role in shaping and defending the Constitution, his legislative background, family and relationship with Jefferson, his service under Jefferson, his term in office and the War of 1812, and his retirement years as they laid the foundation for education in Virginia. That's 350-400 pages. What is not important is what he ate, where he slept, how the roads were, who sat next to him, how many times he was afflicted with a "bilious fever" in his life, and the dozens of verbatim descriptions of his appearance, all of which are identical. Such insignifica burden the text and the reader with another 200+ pages of clutter, which add nothing material to the story or to understanding the portrait of the man. Perhaps someday in the far off future I'll tackle another Madison biography, provided it does not exceed 400 pages. Sadly, I cannot recommend this one to anyone, even as punishment. P.S. - at the end, he hits an iceberg and everyone dies.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Koehne

    By no means is this an easy biography to read. Written a couple of decades ago, it doesn't follow the new wave of historical biographies available today by Chernow, McCullough, and others. Newer works have access to new information not available even a couple of decades ago and the style of writing is much more accessible for the typical reader. Ketcham is old school - he's laying out the facts on James Madison's life and adding just a hint of his own commentary now and then as he sees fit. This By no means is this an easy biography to read. Written a couple of decades ago, it doesn't follow the new wave of historical biographies available today by Chernow, McCullough, and others. Newer works have access to new information not available even a couple of decades ago and the style of writing is much more accessible for the typical reader. Ketcham is old school - he's laying out the facts on James Madison's life and adding just a hint of his own commentary now and then as he sees fit. This makes for a very dense read, with quotes and lists and very detailed accounts of the major political events in Madison's life. A lot of quotes and lists and detailed accounts. The first few hundred pages of the book take an effort on the reader's part to get through. Madison's early life and secondary role through the Revolution and the early parts of the new nation are necessary to understand how he developed into the integral Founding Father he became, but these years are less than engrossing. Ketcham details them nonetheless, until he finally hits his stride at the Constitutional Convention. This is where the academic Madison begins to truly shine and just as John Adams spearheaded the drive for independence, Madison (with Alexander Hamilton's help) leads the push for a strengthened national government to replace the Articles of Confederation. The second half of the book moves along nicely and Ketcham does a much better job of holding the reader's interest during Madison's years as Secretary of State under Jefferson and during his own Presidency from 1809-1817. There is a low level bias to portray Madison in a positive light during these years, but it does not overwhelm the facts and Ketcham reserves some critical analysis of Madison at points through the text that provide a contrary view that is less than positive. The idea that Madison was a better behind-the-scenes support academic rather than an extraordinary leader is the final impression you get after reading this book, and probably a fairly accurate one. The book succeeds in many ways, including focusing on Madison's long collaboration with Jefferson and how critical that relationship was to the new nation. Jefferson was the powerful visionary supported (and sometimes countered) by Madison's academic prowess and firm footing in translating ideas into a workable form. Ketcham supplements the political aspects of Madison's life with his personal life in just the right balance as well. Dolley Madison and the social world Madison lived in (including his life at Montpelier) are also given life through personal letters, newspapers, and third-party accounts of the couple. Where the book fails (which is rare) is the lack of connection to the rest of the events during Madison's life that don't directly involve him. Washington's death doesn't even get a mention in the book, while Hamilton's death at Aaron Burr's hand is given one sentence. Surely these events and others of great national consequence deserve additional attention. Dolley Madison's life after Madison's death also is not described and would have been a good inclusion to complete the cycle of his influence in the years between his death and the Civil War. Overall a great book, probably the best and most thorough on Madison available. Newer works do not seem to be as in-depth and also contain a greater positive bias for Madison and his impact. He is definitely one of the big 6 (with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Franklin) of the Founding Fathers and a truly remarkable man, but just like his illustrious peers he also had his unique faults and failures throughout his life. You can't say this book gives a strong personal impression of the Madison, but the reader comes away with a strong conviction that Madison was essential to new nation, faults and all, and was truly irreplaceable in our national history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Well written and presented! This is an excellent comprehensive biography on the entire life of James Madison. I believe it does much honor to the Father of the Consitution. My favorite quote of the book is, "It seems clear he neither embraced fervently nor rejected utterly the Christian base of his education. He accepted its tenets generally and formed his outlook on life within its worldview." Our founders may not have all embraced Christianity, but no honest research of our history cannot say Well written and presented! This is an excellent comprehensive biography on the entire life of James Madison. I believe it does much honor to the Father of the Consitution. My favorite quote of the book is, "It seems clear he neither embraced fervently nor rejected utterly the Christian base of his education. He accepted its tenets generally and formed his outlook on life within its worldview." Our founders may not have all embraced Christianity, but no honest research of our history cannot say that we were not positively influenced by the Christian worldview in a profound way. Your worldview is everything and shows what you believe. This says a lot about the history of our country!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Riley

    Though he was one of the Founding Fathers, I admittedly didn't know that much about James Madison before I read this biography. The book gave a good picture of Madison's personality and his contribution to the country's birth. Its writing was rather dry, though, which is a problem for a nearly 700-page work.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brian Miracle

    A long read, but worth it if you want to know Madison. Stephen Floyd (www.bestpresidentialbios.com) recommends this as the best Madison biography and I would agree. The book does a good job of showing Madison and his interactions with the other great men of his age. Also shows the immense contributions that Madison made to the founding and shaping of our republic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Becky Snow

    this book is so good; so thorough and expertly balanced. Ketchum is able to write about all of Madison's awesome contributions, his political writing, and his shortcomings, without coming off as biased in anyway. I especially appreciated the details Ketchum gave about the federal convention.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christian Dibblee

