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4- James Madison

US Presidents Challenge (USPC)

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1cyderry
Edited: May 10, 2010, 11:34pm Top

James Madison: (The American Presidents Series) by Garry Wills
cyderry
lindapanzo
vic33
auntmarge64
LittleTaiko
krenzel16
James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham
cyderry
James Madison: the Founding Father by Robert Allen Rutland
drneutron
infopump
tututhefirst
James Madison by Sydney Howard Gay
Bill_Masom




1808 Election Madison (122 electoral votes) vs. Pinckney (47)
1812 Election Madison (128 electoral votes) vs. Clinton (89)


Madison was our smallest President, weighing 100 pounds, and standing 5 feet and 4 inches tall.
Madison was the first President to wear trousers instead of knee breeches.
James Madison was one of two Presidents to sign the U.S. Constitution.
Madison, Wisconsin is named after James Madison.
Madison was a half first cousin twice removed of George Washington and a second cousin of Zachary Taylor.
During the War of 1812 Madison was under enemy fire. He was the first president to be in that situation. (Some people may question whether this is true or not since George Washington led troops during the Whiskey Rebellion, some say that he was the first to be under enemy fire. Nevertheless, I added this fact because I read it in several different places.
Madison was younger than both of his vice presidents, and both of his vice presidents died while they were in office.
Madison was diagnosed as epileptic.
Madison was the first U.S. congressman to become president.
He was named after his father.

2LittleTaiko
Edited: Jan 5, 2009, 9:23pm Top

Does anybody have a good book recommendation for Madison? I have tried reading James Madison: (The American Presidents Series) by Garry Wills but haven't really enjoyed it. I was hoping for more background information on his life. Maybe I should give it another try though.

4LittleTaiko
Jan 15, 2009, 5:50pm Top

Those are some good suggestions. I'm going to be taking a continuing education class on James Madison in a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll get some additional ideas then. If so, I'll be sure to post them. It seems like the James Madison: A Biography might be the best choice but I don't know if I'm ready for 700+ pages!

5varielle
Jan 16, 2009, 8:49am Top

While touring Monticello one of the guides mentioned that Dolly Madison didn't like visiting President Jefferson because the beds were built in, only open on the sides and it was like sleeping in a box.

6cyderry
Mar 8, 2009, 12:41pm Top

James Madison: (The American Presidents Series)
Author: Garry Wills
Read: March 1 - March 8
Pages: 164


This book, IMHO, does not do justice to either the man or the era in which he served, glossing over a number of critical aspects and continually stressing other aspects.
He was a great legislator but not a very competent executive. He had flaws which he apparently didn't recognize, or if he did was not willing to correct.
He involved this nation in an unnecessary war simply because he would not recognize his own limitations as an executive and was constantly trying to protect his own political party as well as listening to the advice of Jefferson rather than making his own decisions.
If I had to rank his abilities according to the information provided in this book, I would not be impressed with Madison in the slightest. However, I am willing to proceed to another more definitive biography before I make my final evaluation.

I am not counting Madison as finished at this point. I have 2 more books related The War of 1812: A FORGOTTEN CONFLICT and James Madison: A biography

7tututhefirst
Mar 8, 2009, 1:20pm Top

This is one we all may want to wait a year for. Lynne Cheney is writing a new biography of Madison. She has always maintained that he is underestimated and underrated, so I'm thinking her book may stress some of what's been missing in previous bios. No word on publication date, but I'm definitely looking for it before I mark Madison as completed.

8sjmccreary
Mar 8, 2009, 3:42pm Top

According to this article, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/17/lynne-cheney-to-write-jam_n_151659.html, publication not expected until 2011. Is she enough of a researcher to do a thorough job? I'm exposing my ignorance, but I don't know her qualifications to be anything except the vice-president's wife.

9cyderry
Mar 8, 2009, 4:37pm Top

Two reasons I'm not waiting..
1) I'm reading in order and can't wait until 2011.
2) I've gotten the impression that Cheney is a little partisan and I don't want that.

Just from what little I'm heard of her plan for the book, I'm not so sure that I go along with her thinking. I would rather have it from real historians, something I don't see her as. She may have written some children's histories, but I don't think she's a heavy weight in the history area. I could be wrong and who knows I may decide to read it after the challenge is over.

I have these two others and Ketcham's is 700+ pages so I think should be okay.

10sjmccreary
Mar 8, 2009, 4:44pm Top

Cheli, you should still count your Madison read on the thread ticker. You give the rest of us credit after only one book, even when we plan to read more deeply before moving on to someone else.

