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James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham

James Madison: A Biography (1971)

by Ralph Ketcham

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278561,383 (3.31)36



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This book is so long I'm afraid I'm going to forget the beginning before I get to the end, so I am going to take notes as I go along. So far I have read the first three chapters, covering Early Boyhood, Princeton, and Search for Vocation, and I really like how the author is a thorough as possible, while also making it clear where he is just taking his best guess. It seems there is a lot we don't know about Madison's early years, but the author does his best to give us the flavor of the times based on the records of others associated with Madison.

So far I have been surprised to learn that in Virginia before 1776, Baptists were arrested for preaching their beliefs. Also, I had never thought before about how major river crossings at that time would have required a ferry. When did we start building bridges over our rivers? I will need another history book to figure that out.

Quick update: Having read through the Continental Congress (but not yet at the Constitution), it seems to me that the earlier chapters had more life, because the lack of documentation inspired the author to use his imagination to paint a picture for us. In these subsequent chapters he recites facts without providing context or analysis. My guess is that the great biography of Madison is yet to be written.

Final update: For a reader who is already conversant in the issues that touched Madison's professional life, this book would provide insight into Madison's thinking. However, a reader who is interested in learning about those issues in the first place is left hanging. I would need to read about ten other books before I could understand this book. However, this is the book I did read, and I probably learned something by osmosis. Also, if I ever do read those ten other books, whatever they may be, this might be a useful reference for Madison's angle. ( )
  read.to.live | Jul 31, 2013 |
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." ( )
  LisaMorr | Jan 28, 2012 |
1211. James Madison A Biography, by Ralph Ketchum (26 Mar 1973) I started this book in February, then it came due and could not be renewed and before I could check it out again somebody else did, so my finishing it was delayed till now. This is a well put together book which I enjoyed thoroughly. Reading this suggested to me I should read a biography of each president, and with only a few exceptions I have done that. [As of 13 Apr 2009 I have read at least one biography of every U.S. president who is dead except Reagan and Ford.] ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Apr 13, 2009 |
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. ( )
1 vote cyderry | Mar 25, 2009 |
This is a book that I am currently reading.
  ck2935 | Jul 10, 2007 |
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Frances Taylor Madison, daughter of one of the first settlers in the Piedmont county of Orange in the colony of Virginia, died on Wednesday.............
In the first preface to this book written nearly two decades ago, I noted that, with the new material available, information about Madison was "almost oppressively abundant." (Preface to the Paperback Edition)
This book seeks to record, with reasonable fairness and completeness, the life of James Madison. (Preface)
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