    There are a few overarching thoughts for a book of this density. First, I will freely admit portions of this book are boring, and it is about as academic a read as one could ever hope to find on a president. Madison presents a fascinating case, primarily because he has not elicited the same kind of attention that the other Founders have. There have been maybe two well-regarded books on Madison in the last 15 years. Ketcham’s effort is from the 1970s, and still resonates. On Madison the person, I There are a few overarching thoughts for a book of this density. First, I will freely admit portions of this book are boring, and it is about as academic a read as one could ever hope to find on a president. Madison presents a fascinating case, primarily because he has not elicited the same kind of attention that the other Founders have. There have been maybe two well-regarded books on Madison in the last 15 years. Ketcham’s effort is from the 1970s, and still resonates. On Madison the person, I found the same contradictions that Jefferson presents. He advocated something akin to nationalism at the Constitutional Convention, only to change when in opposition, only to change back when president. Ketcham doesn’t see it that way, instead suggesting Madison’s entire career was focused on protecting republican government, and he adapting to the dangers he perceived. For instance, at the Convention he worried that the states would forget the general welfare if they were given superseding authority over the federal government. And in a sense he was right…the irritations of paper money and 13 different trade regimes did create problems. And yet, before too long, Madison saw the Bank of the United States and assumption of state debts (both Hamiltonian priorities) as unreasonably benefitting the wealthy classes. So he marshalled the Constitution to fight those dangers. Ketcham argues that it wasn’t until his last years as President that Madison really grew satisfied that the government was fully republican (how wrong he was!). A personal note of admiration for me came when I read Madison didn’t support the Bill of Rights…because he thought the Constitution hadn’t been framed to impede any of the rights that a Bill was meant to protect. That kind of faith in the Constitution is laudable, even if he eventually came to realize a BoR was needed. But he also showed the same care for the document when he put forward the enumerated powers as his reason for avoiding the Bank. Some likely see contradiction comparing these examples to his time in Administrations…I think his vetoing a bill at the end of his career because he thought an Amendment was needed speaks to his continuing care for the Constitution and its language. His strident opposition to the idea of nullification so discussed in the 1820s, on the other hand, shows his focus on the Constitution as providing a national government, not to be too overly burdened with concerns of the states. It’s a complicated legacy, to be sure. Like any Founder, slavery comes up a fair bit. And similar to Jefferson, Madison early on fought for abolition, then did nothing to change an institution he admitted was bad (he tried getting into colonization). Ketcham is particularly critical on this point, and with good reason. Another topic of interest is Madison’s fascination with the Mississippi River, and in fact he fought very hard to ensure the U.S. had full rights to the River. There is one conclusion I made reading this book: Madison was not a good President. Some of that is results-oriented (there isn’t much he did domestically), but the bigger issue is his inability to prepare the country for the War of 1812. Jefferson shares that problem as well, as they both supported the ineffectual Embargo. But Madison was Secretary of State during that time too, and Ketcham does a good job showing that by constantly vacillating between tough and sweet talk with both Britain and France, Madison did very little to help the U.S. find a way out. Furthermore, Madison and Jefferson did not do enough to raise an army and navy, ostensibly because they had fought against standing armies as opposition leaders, and their philosophical hackles were raised at the prospect. So the country was ill-prepared for war, and I would argue Madison’s handling of the war was suboptimal, particularly in keeping George Armstrong as Secretary of War. We were lucky that the British decided the contest wasn’t worth it, because for the most part they had the upper hand (though the Battle of New Orleans is an impressive feat of American arms). Overall, this is a book I would recommend only to folks who really want to learn in-depth about Madison. It is not eminently readable, even if the research and detail can certainly be appreciated. In the end, Madison does deserve more attention, so there’s a role for this book out there for sure. But it can be described as a labor of love for the majority.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Foster