11tututhefirst
Mar 8, 2009, 5:09pm Top

she has a PhD in Lit, and has held some pretty high powered positions requiring brains, not just connections. I'm not going to discount the woman and her abilities just because I don't care for her husband. I got past that a long time ago. I'm sure all of the above are adequate, and it all depends on what you want to get out of your reading. Unfortunately, David McCullough isn't going to write the definite biography of every president, so we have to look elsewhere.

Looking at what's 'in the stacks' right now, Ketcham certainly pops to the top as being both broadest and widest. The sheer size of these books is the reason this challenge is going to take at least 4 years to complete for most of us who want to get something besides a quick glance.

The other problem that I personally have with older books (those published before say 1980) is that they often have a tighter typography than my old eyes are capable of handling. I can read them, but they tire me, and I tend to 'rest them' for awhile, often for a rather permanent siesta. Just looking at the online 'preview' of Rutland's James Madison: the Founding Father gave me a headache.

OTOH, Jack Rakove certainly has impeccable credentials, but his book got VERY mixed reviews and that makes me suspect that his is another scholarly but hardly readable book.

I think the final choices will come down to personal preferences, and the individual's decision about how deeply to delve into each bio. If we were discussing food I'd say BonApetit.

12LittleTaiko
Mar 11, 2009, 9:27pm Top

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person having a hard time finding a suitable biography on Madison. I tried the American Presidents series and was bored. I recently took a four week fun course on James Madison and the Constitution. I asked the professor what biography she would recommend on Madison and she said none. Basically, there hasn't been a decent biography of Madison written which I find rather discouraging. This doesn't count as a biography, but Madison did pen Notes of Debates in the Federal Constitution in which he recounted the entire convention of 1787 in which the Constitution was formed.

13sjmccreary
Mar 11, 2009, 9:52pm Top

I felt the same way about the American Presidents Madison book. But, as everyone else has also said, I couldn't find anything else. I'll probably take a look at the Lynn Cheney book when it comes out, but until then, there are lots of other presidents to read.

14cyderry
Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 10:50pm Top

Well, before I start the Ketcham bio on Madison, I'm reading The War of 1812: A FORGOTTEN CONFLICT to give me some background. The President series didn't say much about the causes so I think this should help a little.

15lindapanzo
Edited: Mar 17, 2009, 6:23pm Top

I got to thinking that the Easton Press publishes a full collector series of leather-bound presidential biographies.

I think the one for James Madison is: "The Fourth President-A Life of James Madison" by Irving Brant. (I saw copies for sale on ebay but not sure it's still in print.)

16Pagedove
Mar 21, 2009, 11:05pm Top

Thanks for all the info on finding something to read on Madison. It helps to know what I'll be facing. If I might suggest, audiobooks may be the way to go for some of the more wordy, smaller type publications. In other words, if the only offerings are actually difficult to read in terms of the small type or length, audiobooks can be excellent. I listened to one years ago about Abraham Lincoln and James Wilkes Booth. It was actually phenomenal. It was called An American Gothic and it was in cassette form. I think I got it at a library sale afterwards also, because I loved it. It was very long but so interesting and all-encompassing. I am reading Mccullough's John Adams right now. I guess I started with a good one. I know I enjoyed the HBO series and I'm happy to say they follow the book quite nicely. I would like to begin with the first few presidents, and though they may not be in exact order, I like following the progression of the politics.

17sjmccreary
Mar 22, 2009, 12:10am Top

#16 I agree that audio's make difficult-to-read books easier to "read", if you can find them. Our library tends only to get audio's of popular titles, so scholarly topics are often hard to find. McCullough is popular enough that his books are all available.

18cyderry
Mar 22, 2009, 2:00pm Top

I, personally, wish they were all on AUDIO. That way I would get all my reading done and my needlework, and maybe still have time to play a few PC games. I know that the one I'm reading now for James Madison would definitely be better on audio. But I'm plugging through and hope to finish it in 10 days to 2 weeks. It's 700+ pages and I can't read it for a long time because the writing is very choppy.

I'm not sure that I'm going to finish it, I really wanted something more about the middle years before his presidency since I read the other book as well as the War of 1812 I think I just needed more on that range of his life. Maybe by the time he gets older, the book will get better.

