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James Madison by Garry Wills
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I found Gary Wills's writing to be highly distracting in this biography. He was sometimes writing as a "pal"--'Remember when..." and sometimes as a critic and, more rarely, as a political historian. He made an important president (our first war was fought under him) distinctly boring. Wills relies heavily on annotated materials from other sources, which, while well-written in themselves, only point to missing language in Wills's book. The good news is the book is short and concise, and has a lot of history between its covers. ( )
  Prop2gether | Mar 30, 2009 |
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. ( )
1 vote cyderry | Mar 8, 2009 |
Wills concludes his succinct biography of Madison by claiming that "among this nation's founders, only Washington and Franklin were more important." Yet many of the behaviors he ascribes to both Madison and his collaborator Jefferson make Nixon and his gang seem like choir angels. Wills' characterization of these two includes their paranoia - about England in general, and Alexander Hamilton in particular; their quixotic lack of realism; their frequent descent into factionalism (while decrying it in the Federalists); their tendency to bestow cabinet positions, judgeships, and generalships on the basis of loyalty rather than competency; and their illegal payment of government money to a paid hack (Philip Freneau) whose real mission was to attack Hamilton and the Federalists, inter alia. Both were also obsessed with the idea - shown repeatedly to be misguided - that an embargo of American goods would be an effective punishment for England. Madison's deference to Jefferson affected the decisions he made even when he might otherwise disagree (although he seems he rarely did).

Wills lauds Madison for not abusing the Constitution in time of war (The War of 1812), but in fact, one could just as easily ascribe his non-action in this area to his non-action in a whole host of other areas; like Jefferson, he tended to retreat to his Virginia plantation in times of troubles rather than confronting them. Wills applauds Madison's intransigence on the issue of separation of church and state, but Madison could have been described as inflexible and dogmatic anyway; it just so happened that in this one instance he was right. Madison's contributions as one of the authors of The Federalist Papers cannot be disputed, but it could be argued that Hamilton by far the more brilliant and prescient of the authors. However, in the final analysis, Wills avers, as a framer and defender of the Constitution, Madison had no peer. It seems that Founding Father legends die hard. (JAF)
1 vote nbmars | Mar 1, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805069054, Hardcover)

A bestselling historian examines the life of a Founding Father.

Renowned historian and social commentator Garry Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress.
Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and was forced to adjust some expectations he had formed while drafting that document. Not temperamentally suited to be a wartime President, Madison nonetheless confronted issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress, and the independence of the military. Wills traces Madison's later life during which, like many recent Presidents, he enjoyed greater popularity than while in office.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:54 -0400)

In this examination of the life of a founding father, renowned historian Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress.Historian and social commentator Garry Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress. Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and was forced to adjust some expectations he had formed while drafting that document. Not temperamentally suited to be a wartime President, Madison nonetheless confronted issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress, and the independence of the military. Wills traces Madison's later life during which, like many recent Presidents, he enjoyed greater popularity than while in office.… (more)

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