    I read “James Madison” because, even though he was the fourth US President at a crucial nexus in our history, all I knew about James Madison was that the was the “Father of the Constitution” (whatever that means), and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. I discovered that one problem with a biography of Madison is that he wrote all the time, and most of his writings are still available. Ralph Ketcham, the author of this definitive biography, has done the heavy lifting for us, absorbing a I read “James Madison” because, even though he was the fourth US President at a crucial nexus in our history, all I knew about James Madison was that the was the “Father of the Constitution” (whatever that means), and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. I discovered that one problem with a biography of Madison is that he wrote all the time, and most of his writings are still available. Ralph Ketcham, the author of this definitive biography, has done the heavy lifting for us, absorbing and synthesizing this mountain of data. The result is this magnificent biography. The text follows Madison’s career chronologically. Madison was there before the Revolution. He was the intellectual leader of the movement that transformed a handful of squabbling former colonies into a single nation. He guided the new United States through the great world war, the one we forget about, between an England newly shorn of its rich American colonies and a France suffering through a bloody revolution that was transforming into Bonapart’s autocracy. Madison fled when the British invaded and burned Washington. He negotiated a peace with all the beligerants, laying the foundation for long-lasting trade. He approved the Louisianna Purchase, which opened the vast space and natural resources of the seemingly unlimited West to the new United States. He guided the infant United States as it grew from a handful of disfunctional States, teetering on the edge of collapse, into a world power. Madison was the leader of the Republicans (not the GOP!) versus the Federalists, when the divide between the two parties was fierce enough that the commercial states nearly seceeded from the Union. This book details each of these eras thoroughly, in detail but with driving and never-dull narrative. Rather than describe the epochs in his life, as the book does, I will summarize what I think are some of Madison’s most salient characteristics. He was always studious, to the point of risking his health. I suspect this was because he was never the fastest mind in the room (that would be Jefferson), nor the most respected (that would be Washington). He was one of those people with immense, but quiet, talent, who drove himself relentlessly in order to prove himself. Madison’s health prevented him from accepting any of several diplomatic posts. In fact, he never travelled far from Virginia, treating even a trip to Boston and New York as an extravagent odyssey. I had a definite impression that he was more a hypochondriac than an invalid, especially since he worked such long hours and lived a very long life. He was very shy, especially in social situations—to the point that his innaugural addresses were almost inaudible, as he mumbled them quietly into the floor. Fortunately his wife, Dolly Madison, was sociable enough for the two of them. Madison was principled. His Lockean touchstone was that government was legitimate only insofar as its powers were founded on and constrained by the rights of individual people—meaning white, male, propertied people, of course. In his early days, he opposed federal actions that were not explicitly authorized in the Constitution, including a government bank to pay off State debts and a standing army and navy. He was enough of a pragmatist to bend when it proved difficult for the new nation to thrive economically. His principles were particularly tested when it became apparent that a country could not exist in a world with other powerful countries without a navy, an army, and the taxation basis to pay for them. It often took Madison a while to veer from idealism to pragmatism. Whether this was indecision or caution, it sometimes hurt the new Nation’s prospects. I came away from this book feeling that I knew Madison well enough to recognize him and respect him, without idolizing him. I also came away with a much deeper appreciation for how complicated and dangerous the years between the 18th and 19th centuries were. This was a rich, enlightening read. For US history buffs, this is essential reading. For Americans who want a better appreciation of why the Constitution is what it is, and why it still matters, I highly recommend it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    When reading about Jefferson, Madison came across as mere disciple, and less as a man who deserves a high if not commanding position in the totem of early American visionaries. More realistic and down to earth than the much more gregarious Jefferson, he nonetheless presided over a country in turmoil - a country in it's early adolescence attempting to define itself by the lives and opinions of the still living and recently dead titans that created the nation we know today. By far the most thorough When reading about Jefferson, Madison came across as mere disciple, and less as a man who deserves a high if not commanding position in the totem of early American visionaries. More realistic and down to earth than the much more gregarious Jefferson, he nonetheless presided over a country in turmoil - a country in it's early adolescence attempting to define itself by the lives and opinions of the still living and recently dead titans that created the nation we know today. By far the most thorough biography I have yet read of the presidents, this biography still manages to capture the character of a man who was not as immune to the ravages of history or his own mistakes as either Washington or Jefferson. Much more than either of them, however, Madison was an architect of the realities of the republican ideals immortalized in the Constitution, even if he did not think the document was 'perfect' in his estimation. Ketcham captures Madison first as a disciple of republicanism and then into his own maturity as possibly the most steadfast and consistent defender of his particular conception of republicanism. It brings the man and the virtue out of his tumultuous years as secretary of state under Jefferson and the sectionalist, partisan difficulties in the 1790s and during his own presidency. Despite his failings, which are neither glossed over in this volume nor given precedence, Ketcham provides us with a deep portrait of a man who is too often relegated to a smaller part in the creation of the nation than he is given credit for. The weaknesses of the book stand one: in sometimes spending too much time on details less relevant to the subject of the telling, and two: in being somewhat less readable than non-academics might benefit from. Still, for those looking for a good single volume on the "father of the constitution", this biography will more than suffice.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Biographyguy

    James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America, lived and thought in terms of the American Revolution and the resulting union of the states. His early career in Virginia prepared him for a more prominent national career, first as an integral thinker and signer of the Declaration of Independence, second as an ardent supporter of the federal government being formed in the late 1700's, and third through his administration as president and the War of 1812 that occurred during hi James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America, lived and thought in terms of the American Revolution and the resulting union of the states. His early career in Virginia prepared him for a more prominent national career, first as an integral thinker and signer of the Declaration of Independence, second as an ardent supporter of the federal government being formed in the late 1700's, and third through his administration as president and the War of 1812 that occurred during his tenure. This book is quite comprehensive, but only as a means to be as informative as possible about President James Madison. His career before becoming president could be considered to be more interesting than his career as president. As an author of the federalist papers, Madison helped contribute exponentially to the formation of American Political thought. His enduring friendship with Thomas Jefferson, his predecessor, and James Monroe, his successor as president, has left those of us fortunate enough to live centuries after these individuals with the ability to read the letters written to and from these individuals. In the end I found this book to be a worthy and informative biography of a sometimes misunderstood president. If you choose to read this book, be prepared to learn a great deal more about him than perhaps was necessary to understand his contributions to his country. Although I did not attend said college, I would feel that this book would be a must for any University of Virginia undergraduate as Madison helped Thomas Jefferson found the university.