19cyderry
Mar 25, 2009, 6:40pm Top

JAMES MADISON: A BIOGRAPHY
Author: Ralph Ketcham
Read: March 14 - March 25
Pages: 384 of 747


This was a huge book. Let me just start with that because the volume that I had was over 700 pages. I closed it permanently at page 384. I couldn't take anymore of the style of Ralph Ketcham. When I started this book I had already read the biography of James Madison:(The American Presidents Series). I also had read a book on the writing of the constitution and one about the War of 1812. So I was looking for details when I picked up this book. And, yes, this book is filled with details, which would have been fine if they had been distributed with some semblance of order. However, throughout the pages that I read, the author was very disjointed and constantly jumps from one time period to another.
Again, this would be fine if it was in different chapters, about different aspects of Madison's life, but no, this happened in the same paragraphs and on some occasions the same long sentences.
This said, I could not in good conscience recommend this book to anyone, unless they were truly looking for a mountain of details concerning Madison's inability to decide on a career, his lack of a love life until he was 43, his health issues (mainly hypochondria), and his dependence on others both financially and emotionally.
Maybe the book got better after page 384, I'll never know.

I'm counting it as read since I went so far into it.

20bfertig
May 5, 2009, 12:40pm Top

Disappointing and a bit surprising for me to hear about the difficulty in finding suitable books. Haven't read any of these, but tagmash results suggested several that I might select from. I'd love to hear any comments if anyone has read these or heard anything about any of them.

History of the United States During the Administrations of James Madison
James Madison on Religious liberty
The Federalist Papers
The complete Madison : his basic writings
James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights
The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison
The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison 1776-1826
James Madison and the Future of Limited Government
The Business of May Next: James Madison and the Founding
The life of James Madison
James Madison and the search for nationhood
James Madison, Commander in chief, 1812-1836

21tututhefirst
May 5, 2009, 12:57pm Top

Bfertig....thanks for the great starting list....I've been holding off on doing much of this challenge until next year (my two 999's have me more than busy) when I can devote lots of time to really getting into this.

When my sister (cyderry) and I decided to start this group, it was because many years ago (some time in the late 70's I think) I had begun a personal 'challenge' to read the presidents in order. I got only as far as Madison, and could not -- at that time-- find anything readable. We lived in D.C. with excellent libraries around, but nothing was popping up.

Now, you've given me hope and your list, combined with some maturity (I prefer not to call it old age) and more reading experience under my belt, has me looking forward to getting started next year.

22lindapanzo
May 5, 2009, 1:06pm Top

It's unbelievable to me that there is so little available on Madison.

So far, my plan is to read either (1) the Garry Wills American Presidents book or (2) James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic by Jack Rakove, as well as the new book, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman.

23sjmccreary
May 5, 2009, 11:16pm Top

Checking the library catalog, I found:

James Madison: The Founding Father by Robert Allen Rutland
James Madison and the Search for Nationhood also by Robert Allen Rutland

The Ketcham and the Wills books already mentioned

Quite a few "juvenile" biographies

and Young Patriots by Charles A Cerami, which looks like it is about Madison's and Hamilton's efforts to get the consititution ratified.

Has anyone looked at either of the Rutland books?

24drneutron
May 6, 2009, 10:34am Top

I just happen to be starting James Madison: The Founding Father today at lunch. I'll let you know how it goes.

25corgiiman
May 6, 2009, 9:43pm Top

I found a treasure at a used book sale to help the library and I thought I would share. It is a volume of the Library of America series by Henry Adams, the grandson and great-grandson of a President and a noted historian. The volume I have is Vol 2 which is titled "The History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson. However, Vol. 3 deals with Administration of James Madison. The book jacket says that Adams works were first published in 9 volumes from 1889-91 and "has been judged one of the greatest historical works in English".Thought this might interest some of the members of our pack looking for a book about Mr. Madison. I know I cant wait to read the Jefferson volume and will most likely be looking for the Madsion work as well.

26drneutron
May 11, 2009, 11:05pm Top

So here's my review of Robert Rutland's James Madison: the Founding Father:

James Madison is one of those characters in American history that we often neglect. He's a "Founding Father", yet he falls under the shadow of Jefferson, his mentor and friend. He was instrumental in the writing and adoption of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and was a leader in the House of Representatives. But he was also instrumental in the establishment of the Democratic Republican party to oppose the Federalists. And he's not a President that I've studied all that much.

Rutland's biography, James Madison: The Founding Father, was good, but not great. I appreciated his recounting of the political maneuvering that went on during the establishment of the Constitution, but ultimately was unsatisfying given the brevity of the book. The choice of a single chapter per President through Madison's own term in office was limiting, and forced Rutland to greatly abbreviate his discussion of critical events. His brevity also meant that Madison's personal life was relatively unexplored.

In spite of its flaws, James Madison: The Founding Father should work fine as a jumping off point for further reading on Madison.

