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James Madison Hardcover – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Joseph J. Ellis, author of First Family: Abigail and John Adams
“Brookhiser brings his succinct style to bear on the only founder more elusive than Jefferson.  The result is a distinctive portrait of Madison as America's original man for all seasons.”

Akhil Reed Amar, author of America’s Constitution: A Biography
“Exactly what one would expect from Rick Brookhiser: another witty, wise, and elegant account of another American icon. The most vivid portrait of Madison to date, with a keen eye for the Virginian's achievements as a politico and a frank assessment of the slavery question—a topic on which previous Madison biographers have disappointed almost as much as did Madison himself.”
Karl Rove
“Richard Brookhiser has written a lively, deeply informed, and penetrating look at the small man who played such a big role in America’s founding.  Father of the Constitution, prime mover behind approval of the Bill of Rights, trusted advisor and confidant to the young nation’s first president, and its fourth chief executive himself, James Madison is also our country’s first practical politician.  He founded not just the first American political party, but also the American system of party politics itself.  For James Madison had come—after long study and extended practical experience—to believe deeply in majority rule, public opinion, and a government of, by and for the people.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Though he came of age under the influence and tutelage of luminaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Brookhiser’s portrayal of Madison grounds him in the backbiting, often inglorious machinations of his contemporary political system; this approach is both significant and refreshing in presenting Madison as a flawed man, rather than a godlike ‘founding father.’… A useful introduction to a man who is often out shone by his presidential predecessors but who nevertheless was instrumental in creating our modern political system.”

Publishers Weekly
“An astute, witty biography…. [Brookhiser’s] concise account deserves high marks.”

Library Journal
“Having previously examined the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the Federalist Party (Washington, Hamilton, and Adams), Brookhiser turns his relaxed and accessible writing style to the oracle of American constitutionalism and ‘father of modern politics.’… He has produced an exceptional synopsis of the essential founder’s political life…. Brookhiser gives fans of the Revolutionary generation and those interested in the origins of American politics an engaging and succinct narrative.”

National Review online
“If you want to read an engaging account of the life of the Father of the Constitution, this is the book for you… The prose is clear and reader-friendly.”

“An opportune and cogent estimation of the life and times of the physically small but politically sizable Madison…A worthy addition for early-republic American history collections.”
Washington Times
“[Brookhiser’s] prose is concise and readable…. Mr. Brookhiser’s James Madison captures the delicate, complex and important ideas Madison formed and the lengths he went to to see to fruition the events that have contributed to the success of the experiment of a republic.”

History Wire
“Brookhiser presents a prodigiously researched, warts-and-all study of Madison, as he interacted not only with the ‘Virginia dynasty’ but with such major players as Albert Gallatin, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“Richard Brookhiser’s new biography of Madison shares [John] Adams’s deeper insight into Madison’s achievements. It is a short, readable account of Madison’s remarkable political career from a good and perceptive writer.”
Newark Star-Ledger
“[Brookhiser] offers a new perspective on Madison as the father of American politics, an often overlooked part of his legacy. Brookhiser’s Madison is more than just constitutional scribe and protectorate of liberty. He’s the alchemist behind, if not the inventor of, the sometimes ugly business of politics.”
Wall Street Journal
“Madison is remembered today as one of the key framers of the Constitution and the drafter of the Bill of Rights; as the husband of the vivacious Dolley Madison; and as the president who barely escaped capture by the British punitive expedition that raided Washington during the War of 1812. But he deserves to be remembered for a great deal more. Richard Brookhiser, in the latest in his series of concise and highly readable books about the Founding Fathers, conveys the man in full and files a strong paternity suit pointing to Madison as the father of American politics.”
The American Spectator
“It is a challenging and important task to recognize and understand the founder’s faults without losing sight of their greatness while illuminating their enduring significance along the way. No historian does this better than Richard Brookhiser….James Madison is a small, unvarnished monument to its diminutive namesake. Drawing from and explicating Madison’s own public and personal writings, Brookhiser, employing equal doses of his customary acumen and wit, walks readers through the man’s eight decades in little more than 200 pages. It is an honest and at times unflattering rendering, but one that reaffirms Madison’s genius, and proves authoritatively that his fingerprints remain all over our institutions.”
National Review
“When walking the halls of the Revolutionary and early Federal periods, Brookhiser is a writer of the Plutarchan stamp, capable of reducing his subjects to their essence without resort to the gross simplifications of the reductionist. He tells us what we should know, not – exhaustively – what we might know. His books have a light touch, and the characters who emerge from his pages take on the reality they deserve. They don’t gather dust; they cast shadows…. Brookhiser simply shines pinpoints of light, penetratingly, into the more obscure corners of Madison’s life and work, raises his achievements into higher relief, and elevates this founder to a proper, merited place among his brethren. And that is much.”
New York Times Book Review
“[Brookhiser’s] sprightly narrative will serve as an entertaining introduction for those who are making their first acquaintance with Madison…. As an avid observer of the hyperpartisan political environment of our own age, Brookhiser uses Madison’s often tumultuous career to remind us that day-to-day politics have never been very pretty. Anyone involved in the political wars as long and as relentlessly as Madison was surely bound to make a few missteps, and a few enemies, along the way. But Brookhiser effectively argues that Madison, by melding his knowledge of political theory with shrewd political instincts, deserves a place close to the top of the list of America’s most successful politicians.”
The New Yorker
“In this congenial biography, the fourth President does indeed shine….[Brookhiser’s] descriptions of Madison’s friendships combine sentiment and anecdote in irresistible proportion.”
Thomas S. Kidd, Books & Culture
“Richard Brookhiser’s James Madison…is a welcome addition to the literature on Madison. His lively biography helps us understand Madison’s political brilliance and its lessons for today…. [Brookhiser] is the rare author who grasps the complexities both of history and of contemporary politics.”

Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs:
“James Madison was among the most secretive of the Founding Fathers; Brookhiser’s engaging biography gives readers a deeper understanding of who he was and what he thought.”
Jack Rakove, The New Republic:
“Brookhiser is absolutely right to portray Madison as a politician whose leading ideas were driven by events, who did his best thinking precisely because he was responding to events, decisions, personalities, and elections…. Brookhiser brings an admirable appreciation of the political realities in which Madison operated to every chapter, and that appreciation in turn reflects his own incisive grasp of Madison’s significance.”
The New Criterion
“Whether by design or luck, Brookhiser picked a good time to revisit Madison. In this year of stalemate between a contemptible Congress and a feckless executive, Brookhiser’s typically swift pacing, conversational style, and judicious choice of sources do more than restore Madison’s place in the story of American politics…. There can never be too many books that treat our founders with the respect due to statesmen, while avoiding the reverence fitting only for gods. James Madison is a welcome addition to this honorable genre.”

The Oklahoman
“The father of the U.S. Constitution and fourth president of this nation deserves all the praise given him by Richard Brookhiser in a perceptive new book, James Madison…. To those who love history coupled with politics, here is a chance to become wiser while enjoying doing so. Thank you, Richard Brookhiser, for bringing Madison alive on the printed page.”

American History
“[A] smart, stylishly written portrait…. Balanced and persuasive.”

The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“Brookhiser’s new book, simply titled, James Madison, makes the case that Madison should be remembered, too. That’s a timely message as a presidential election year approaches, and voters sort through the qualities they deem most effective for the nation’s commander-in-chief…. [Madison] would probably look at the ongoing presidential campaign season and find a world not unlike his own. Whether he would find that development worthy of regret or celebration is anybody’s guess.”
San Francisco Book Review
“[A] brilliant book on our nation’s fourth president and the main individual responsible for the Bill of Rights.”
Roanoke Times
“Brookhiser’s prose is so entertaining that it is likely that a reader with no interest in Madison would enjoy this book…. Brookhiser is able to present a concise portrait of the studious (today we might call him ‘nerdy’) Madison with all his warts and still have us understand him not as the demigod who helped establish our laws and build a dynasty of Virginia-born presidents, nor as an evil political manipulator, but as a flawed human who set the ship of state on a course that we follow today long after that captain went over the side.”
“While some books about the founding fathers tend toward hagiography, Brookhiser’s portrait of Madison is fair-minded but sometimes critical…. Brookhiser is a remarkable biographer – there are no wasted words in this slim volume, but plenty of fascinating insights into the patriot who ‘glimpsed our world before it existed.’”
Yuval Levin, National Review Online
“[A] superb new biography…. By telling his story through the lens of an appreciation for (indeed love of) politics, warts and all, Brookhiser manages to tell a fresh and powerful story. We’re used to Madison the political thinker, and this book conveys the power of his ideas of course, but what it does better than anything I’ve read on the father of the Constitution is tell the story of Madison the political actor. And it tells it in a highly readable, crisp, lean way that only a historian with utter confidence in his grasp of his subject could manage.”

Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books
“Brookhiser has a number of biographies of the Founders to his credit. Like the others, this life of Madison is a sprightly narrative.”