  16. 5 out of 5

    William Monaco

    I think the positives of this book are the thoroughness with which Ketcham goes through Madison's life and author's ability to put Madison's life in context not only within United States but also the world. I appreciated our fourth President's life and all he did for our country and its government much more than ever. He and Monroe tend to be forgotten in middle and high school history classes, but after reading this book I have a whole new appreciation for Madison's contributions to uniting the I think the positives of this book are the thoroughness with which Ketcham goes through Madison's life and author's ability to put Madison's life in context not only within United States but also the world. I appreciated our fourth President's life and all he did for our country and its government much more than ever. He and Monroe tend to be forgotten in middle and high school history classes, but after reading this book I have a whole new appreciation for Madison's contributions to uniting the States. My big complaint is that the book lacked a cohesive thesis. In trying to cover every single aspect of James' life, Ketcham at times lost me in pointless facts or long lists of names. I got the sense he was trying to connect Madison's public life to the Constitution but personally thought he could have done it better, especially as his time as Secretary of State and President. Those 16 years were heavily devoted to the War of 1812. The book is also boring at times and reads too much like a textbook for me. I would recommend this book for any fan of American History because it seems to be the definitive biography of Madison. That said, if a contemporary historian like Chernow, Kearns Goodwin, Meacham, Brands, or McCullough wrote about Madison, I would not hesitate to read that in lieu of this.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter Sprunger

    I agree with other reviews I've read that this is the best single-volume biography of Madison. For that matter it is one of the best single-volume Presidential biographies that I've read. I also whole-heartedly agree with the other reviewers who claim this book is "excellent", "great", and "dull". (It is a 670 page biography... how can it not be dull in places.) The thing I liked most about the book is that it does not skimp on any time periods of his life but gives a good detailed description I agree with other reviews I've read that this is the best single-volume biography of Madison. For that matter it is one of the best single-volume Presidential biographies that I've read. I also whole-heartedly agree with the other reviewers who claim this book is "excellent", "great", and "dull". (It is a 670 page biography... how can it not be dull in places.) The thing I liked most about the book is that it does not skimp on any time periods of his life but gives a good detailed description of each... especially the constitutional convention. It does not hesitate to bring other characters in and explain their significance. After reading this book I am more interested in the lives of some of Madison's colleagues who became future Presidents, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. To write a biography of this detail, one must really be enthusiastic about the subject. However, I believe that Ketcham delivered a rather fair review of Madison's life and accomplishments. The pro-Madison tendencies show when things were falling apart around him during his Presidency, Ketcham ascribes little blame to Madison.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I plodded my way through this biography at times, as it is heavily focused on Madison's inspirations and accomplishments rather than who he was as a man. Much of it presents an abundance of names too numerous to comprehend — his ancient historical influences, his college acquaintances and teachers, and various politicians of little significance. There are many unnecessary back-references (“see chapter XVI”), instead of a trust that the reader will remember the subject mentioned. However, most of I plodded my way through this biography at times, as it is heavily focused on Madison's inspirations and accomplishments rather than who he was as a man. Much of it presents an abundance of names too numerous to comprehend — his ancient historical influences, his college acquaintances and teachers, and various politicians of little significance. There are many unnecessary back-references (“see chapter XVI”), instead of a trust that the reader will remember the subject mentioned. However, most of the information is invaluable in presenting the amazing mind known as "The Father of the Constitution." That the book lacks a certain degree of entertainment may complement the equal shortness of personality of its muse. But boy, could he (Madison) write!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Ok, this one was a slog. I wish I could have watched a hip hop musical of Madison instead, but there will never be a hip hop musical about Madison because he is probably the least hip hop of the Founding Fathers. Other than having to flee D.C. and ride around (seemingly mostly unhelpfully) for a few days while the British burned his house down, his story is not one of particular action, drama or scandal. The book instead exhaustively covers his intellectual and political work. A lot of that was Ok, this one was a slog. I wish I could have watched a hip hop musical of Madison instead, but there will never be a hip hop musical about Madison because he is probably the least hip hop of the Founding Fathers. Other than having to flee D.C. and ride around (seemingly mostly unhelpfully) for a few days while the British burned his house down, his story is not one of particular action, drama or scandal. The book instead exhaustively covers his intellectual and political work. A lot of that was very interesting and informative, but did get pretty exhausting after a while.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    I didn’t look forward to reading this book. Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, but, dang - it’s an ugly cover. On the front is a horrible, craggy rendition of Madison looking severely at the reader. The back cover has a summary of the book that includes the following descriptive words and phrases: “bulky, solid and scholarly…in detail...lengthy accounts…not exactly interesting reading…something less than exciting.” Reviews on Goodreads are a mixed bag. People seem to either love it or ha I didn’t look forward to reading this book. Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, but, dang - it’s an ugly cover. On the front is a horrible, craggy rendition of Madison looking severely at the reader. The back cover has a summary of the book that includes the following descriptive words and phrases: “bulky, solid and scholarly…in detail...lengthy accounts…not exactly interesting reading…something less than exciting.” Reviews on Goodreads are a mixed bag. People seem to either love it or hate it. But this is was the biography chosen by the Goodreads History Group for discussion of Madison. So, with a heavy sigh, I resigned myself to read it. And I’m glad I did, because it is wonderful. Ketcham was a professor of political science, public affairs and American studies at Syracuse University. The University website tells us that Ketcham “specialized in constitutional and political theory, especially as it emerged and evolved during the era of the first U.S. presidents. Ketcham’s books in this vein included the acclaimed biographies of …James Madison….” Ketcham, an expert in Constitutional and political theory, writes about Madison, who is perhaps history’s foremost expert with regard to the practical application of enlightened governmental theory. Between the author and his subject, James Madison: A Biography contains a large dose of constitutional and political theory, but I thought it was easy to swallow. I understand why many reviewers might describe the biography as dry, too detailed, too long, etc. This book does address theory, philosophy, and history, and Ketcham’s analysis is detailed, thorough, and well supported. James Madison: A Biography is absolutely awesome if the reader welcomes the application of Ketcham’s expertise to Madison’s story. For instance, the development of Madison’s ideas regarding the role of factions in a large republic made for really interesting reading. Yeah, I know, how can this be interesting? I’m sure for a large segment of readers this topic is a snoozer. But the Constitutional Convention was this crazy intersection of philosophy, governmental theory and the American Revolution – the practical application of enlightened abstract theory to the real world – at a critical, pivotal moment in time. Madison had no delusions about humankind’s selfish nature and was unwilling to risk the ideal of freedom on a belief in the good nature of humans. He uses human nature to secure our freedom in a way that would make it difficult for any ruler or majority to suppress others. His idea was to enlarge the republic and rest the power of government on a broad base of the populous, who, with their diverse interests, would not allow a majority to rule, or when a majority did rule, that the diverse interests would make it difficult to galvanize the majority into action. Ketcham does a great job of showing the reader the development of Madison’s theory. Madison saw the utility of faction at work in Virginia in 1784 and 85 when Governor Patrick Henry sponsored legislation to create a religious assessment which was in essence a state sponsored church. Madison managed to invigorate Baptist and other denominations to oppose the measure, and it was defeated. These religious factions similarly situated, but with divergent interests, secured religious freedom from governmental interference. Madison carried this idea - that of providing divergent factions in a large republic an interest in government as a means to protect liberty – into the constitutional convention. There it was woven into the Constitution. After the convention, Madison writes of the utility of faction in Federalist #10 as a reason to support radification. While I always understood our Constitution to be deliberately calculated to provide checks and balances, I was never introduced to Madison’s theory. I’ve always thought of our American liberty as resting on ideals of fairness or perhaps toleration and restraint, as well as law. Madison’s theory is more Machiavellian or Hobbesian, ascribing to the belief that humans are primarily motivated by selfish concerns, and those interests should be bound together and pitted against one another. In doing so Madison sought to save us, not only from oppression at the hands of government, but also from our own worst inclinations. Ketcham’s presentation of this theory resonates with me and gives me a bit more clarity about our government and its appearance of perennial paralysis. As I am writing this review, a Republican controlled Congress and Republican President couldn’t manage to agree on immigration legislation. It’s interesting that Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, were all frustrated during their years in government and relieved to retire from their posts. Perhaps their frustrations, as well as ours today, are the deliberate result of our republic’s design. If this type of thing sounds like your cup of tea, then you'll love this book. History lessons abound and Ketcham's insights and commentary are really, really good. James Madison: A Biography is a good biography, but it is a great history book. I read another reviewer who said this book help him “understand the deeper currents flowing through the first years of our nation.” Another said “a clear window to the beginning of our republic.” I concur wholeheartedly with both comments. If you want a deeper understanding of this time period, our government, the nature of the relationships between the founding fathers, the rise of the Federalist and Republican parties, the demise of the Federalist party, the degree to which Jefferson and Madison stayed true to their Republicanism once in a position of power, and much more, then read this book. Goodreads has the consensus rating at 3.93, and that may be true as a biography, but, in my opinion, it’s a 5 star history book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Will Mego