27lindapanzo
Jul 5, 2009, 1:20am Top

James Madison by Garry Wills

This is a short overview of James Madison, particularly as to his presidential years. The book is part of the American Presidents series and, for what it aims to do, it's not too bad.

More than half of the book is on Madison's presidency, though, even there, it seems to be more of a history of the times and less about Madison's role in it.

After reading the Wills book, I see Madison as skillful in legislative matters and a giant at the Constitutional Convention but not particulary adept as our nation's Chief Executive. There, he was naive, provincial, and seemed to flip flop quite a bit in his views. His solution to everything seemed to be to impose an embargo.

This book did make me want to read more about Madison, though there's a scarcity of good biographies about him. As a result, I intend to read something about the making of the Constitution and also about the War of 1812. This book was a decent start to my Madison reading.

28gmillar
Edited: Aug 31, 2009, 12:40am Top

The bio I have and have read is the one by Ralph Ketcham. Whilst I sort of agree with Cheli about it being a loooooong book, I accepted that Madison had a very long political career so I persisted to the end. I actually enjoyed the read because I was also learning about some of the politicians who were creating (or trying to block) the history. I have enjoyed meeting people like Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Albert Gallatin, John Randolph, John Calhoun, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, all of whom are just as important to the shaping of USA as are the Presidents. Of course there are many more men to enjoy and admire but these in particular pushed and pulled Mr. Madison to and through his two terms and were very infuential in making him into the president he was.
On balance, I think he was a "safe" president, one of the more important "founding" fathers and a "difficult" person to bind into a personal friendship.

29lindapanzo
Aug 31, 2009, 12:03pm Top

gmillar, I am tempted to read the Ketcham book, at some point, but I am also eager to move on.

I read that short Wills biography and will read two other books, of a more general historical nature (not strictly presidential biography). I just started Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution by Richard Beeman. I also plan to read a detailed history of the War of 1812.

30gmillar
Aug 31, 2009, 6:24pm Top

Hope you enjoy it. Wouldn't you like to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall?

31infopump
Sep 2, 2009, 11:47am Top

32ludmillalotaria
Edited: Sep 4, 2009, 1:33pm Top

Has anyone read James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, part of the Pivotal Moments in American History series, by Richard Labunski (i see where #20 has listed it)? I saw this in my local bookstore and wondered how it was.

I've been thinking about doing the challenge, but I would be lucky to collect and/or find the books I want by 2012 let alone read them all! It's a great goal, and I look forward to following people's comments on each president.

Is anyone interested in reading books about the First Wives? I've been considering that as a side goal myself. For me, this would be more of a decades long goal of collecting and reading books about the Presidents.

Re the War of 1812, Walter Borneman's 1812: The War That Forged a Nation is another book for getting background on the issues Madison faced during his presidency. From what I remember, the fall-out caused by Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807 was a huge problem that Madison inherited early on in his presidency.

33lindapanzo
Sep 4, 2009, 3:02pm Top

ludmillalotaria, thanks. After I read my current one about the making of the Constitution, I plan to read that Borneman book about the War of 1812.

Because I'm reading side books on the era and not just the presidential bios, I'm not sure I will finish this challenge on time but I sure am enjoying it!!

34cyderry
Sep 4, 2009, 3:05pm Top

Ludmilla,

The list in the OP shows who has read which book, so it doesn't look like anyone has read James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights.

As for joining, my mother always said "You never know how far you'll get if you don't try" so sign on with the rest of us. If Obama is re-elected, you get an extra 4 years!

If we don't make it, at least it was fun trying!

35Vic33
Edited: Sep 6, 2009, 5:14pm Top

I finished up James Madison last night. The first book I read was James Madison: American Presidents. I am not going to trash books from this series. They are what they are: short bios of the Presidents focusing on their time in office. I am also interested in the lives, families and times of the Presidents. To this end, I also read A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation. Obviously, this book focused on Dolley Madison but it did give a good picture of James' personal life and his presidency. Before reading this book, I knew zero about Dolley, except that she has an ice cream named after her. After reading the book, I came to realize she was an amazing person.

36lauranav
Edited: Sep 15, 2009, 3:43pm Top

I still have to read something on Jefferson, but I dropped by to see what resources people were reading on Madison.

My local library has the Ketcham, Rutledge, and Wills books. It also has a single copy of The fourth President; a life of James Madison a one-volume condensed version of a 6 volume work James Madison by Irving Brant. It's being held for someone else, but I'll try to get it after them, probably in another month or two, when I finally am ready for Madison.

I'll report back on it.