About the Author

Richard Brookhiser is Senior Editor of the National Review and the author of nine books, including Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington; Alexander Hamilton, American; America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735–1918; and Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution. Brookhiser also wrote and hosted the PBS documentary Rediscovering George Washington. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1St Edition edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465019838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465019830
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Rosenthal on November 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the past year, I've added something to my bucket list. Before I die, I plan to read at least one book on every US president, in order of the dates of their presidencies. I have read a number out of order, having read several books on Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton over the past few years. But, this book on James Madison follows Chernow's Washington, McCullough's John Adams, and Ellis's Jefferson, American Sphinx.

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

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

For a historical perspective, this book does near 5 stars. For a complete profile of James Madison he man, it was a little disappointing.
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57 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Jason Ryan on October 18, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's hard to understate James Madison's influence over the US Constitution. The Philadelphia Convention ran for several months and most of the framers came and went for periods of time. Not James Madison. He attended every session and pushed for his ideas of how a government of the people should work. Checks and balances, judicial review, bicameral legislature - we owe the lion's share of praise for these institutions to him.

What is so admirable about Madison is how he knew his history and used it to argue his points. A reader, writer, and statesman, he drew on everything from ancient civilizations to philosophy to promote his ideas. We have few leaders today who are as authoritative about their government.

Yet for Madison, as with so many of the Founding Fathers, it's tragic to read about his failure to address slavery. He owned slaves. And many times he passed on opportunities to begin the work of abolishing the institution. It's hard to imagine slave owners voluntarily giving up their "property," but I can't help but wonder what effect a dramatic Madisonian speech against slavery might have had on the country. During his twilight years, he had tremendous sway over the people. He could have done a tremendous service to the country by speaking out against slavery.

Richard Brookheiser is a very good writer. The prose flows smoothly. My only area of concern is that this work is quite short. It's only 300 pages long. In just 20 pages we move through Madison's entire youth to the events of 1776! If you are accustomed to the more detailed biographies like those from David McCullough, Steven Ambrose, or Jean Edward Smith, you will find yourself very surprised by the brevity of this book. I sense there is a lot more of James Madison that I did not get to know.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Eitic on October 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Given the regular release of new books on Washington, Jefferson, Adams and others, it is helpful and important to read this latest and excellent biography of James Madison. Madison's accomplishments are often lost in the long and large shadows of Washington and Jefferson. He was the consummate behind the scenes advisor, ghost writer, partisan, and strategist. In that role his brilliance and contributions are too often overlooked. Just as Madison himself was willing to let his brilliance, dedication, and hard work shine obscurely through the public reputations of Washington and Jefferson, historians have seldom pulled back the curtain to show Madison in his true and central role. Richard Brookhiser has done Madison and his readers a service in writing this excellent biography and does pull the curtain back to show Madison's paternity in the birth of the Constitution and the Union it formed and sustained. The book is concise and immediately captures the reader's attention through its flowing narration. I have deducted one star because I sensed that the author presented a Jeffersonian negativity towards Adams, Hamilton and the cadre of federalists among the founding fathers. This approach, to me, clouds the book's interpretation of their shared roles and accomplishments. Since Brookhiser has written excellent books on Hamilton and the generations of the Adams family, his approach is surprising. Perhaps it is an excessive effort to balance his perspective, given that earlier work. For a reader familiar with the period this element of demerit is merely a distraction and source of frustration. The book is truly enjoyable and well worth reading.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Devita VINE VOICE on November 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a relatively short overview of James Madison's life, and in many ways it is unsatisfying. It is a whirlwind tour, with almost as much time spent on Dolley Madison's charms as the creation of the Bill of Rights or the differences between the Federalists and the Republicans. The author's firm belief in Madison's intellectual loftiness is very hard to verify based upon what you read here.

Having said that, Brookhiser does encapsulate the first few decades of the Republic and present at least cursory portraits of several of the Founding Fathers as well as short summaries of the most notable events. I imagine someone trying to acquaint himself with the times would find this a useful introduction, though so many specifics are left out that anyone with even a vague interest will find himself looking for better books which begs the question- why not just start with the more comprehensive tomes?

What did interest me is the modern feel of politics even 200 years ago- the backbiting, logrolling, compromising and willingness to flip flop if it suited you at the moment. Hence Madison could write of implied powers in the Federalists papers, sanction state nullification of laws in the Virginia decrees and worry about Federalists who voiced the same opinion at the Hartford Conventions. All this proves either the "flexibility" or dis ingenuousness of even the greatest political thinkers, depending upon your viewpoint.

Another point of enlightenment for me was Madison's belief in "The People" as the ultimate arbiter of all political decisions.
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