    Incredibly arduous to read, amazingly complete. Should you wish to understand the man arguably the greatest of the Founding Fathers, or a deeper understanding of the manner and meaning to the construction of my country's political institutions, or the political travails during our 2nd War of Independence, the War of 1812, then look no further.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    This is a robust Madison biography not for the casual reader. It brings the former president to life with a great deal of material considering it is a single volume. Historians and lovers of American History should give it a try.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James

    Ketcham's Madison biography provides a thorough and engaging survey of Madison's life, the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution, and the political maneuvering of the founders and the early republic. Although a single volume, it delves deeply into Madison's letters and other primary documents to paint a detailed portrait of the foremost political theorist among the founders. A child of the Virginia planter class, Madison's early years help illuminate how a group of rural colonies o Ketcham's Madison biography provides a thorough and engaging survey of Madison's life, the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution, and the political maneuvering of the founders and the early republic. Although a single volume, it delves deeply into Madison's letters and other primary documents to paint a detailed portrait of the foremost political theorist among the founders. A child of the Virginia planter class, Madison's early years help illuminate how a group of rural colonies on the edge of the known world produced such an extraordinary collection of political theorists and statesmen. Madison's family had lived in Virginia for generations--long enough to leave the more settled tidewater region and move to what was then the ragged frontier at the feet of the Shenandoah mountains. Although provincial farmers, the Madisons, Jeffersons, and others devoted extensive resources to classical education for their sons, including tutors, boarding schools, and universities. The role of slavery in this equation poses a troubling question. The Virginia planters did not teach their sons Greek to make them better tobacco farmers. The Virginia aristocrats were building not only an economic system, but also a social system in which they assumed the role of lords of the manor and embodied the noblesse oblige of a Walter Scott novel. In an undeveloped wilderness with essentially unlimited free land, there was no way to create subservient captive farmers without chattel slavery. The early history of America is a never-ending tale of disaffected men pulling up stakes and fleeing farther west, abandoning debts, families, reputations, and taxes. Only chains, whips, and sheriff's posses could sustain the feudal relationship that southern planters sought to imitate. Their obsession with classical education revealed a social need that superseded the purely economic requirements of farming and necessitated enslaved laborers to realize. Madison's and Jefferson's educations, regardless of their questionable provenance, paid undeniable benefits for the future of the European colonists. Jefferson's flamboyant personality and writing style have placed him in the brightly lit foreground of history, but Madison was far more instrumental in the formation of the republic and demonstrated a much greater grasp of the challenges of representative democracy. In the Declaration of Independence and later documents, Jefferson showed himself to be the master of the memorable and dramatic phrase, and his facility with propaganda has made him the most quotable of the founders. It is no accident that Jefferson's words have caused consternation and dispute over the ensuing centuries as they frequently failed to represent the laws actually enacted by cooler heads. Jefferson wrote to inspire revolution and to energize what today we would call his political base. Madison drafted a constitutional scheme to build a functioning government that provided the maximum possible liberty to [white, male, propertied] individuals within the bounds of human frailty and selfishness. Madison's grasp of the contradictions of self-rule and his vision for mitigating those contradictions remain as inspiring and extraordinary today as it was more than two centuries ago. Ketcham repeatedly details Madison's corrections to Jefferson's radicalism. We have received the Jefferson-Madison partnership as one of mentor and protege, but Ketcham shows us that the picture is not only incomplete, but probably downright erroneous. Madison felt no apparent restraint in contradicting and deflating his senior partner whenever Jefferson's pronouncements on liberty strayed into the unrealistic or dangerous. Over his career, Madison's opponents challenged his apparent reversals, and his early partnership with Hamilton to produce The Federalist contrasted with their later political conflict presents one of the apparent mysteries of the founding. Ketcham shows in great detail how Madison's overriding concerns led naturally to the positions he took both early and late. While Jefferson was dogmatic on the subject of individual liberty and tended to espouse absolutist positions without regards for their logical sequelae, Madison saw every political question in context. He viewed government as an instrument for balancing liberty with order and recognized, perhaps better than any other founder, that liberty could not long exist without order and limitation. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Madison viewed a weak government, interstate rivalry, and selfish opportunism as the greatest threats to the newly established republic and the personal liberty that it promised. Once the federal government was established firmly, government overreach and centralized power replaced chaos as the greatest threat. Madison saw a need to limit the growing power of the federal government and establish precedents that would serve to contain it through the ages. His particular positions on the issues of the day reflected those concerns, and unlike his more dogmatic contemporaries, he was perfectly comfortable espousing opposing positions at different times to deal with different circumstances. We must also remember that Madison was a practicing politician throughout most of his life, and that he could not simply ignore the requirement to win elections in order to effect his plans and policies. Having lost an early election to a neighbor with a larger electioneering budget, Madison accepted the grubby realities of partisan politics. Never as underhanded or sleazy as Jefferson in his tactics, he nevertheless served as an effective party leader in the House of Representatives with all