37Garp83
Sep 20, 2009, 9:35am Top

I own the Brandt abridgement and started to read it. I don't recommend it.

38lauranav
Oct 3, 2009, 8:53pm Top

OK, so no on Brandt. And I'm not up to another 600 page book right now.

National Review had a review of James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government by Colleen Sheehan that looked interesting. I have a copy coming so I'll give that a try and report back.

39auntmarge64
Edited: Oct 6, 2009, 10:31pm Top

I finished James Madison by Garry Wills and gave it 3½ stars. It was informative, but I've got so many questions after reading it I'll have to find something else at some point to fill in, especially about the writing of the Constitution. For now I can be counted as done on Madison (gotta keep going or I know I'll get sidetracked).

The book really plows right along, not stopping to define many things (luckily, there's always Wikipedia for a quick look-up of terminology and events). I did enjoy it, though: kept my interest, engaged my curiosity, and left me with very mixed feelings about Madison. The Epilogue, meant to sum up his legacy, was much too brief and introduced ideas not really discussed in the main part of the book: especially, Madison's attitude towards slavery and nullification and/or interposition. From the 21st century, it sounds like Wills is proposing that Madison had negative feelings about the institution of slavery, but I suspect he means that Madison saw slavery as being used as a wedge issue to support states' rights advocates and threats of secession. He can hardly have been antislavery, given his own "holdings" (regardless of what Washington and Jefferson professed about their own feelings on slavery, let's face it: they didn't care enough to do without).

But, and here's where I'll always hold Madison dear to my heart: separation between church and state! God bless the little guy!!!

40Garp83
Oct 7, 2009, 8:42pm Top

So is there a "great" bio of James Madison? Cuz I sure would like to read one. My expensive leatherbound Library of the Presidents Irving Brandt abridgement sux!

41auntmarge64
Oct 7, 2009, 9:42pm Top

I was kind of hoping you'd tell me, Garp :)

I have to admit I feel a bit let down on Madison, after reading such wonderful books about Adams and Jefferson and a decent one on Washington.

42bfertig
Oct 8, 2009, 3:27pm Top

I hate the saying 'The book you want to read is the book you have to write'

43Garp83
Oct 8, 2009, 7:39pm Top

If only! Well, I'm currently reading 10 books at the same time so I guess I can wait till a good Madison book comes along!

44auntmarge64
Oct 8, 2009, 8:16pm Top

Wow, Garp, just how many eyes do you have?

(Personally, I have only 6-8 at a time....)

45Garp83
Oct 11, 2009, 9:50am Top

Well its just that i start these books and see other books I like and start them and feel guilty about leaving any behind and then ...

46colleensheehan
Oct 18, 2009, 6:48pm Top

I've just discovered your blogsite and am happy to see that there are so many thoughtful folks interested in Madison today.

I think that one of the reasons that there is no biography on Madison that stands out as "delightful and capturing" is that Madison just wasn't the exotic Carribean and handsome rake Hamilton was, or the deeply introspective, hand-wringing Puritan Adams was, or the personally moody but publically democratic optimist and sophisticate with a flare for what we today call "interpersonal skills" that marked the persona of Jefferson.

I'm happy to see that lauranav will be reading my recently published book on "James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government." While this book is not a biography, I think that the best way to come to know Madison is through an understanding of the ideas that drove him -- which is what my book is about. My goal in the book was to write it as much as possible in a style and with a tempo that citizens in general would be attracted to (rather than the pedantic style so common in academia). I hope I've succeeded, but I will count on you to be the judges of that.

As for the best books on Madison, Lance Banning's "Sacred Fire of Liberty" must be at the top of the list. Professor Banning devoted his life to studying Madison and Jefferson (Banning died only a very few years ago at a relatively young age). While this is not a biography, it will give you a very good feel for -- as well as sound understanding of --the man from Montpelier.

47Garp83
Oct 19, 2009, 8:19pm Top

Colleen -- I am delighted that a Madison author posted here! There is actually a LT author membership which you should pursue. I am interested in your book & am adding it to my TBR. I would invite you to continue to participate -- it is quite valuable to have someone with your background and perspective here with us.

48gmillar
Oct 20, 2009, 8:03pm Top

I concur. Welcome.
Dusty

49colleensheehan
Oct 20, 2009, 8:44pm Top

Dear Garp and GMillar,
Thanks so very much for the kind welcome to your discussion. I will be happy to be part of your conversation. After all, as Jane Austen once remarked, what is a ball (or a good book or good man/woman) if not to be talk'd over!