of the attendant log-rolling, compromises, and parliamentary maneuvers. Jefferson presents a more appealing picture to the dogmatic purist who can focus on his lofty pronouncements while ignoring his Nixonian political operations and his transparent hypocrisy. Madison, more cautious, dour, and circumspect, offered fewer bon mots, more complexity, and better government. Still, even more than his political maneuvering, his glaring failure on the most pressing issue of the era leaves the hagiographic portrait with a giant stain at its center. Madison, more clearly than any other southern founder, foresaw the destructive power of slavery and the inevitability of conflict over the issue, and yet he failed not only to take effective steps toward abolition nationally, but also to make any provision for freeing his own slaves. Doing so was certainly within his capability, but not without enormous cost. The great irony is that his plantation collapsed after his death, and Dolley was left in penury despite the retention of the Madison slaves. She eventually had to sell the slaves and the plantation, and nevertheless ended her days in poverty. Had Madison freed his slaves during his lifetime, his family would have ended no worse off, and he would have set a powerful example for his fellow planters. Such speculation does not represent retrospective application of modern values to an earlier era. Madison wrote extensively about the evils of slavery, and his close confidant Edward Coles freed his own slaves and repeatedly urged Madison to do the same. The institution of slavery combined with the cavalier myth to create one of the stranger paradoxes of early American politics, and provides a useful lens for viewing its modern descendants. Fearing for the security of their largest capital investment, southern planters developed a philosophical framework in which they--the "owners" of millions of chattel slaves--represented the defenders of individual liberties, while the merchants, bankers, and manufacturers of the north represented "aristocracy" and "monarchy." Madison participated in the partisan warfare of the 1790s and the first decade of the 1800s that portrayed Alexander Hamilton and other early capitalists as monarchists seeking to create a hereditary nobility of the wealthy while the southern "farmers," living on vast estates and maintaining discipline with the whip represented the common man. As racial politics heated up through the first half of the nineteenth century, later planter-class defenders explicitly articulated the logic in which the maintenance of a sub-human class of enslaved black laborers elevated all whites to a single plane, despite the vast difference in wealth and influence between the richest and the poorest. Madison himself would never have been so crude, but he must bear the weight of those who followed him and took his political system and compromises to their logical conclusions. By creating a permanent racial underclass, white planters could simultaneously claim solidarity with poor whites while demanding subservience and defense of the "peculiar institution." Poor whites were left with the Hobson's choice of sustaining their subservient position to wealthy planters in exchange for a permanent guarantee that they would never sink to society's bottom rung, or throwing in their lot with millions of black slaves against those who controlled the wealth and political power. The latter course offered no guarantee of success and presented the enormous risk that poor whites would find themselves not just picking cotton in the fields alongside blacks, which many of them were doing anyway, but doing so without any sense of social superiority. Ketcham's biography of James Madison is a valuable guide to the intersection of political philosophy and practical politics in the early republic. Ketcham falls prey to a common pitfall in biographies of those with poorly documented childhoods--he repeatedly employs the construction, "Madison may have" or "Madison most likely" to attribute the most mundane actions to a particular person based on our general knowledge of the times. He and other biographers of our early citizens would do better to draw a general picture of the times and place their subjects in context, attributing to them only those thoughts and actions, if any, that are documented. The constant, and largely pointless, speculation about Madison's early life quickly proves tiresome, and the reader is relieved when young Jemmy reaches an age to begin his famously voluminous correspondence.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    2.5 stars. It dragged a little in the middle.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    There is something very moving about finding yourself reading a biography of the principle author of the US Constitution on our annual Independence Day celebration. Fire crackers, whiz bangs, sparklers - hot dogs, beer, potato salad and watermelon - and in the midst of it all, James Madison, a slight, mild mannered but passionate, ever reasonable man dedicated to the proposition that human potential being what it is, that government is best which puts in place safeguards against ever having too There is something very moving about finding yourself reading a biography of the principle author of the US Constitution on our annual Independence Day celebration. Fire crackers, whiz bangs, sparklers - hot dogs, beer, potato salad and watermelon - and in the midst of it all, James Madison, a slight, mild mannered but passionate, ever reasonable man dedicated to the proposition that human potential being what it is, that government is best which puts in place safeguards against ever having too much power in a single hand -- or group of hands. "The principle need of the Constitution," he wrote, "is to guard against those who would squeeze it to death as well as those who would stretch it to death." This prodigious biography of Madison, written by Ralph Ketcham, Professor Emeritus at Syracuse University, is a monument to Madison's vision of the political via media - the middle, balanced way between competing forces. That power corrupts was central to Madison's understanding of humanity. Unlike the rest of the famous Virginians amongst the Founding Fathers, he went north to Princeton for his formal education which gave him a front row seat for the social implications of Calvinism. He was, above all, a realist when it came to human potential. Human beings were capable of great good (he knew that from his Anglican upbringing as well as his understanding of the philosophy of the Enlightenment); but they were also capable of great evil, sometimes in the name of good, often without recognizing their own culpability. So if you were going to create documents to declare independence from your oppressor, or govern the new state of Virginia, or provide the framework for a whole new nation, best write both those potentials into what you create. In retrospect, we have come to call it "balance of powers." To a very large extent, this book is more a biography of Madison's ideas than of Madison himself. Obviously the reader learns details about the man along the way, about his life on his Virginia plantation, Montpelier; his involvement with those who mentored him ( Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) and the man he, himself, mentored (James Monroe); his association with those with whom he worked on the theoretical design for the United States (including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) and with whom he created The Federalist Papers (Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) arguing for a nation with a strong central government instead of mere confederacy of states, loosely bound; his happy marriage to widow Dolly Payne Todd, definitely the hostess with the mostest; and his political career which included stints as state representative, Congressman, Secretary of State, and President. But all along the way, Ketcham primarily delves into the thoughts that underpinned his actions - thoughts revealed in the public documents he wrote, letters, public journals, diaries, even the priceless notes he took during the Constitutional Convention. The man wrote a LOT -- and his writing is filled with the "reasonable discourse" he so hoped would mark the new nation he and the others were creating. Of course life itself isn't nearly as reasonable as we believe it is or should be, and Madison's life was no exception. First of all, he never anticipated what would, in fact, almost immediately become the hallmark of American politics - political parties. Even before the ink was dry on the ratification of the Constitution, the factions began - there were those (mostly in the South) who essentially wanted to keep most of the power of the republic in the hands of the states and those (mostly in the Northeast) who wanted the central government to have more power. In the ever expanding west, people didn't seem to care as long as the government didn't tell them what to do and tended to side with whomever would give them the most personal freedom. Quite quickly they became known as The Federalists and the Republicans. While Madison argued in The Federalist Papers written during the ratification process about the need for a central government (primarily to balance the powers of the states), he distrusted that government to make prudent decisions which would benefit individual states, especially when the composition of the legislative body of that government was based on population. He believe his failure to anticipate the rancor and vitriol that emerged between the two parties was a primary weakness in his design of the Constitution. He had thought they would continue to behave like reasonable men! Eventually, when he became President, he was caught in the almost unending gridlock when doctrinaire "Old Republicans" ended up voting with Federalists to block any legislation proposed by him or mainstream Republicans which they felt smacked of "compromise." Many believe that the resulting War of 1812 was the consequence. Secondly, he failed to anticipate in any way how the economic growth of the new nation would pit the values of the values of a democratic republic against those of an open, free market economy (i.e. unchecked capitalism). By the end of his life he understood that we had adopted a fairly idealist form of government but rested it on an economy that rewarded cynicism and greed. He had done much to assure that there were checks and balances in terms of political power, but virtually nothing to address the similar need on the economic front. He had he said falsely believed that the marketplace would naturally reflect the political reality, not the other way around. (And he was writing this EARLY in the 19th Century - imagine what he would think of the situation now!) Thirdly, he was personally a victim of his own reasonableness. His reticence to make decisions until he had weighed all the factors meant that he was slow in guiding the country in the time of crisis which ultimately became the War of 1812. It meant that he failed to act on his very clear understanding that slavery was morally wrong - he KNEW that slaves were human beings and saw immediately the contradiction between continuing slavery and the notion that all men were created equal, but he stewed in the juices of what to do about it. It seemed unreasonable to him to simply free all the slaves at once (unprepared as they were, he believed, to cope with survival in the real world of America) and ruin the planting economy which provided, he believed, America's best chances to thrive as a free nation. In his journals and letters he even owned up to the fact that the question was particularly hard for him because it was his slaves and their labor which enabled him the leisure to do all that he did to create the nation. But there seemed no course open to him other than to treat his slaves as kindly as he could under the circumstances and free them at the time of his death. That this did not happen was due primarily to the actions of his step-son, Todd Payne, who accrued such gambling and drinking debts that Madison's slave estate ended up being auctioned off down the river. Only his personal servant was freed and Dolly Madison was left impoverished - a fact which underscored another problem with his reasonable perspective - it seemed unreasonable that women would need any legal protection beyond that of their husbands. Despite all of that, though, I was awed by the man's vision and understanding. Before the Constitutional Convention he had made a private study of all the republics in history and had made extensive notes on why they failed - this, along with many of his books, is what he brought to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. On the morning of July 4th, 2013, I was at the point in the book where the Convention finally gathered and I learned that the first thing they did was sit down to read the books he and Jefferson had brought and to listen to Madison lecture on what he had discovered about the failure of republics in the past. Midst all the cacophony that marks our political life now, can you imagine anything like that even remotely happening were we to gather to write a Constitution today? This is a weighty tome (I could hardly hold it up to read) and is 671 dense pages long not including reference notes and bibliography. But were we to gather now to redesign a new nation for ourselves, all things considered, I can think of no other book I've read which might lend us able assistance in understanding what went right (and what went wrong) with the original design.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adam Gutschenritter