Here's a question for you and our friends on this site: Why were Madison and Jefferson truly best of friends? (And not Madison and Washington, or Madison and Hamilton, etc.) I think this question goes to more than only ideas or more tha just personality.

I would love to hear your ideas on this.

50Garp83
Oct 22, 2009, 8:26pm Top

It seems to me very much a symbiotic relationship. They were in many ways the kinds of opposites that attract. That is most obvious in the physical differences of the two men, but was more manifest in their intellectual relationship and their long collaboration.

They were both absolutely brilliant thinkers, so you might expect them to be natural rivals, yet these two fed off each other's brilliance. It was sometimes as if Madison acted Igor to Jefferson's Dr. Frankenstein, the short, sickly fellow who wanted to be noticed and the tall, handsome, robust but shy Jefferson who wanted to rule from behind the scenes, all the while pretending to be above politics.

Of course, I know much more about Jefferson than Madison, so I look forward to your answer to your own question, Colleen.

51gmillar
Oct 22, 2009, 8:42pm Top

Colleen,
My quick esponse to your question is this: I think they were both cerebral types. I can imagine them at dinner bouncing ideas and thoughts around and getting really excited by the exchange. Washington, although probably a very thoughtful man, seems to have been reticent in sharing his thoughts in a social situation and I can't imagine him loosening up enough to enjoy such an exchange. I see Hamilton as being the opposite, a total pain-in-the-neck who seemed to have been so sure of his correctness-of-opinion that an ideas exchange over dinner would have been infuriatingly one-sided. He would probably have enjoyed the situation but the others likely would not have.
This is not so say that each of them would not have respected the others' reasoning powers, merely to suggest that only Madison and Jefferson would have been comfortable enough with each other socially so as to be real friends.
I also think that the Adams/Jefferson friendship at the close of their lives was only really possible because it was conducted by correspondence. Adams's thoughts could ,in this way, be measured and not from-the-hip and thus potentially unfriendly-like.
Dusty

52LittleTaiko
Nov 3, 2009, 9:25am Top

I finally finished James Madison by Gary Willis. It's only taken me several months to finally sit down and finish reading the book. As stated above by other readers, the book is short to the point and assumes you know quite a bit about the history of the time.

On to the next one!

53krenzel16
Nov 6, 2009, 9:22am Top

I also finished James Madison: The American Presidents Series and it was not very good, like others have said (I gave it two stars). It felt like I was back in history class reading a dry textbook.

To learn more about Madison, I also read A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation and that book was actually worse than the Garry Wills book. The author spends 400 pages trying to convince the reader that, by inviting everyone to her tea parties, Dolley Madison "created" modern American politics and bipartisanship. If the author had just stuck to history, she would have had a decent book, but trying to turn Dolley's choice of curtains or her taste in clothes into political statements was really ridiculous. I gave it one and a half stars.

I think the problem with Madison is that he was just very boring and his life was not nearly as interesting as Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Hopefully, Monroe is better!

54colleensheehan
Nov 12, 2009, 7:44am Top

I think the general consensus about Garry Wills' book on Madison is spot on. I wrote a review of it a few years ago, which can be found at: http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.953/article_detail.asp

The bottom line is that Wills really didn't do his homework on Madison.

55colleensheehan
Nov 12, 2009, 8:33am Top

I am saddened to see that a number of readers of books on Madison have decided that he's either boring or not worth any additional effort to come to know. However, I suspect that these views might be the result of the secondary sources you are reading rather than of Madison himself. I urge you to give this fellow another chance! It is true that he was rather quiet and shy, but you all must know someone who is reserved, but who is also a very substantial and interesting person -- perhaps even delightful and charming, once you get to know him/her.

In the hopes of keeping Madison on your reading radar screen, here are just a couple of examples of things to consider:

First, as much and perhaps more than any of the other founders, Madison was responsible for thinking through the system of free, constitutional government we basically still live under today. If we want to understand what it means to be a citizen of the American republic, Madison is the man to go to.

Second, if you think that Thomas Jefferson was a man worth getting to know, then you might want to come to know James Madison as well. Their lives and their ideas were, in many important ways, intertwined. Madison was Jefferson's best friend; he was the man whose character and principles Jefferson admired most in the world. Not long before his death, and knowing that the event was imminent, Jefferson wrote this touching and revealing letter to his friend Madison:

"The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period. And if I remove beyond the reach of attentions to the University, or beyond the bourne of life itself, as I soon must, it is a comfort to leave that institution under your care, and an assurance that it will not be wanting. It has also been a great solace to me, to believe that you are engaged in vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them, in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we had assisted too in acquiring for them. If ever the earth has beheld a system of administration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest and happiness of those committed to it, one which, protected by truth, can never know reproach, it is that to which our lives have been devoted. To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections."

56auntmarge64
Nov 12, 2009, 9:05am Top

Hi Colleen,

I would very much like to read a good book about Madison. He seems pivotal about a number of things, and I don't have the feeling he was boring - just the books that have been written about him. I'll keep an eye out for your book.

57cyderry
Edited: Nov 15, 2009, 11:26pm Top

I had a very difficult time with Madison mainly because I couldn't find a good bio about him. I read 2 - one by Wills, one by Keatchem(sp?) and a few background books - writing of the constitution, War of 1812. Maybe my problem with Madison is that fact that he was such good friends with Jefferson and I really lost all repect for Jefferson reading about him and his actions.

58auntmarge64
Nov 16, 2009, 8:15am Top

>57 cyderry: "Maybe my problem with Madison is that fact that he was such good friends with Jefferson and I really lost all respect for Jefferson reading about him and his actions."

Yeah, that might do it.

Still, to stick to "separation of church and state" through it all is something that's pretty impressive. We can't get our politicians to do that now.

59tututhefirst
Edited: Apr 14, 2010, 8:43pm Top

I just finished the Rutland Bio: James Madison: The Founding Father I found it readable, and with just enough info to get me over the early presidential hump and on my way to reading more.

I do hope eventually to read more about Mr. Madison, but think for now I have a decent grasp of his contribution and the history of the country at that time. Dneutron has a good enough comment/review in msg 27, so I'll not belabor the subject.

ETA: For those of you having trouble finding something readable, I was able to get this one on audio from Overdrive download. It was quite well done, and held my interest exceptionally well for a 'dry' biography with lots of quotes from papers, letters, etc.

60bfertig
Apr 14, 2010, 9:28pm Top

and held my interest exceptionally well for a 'dry' biography with lots of quotes from papers, letters, etc.

oooo I love it when they have quotes from papers, letters, etc! It makes me feel like I can hear their voice or get a sense of their personality a bit better. I like it when the historian also helps out with the analysis of what they're saying or uses these snippets to make their point well.

61Garp83
Apr 17, 2010, 8:38pm Top

"and held my interest exceptionally well for a 'dry' biography with lots of quotes from papers, letters, etc."

somehow this does not get me all excited about running down to the store to pick this up ... LOL

62tututhefirst
Apr 17, 2010, 9:28pm Top

actually my remark about 'holding my interest well' was directed at the audio version. I find often that 'dry' books, particularly non-fiction, with many quotes and citations, are difficult to follow in audio. This one wasn't!

63Bill_Masom
May 7, 2010, 2:39pm Top

I have another James Madison biography.

James Madison by Sydney Howard Gay. It is a Project Gutenberg ebook and can be found at the following URLs:

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/28992

or

http://manybooks.net/titles/gaysh2899228992-8.html

Both offer the book in many different formats. I downloaded the Kindle formated book from Manybooks.net.

If you search either site, you will find other biographies on other Presidents. Manybooks.net gets all their ebooks from Gutenberg.org, Manybooks.net just has more formats available.

Hope this helps someone.

Bill Masom

64TedV
Jul 21, 2010, 10:42am Top

I read the Wills book. It was adequate, but that's all. Too much comparing to more recent events. Better than Appleby's book on Jefferson though.

The Presidency of James Madison by Rutland is a good in depth look at the mess that Jefferson left to Madison and how he tried to extricate himself from it despite not having the greatest leadership skills.

I have the Ketcham book on my shelf, but I know it is long and dense, so I'm waiting until I'm done with all the Presidents, and then I'll revisit Madison.

My favorite Madison book by far is The Last of the Fathers by Drew R. McCoy. This book begins after Madison leaves office, and it shows his thoughts on the events that happened after his Presidency, his views of the Constitution which he crafted and how it applied to many issues, including slavery, and how he influenced younger politicians. It's 373 pages, yet it is a quick read.

65gmillar
Jul 22, 2010, 8:31pm Top

Gotta read that one. Thanks for wising us up to it.