    What to say about the father of the Constitution? He was a politician from the earliest and having grown up during the American Revolution his political ethics was shaped by that time period. This made him a permanent proponent of a strong National Republican government, which in some ways had him support strong National government, such as The Federalist Papers, and others Republican, such as his Presidency or the Virginia Resolution. These actions lead him to be accused as switching his opinio What to say about the father of the Constitution? He was a politician from the earliest and having grown up during the American Revolution his political ethics was shaped by that time period. This made him a permanent proponent of a strong National Republican government, which in some ways had him support strong National government, such as The Federalist Papers, and others Republican, such as his Presidency or the Virginia Resolution. These actions lead him to be accused as switching his opinion as political opportunity presents itself. The politics (Read forming of the Constitution) at the beginning bored me, but as his presidency came to be dominated by international diplomacy the book hit its stride and I devoured the last 1/2 to 1/3 of the book. Not my favorite of the presidential biography read so far.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book helped me get my mind below the surface of political infighting to understand the deeper currents flowing in the first years of our nation. It is a large book, but most parts are well written and easy to absorb. After 3 weeks in this book I went to another book on Madison and it read like water. That was when i understood that the occasional struggle with Ketcham's detail had given me a deeper appreciation for the conflicting political currents that drove the conflict between Federalis This book helped me get my mind below the surface of political infighting to understand the deeper currents flowing in the first years of our nation. It is a large book, but most parts are well written and easy to absorb. After 3 weeks in this book I went to another book on Madison and it read like water. That was when i understood that the occasional struggle with Ketcham's detail had given me a deeper appreciation for the conflicting political currents that drove the conflict between Federalists and Republicans. This book is expensive. It's length is intimidating. But take the plunge if you are at all interested in Madison, why we have an electoral college, Why he opposed a national army, how he helped determine where the nations capitol would be built, and other pieces of American history you may have wondered about.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    I like the man more than I liked the book. (But I hope that doesn’t come across as much of an insult to the book because of how much I REALLY respect the man.) Beginning bits about Madison’s youth seemed disconcertingly conjectural. (I understand such must be the case with limited source material, I’d just never read a biography start out that way/with such a subjunctive tone.) There was a veeeeery long trudge in the middle about diplomatic frustrations between the US, England, and France, impres I like the man more than I liked the book. (But I hope that doesn’t come across as much of an insult to the book because of how much I REALLY respect the man.) Beginning bits about Madison’s youth seemed disconcertingly conjectural. (I understand such must be the case with limited source material, I’d just never read a biography start out that way/with such a subjunctive tone.) There was a veeeeery long trudge in the middle about diplomatic frustrations between the US, England, and France, impressment, and all the buildup to the War of 1812 that almost lost me. At the end, it was actually very exciting, at some points I’d even say a page turner, and I learned a lot of interesting things about Madison’s later activities/retirement.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    This was definitely a 'textbook biography.' While plenty of it was extremely interesting, I am still doubtful that Madison needed all of these 700 pages. Still, since I am going through the presidents, I like seeing the focus each one had. Madison was so focused on the long-term success of the country, and like the three presidents before him, worked tirelessly in support of that. In this book the reader can also see the North/South relationship steadily deteriorating and the prospect of civil w This was definitely a 'textbook biography.' While plenty of it was extremely interesting, I am still doubtful that Madison needed all of these 700 pages. Still, since I am going through the presidents, I like seeing the focus each one had. Madison was so focused on the long-term success of the country, and like the three presidents before him, worked tirelessly in support of that. In this book the reader can also see the North/South relationship steadily deteriorating and the prospect of civil war becoming more of a 'when' than 'if.' This is my last founding father president and while four times going over that era is enough, each time I have been hugely impressed by the sheer effort and will people put in to ensure this country would succeed, despite incredible complexities.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Justin Bentley

    It's encyclopedic in detail which is a double-edged sword. It's not written in the easiest style, and can certainly get bogged down at times. However of all the early presidents Madison's life story probably most benefits from extreme detail: his genius was based in granular policy-making and nuanced navigation of turbulent times rather than sweeping victories, simplified ideology, or charisma. He was the enlightened philosopher of the revolution, which in my opinion makes the extra effort assoc It's encyclopedic in detail which is a double-edged sword. It's not written in the easiest style, and can certainly get bogged down at times. However of all the early presidents Madison's life story probably most benefits from extreme detail: his genius was based in granular policy-making and nuanced navigation of turbulent times rather than sweeping victories, simplified ideology, or charisma. He was the enlightened philosopher of the revolution, which in my opinion makes the extra effort associated with diving headlong into the weeds well worth it, and this this book worth investing your time into.

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