66Hamburgerclan
Aug 31, 2010, 8:35pm Top

The Madisons: A Biography by Virginia Moore

I couldn't find anything titled "James Madison: A Life", so for my next presidential biography I read this tome. Man, was it weird! It starts out with the birth and childhood of Madison's wife, Dolley. When "Jemmy" finally arrives on the scene, Ms. Moore then tells his history in flashback. The book then progresses as a biography of them both, but ends with Madison's burial, with nary a word as to how Dolley's life fared after that. I just don't get it. The style was also weird. The president's actions were recounted intertwined with Mrs. Madison's feelings, all of which apparently have documentary support. All in all it was very much a "hero" tale--the few shortcomings mentioned of the Madisons are quickly refuted or forgiven. I personally would have preferred something more balanced (assuming that the Madisons aren't as perfect and noble as presented here). But it was an interesting read. It didn't kill me to learn about Washington's social scene during Madison's presidency, and who knows how such matters might have affected the country. Anyway, James Madison's life covered such a broad section of this country's early history--from the Revolution through the War of 1812 and the arrival of Jacksonian democracy--it's definitely worth checking out, even if you don't care what Dolley Madison happened to be wearing from year to year.

67MikeBriggs
Jun 10, 2011, 10:07am Top

25) thanks, I have been looking for a good Madison work and none of the usual suspects looked interesting. Luckily my library has this book. Requested it I did.

(Yes, I know I am replying to a post from 2009)

68tloeffler
Aug 5, 2011, 9:29pm Top

I ended up reading the Founding Fathers: James Madison In His Own Words. It wasn't too bad--mostly his writings interspersed with what was happening in his life and in the country at the time. For someone who was so instrumental in the founding of the country, he just wasn't a very interesting person to read about. And it barely touched on his wastrel stepson. But I think I got what I needed out of it, and so I'm off to the next one!

69joshua.millan
Aug 24, 2011, 10:24am Top

After attempting to read The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy and getting absolutely bogged down by it about halfway through, I switched over to James Madison in order to just get by him and move on. It's really unfortunate there isn't a better biography of the Father of the Constitution.

A few things about Gary Wills' work. An interesting take on the man. I think it's true that there are plenty of ideologues who once they take on the mantle of executive leadership realise they have to bend their own rules in order to actually get things done. It doesn't seem out of the ordinary that James Madison would fall to the same pressures. However, I think Gary Wills, instead of relaying the man James Madison was, has a view of James Madison that he is trying to force upon the reader (and to be honest, with Gary Wills, there is a very real possibility of a political/ideological motive).

This book, along with others I have read, really shows despite how much we know each man there are nearly an infinite amount of interpretations as to who each man was and what he means today.

70LisaMorr
Jan 28, 2012, 1:54pm Top

I finished James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham. It took me months to get through it. The author really liked his subject, and seemed to constantly be making excuses for him. Although he did try to examine him critically from time to time throughout the book. I found it interesting that later in life Madison changed some of his original letters to, in one case, make someone look better (LaFayette), and make someone look worse (John Adams). I found it surprising that Madison was so adamantly supportive of the separation of church and state (bravo!). His belief, based on his readings, was that state-supported religion only leads to corruption of religion. He definitely supported measures that favored Virginia, but he always kept the national priorities in mind. I also found it kind of funny that he pushed so hard for a strong national government - until he had to make the "obnoxious" Great Compromise - the peak was reached when he thought representation in both houses would be by population. He then became much more cautious about the power granted to the general government. This bio also showed me that there has been horrible, nasty bipartisanship since Washington's second administration, so I guess I shouldn't be so depressed about the current state of national politics.

As long as the bio was, some things were mentioned in passing with no explanation, such as Shay's Rebellion. I also found it interesting that the author would say out of the blue that Jefferson and Madison weren't scheming together in Dec 1879 - why say this if there hasn't been any other comment about it previously. Sometimes I felt like there was an unnamed prerequisite that I was supposed to read before reading this tome. Then, there were quotes he included that I just found no use for, and that were not explained in any way and no realy connection to what the author was relating. Here's my favorite..."I, pilgarlic, sat entranced."

71gmillar
May 19, 2013, 11:02am Top

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights by Richard Labunski
I found listening to this book so difficult that I stopped after the second disc. I hope to grow up a bit and get back to it one day in order to finish it because it's stated intent is so important to understanding USA. I was also hoping for a more intimate look into Madison but, as far as I went, I didn't find it. Again, I may not have been paying enough attention. Either way, the writing (or the reading) wasn't of the type to grab me quickly enough.

72swimmergirl1
Jan 7, 1:29pm Top

James Madison by Richard Brookhiser
Very superficial and would have liked more in depth information on Madison's style of leadership and relationships.

73tututhefirst
May 25, 12:00am Top

if anyone is looking for a good solid bio on Madison, Lynne Cheney has a new book just out. You can even entry to win a copy at Tutu's Two Cents . Deadline to enter is *June 8th.

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