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86 of 92 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic 2nd Ed. written by Jack N. Rakove is more than a biography about James Madison our fourth President of the United States. Reading this book you get a real feeling for Madison and his philosophy.
As Madison firmly believed, his record as a statesman should be a record of public deeds, not gossipy tale of ambitions, achievements, disappointments and revelations. Madison took care in to preserve his political papers as well as to ensure that the details of his private life would remain forever hidden from posterity.
Thus, it was only in the conduct of public affairs that his deepest talents and interests found expression. Madison was a political thinker of his generation... in the task of creating the extended national republic of the United States, he had many partners but very few equals. Madison played a key roll in every significant development in national politics: efforts to ratify and amend the Articles of Confederation, the adoption and ratification of the Federal Constitution, the framing of he first amendments, the organization of the first opposition party, the initial controversies over constitutional interpretation, and the long diplomatic and military struggle that ended with the War of 1812.
Madison's distinctive contributions to the American constitutional tradition were first and foremost a reflection of his remarkable capacity to reason abstractly about funamental problems of political life on the basis of lessions drawn from experience. We see the author taking Madison and showing us how ideas that began with books were shaped and elaborated and reconsidered through the experience of revolutionary, republican, and constitutional politics.
James Madison does not resonate nearly as deeply in our historical memory. Yet his lasting achievements are arguably no less important. As Madison deepest legacy for the American constitutional tradition, he helped to create the understanding of these two distinct problems of majority power and minority rights.
This is an excellent book and it really gets into the conscience of Madison and it gives the reader some analysis of the potent legacy for the statesman named James Madison.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Initially, I had reservations about reading such a short book on such a complex and important figure as James Madison. Indeed, there are aspects of Madison's life that Rakove should have written more, particularly Madison's personal life and his famous, life-of-the-party wife, Dolly.

On the other hand, the book spends a lot of time on Madison's role during the Revolution and his role in creating the Constitution. Writing about these important subjects is potentially very difficult, very tedious and complex. And to his credit, Rakove does a good job making the pages easy to read and thoughtful.

The section on the War of 1812, which was conducted while Madison was president and almost ruined the country, was rivetting. I imagine a longer book would have spent even more time on this subject, not to take anything away from Rakove's coverage.

Ideally, Madison should be covered in a much more substantial book, like Ketcham's, but the reviews of Ketcham's book weren't all that good from Amazon readers, so I chose Rakove's book. It so happens, that hidden in the middle of a large list of sources at the end of his book, Rakove mentions that the Ketcham book is the best single volume work on Madison.

Additionaly, a docent at Mountpelier left a review of Ketcham's book saying that it is excellent. It is heavily used and bookmarked at Montpelier...so the Ketcham book is probably OK to read, if you want a more substantial read. It may even be excellent.

Lastly, Rakove's book was easy to read as a whole and relatively "complete". More importantly, even though some subjects could have been fleshed out more, the most important subjects were covered well. This wasn't a shallow book. There was a lot of primary source material that was very well integrated. It is a very well-written and researched book.

4 and 1/2 stars is probably more like it, but we'll round up to 5 based on quality.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This short little book chronicles two things, though in sketches only: the life of James Madison and the story of his ideas. With this book Rakove does and excellent job of capturing both.

Rakove follows Madison through his service to the Virginia House, where he wrote a landmark bill separating church from state in his home state. After that we follow Madison to the Continental Congress and then the U.S. congress, where he takes the lead in drafting what would become the United States Constitution. Rakove then gives a tour of Madison's role in the early years of the Federal government, in the House and then as secretary of state and then president. While these were certainly tumultuous years, especially during the War of 1812, where there was legitimate concern about the survival of the Union, Madison was able to weather it all while holding close to his political principles.

These principles included an attachment to individual and minority rights and the preservation of the Federal Union above all. This little book gives and excellent depiction of those principles in action. I highly recommend it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I chose to read Rakove's short biography of James Madison for my project of reading one biography of every American president in chronological order through Reagan.

I was not dissappointed in this choice, but not overly thrilled with it either.

Rakove packs a lot of good quality in-depth analysis of Madison's philosophy and reasoning into this short book. I finished the book feeling like I had a very good understanding of the unique role that Madison played in the creation of the American system, as well as his ability to fine-tune his positions based on experience. He seemed to view the American endeaver as an "experiment," and he showed a consistent ability to fine-tune his philosophy and political positions based on the expected or unexpected social and political outcomes of the experimental parts of the constitution. Rakove does a good job of identifying and explaining this nuance which could be missed by lesser Madison scholars. It demonstrates the author's intense knowledge of the inner workings of his subject, not just the periferal facts.

I was disappointed, however, in the author's complete failure (or unwillingness) to add any real color to his outstanding analysis. For example: Madison's ride out of Washington on horseback while the British burned down the White House seemed nothing more than an uninteresting side-note. As another example, there is no contextual demonstration of the little five-foot tall Madison winning over his political counterparts through his intellect despite his diminutive stature. Can you imagine a five-foot-tall 120 pound president of the United States today?

I guess I just prefer my biographies to be interesting stories as well as academic analyses. I read them to learn, but also to be entertained and to be transported into the times the subject lived in. In this way, the book failed, although I acknowledge that the author probably never sought out to fulfill my more broad expectations of biographical work.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Rakove gives the reader a concise & readable account of the life of this central figure of the American founding. A breeze to read, but doesn't shortchange the reader in terms of insight & rigor. The capstone chapter "The Legacy of the Founder" is alone worth the price of the whole volume. For those interested in the creation of the Constitution, I would suggest reading this book after one of the shorter histories of the Constitutional Convention (I prefer Berkin's "A Brilliant Solution", but there are several very good ones out there), then turning to Rakove's magnificent "Original Meanings".
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I think Rakove did a great job organizing this book. It is easy to follow and the chapters stick to their subject. The author points out that Madison was a very private man- so there isn't much information about his private life. So the bulk of the book is about his political life- which was actually what I was more interested in. In regards to Madison, what I found most interesting about him was his views on property rights. An issue that seems to be in hot debate for modern times. Madison felt that this was a fundamental issue for personal liberty. p.227 "his major fear was that a government dominated by people holding only small amounts of property would enact legislation inimical to the just rights of the wealthier segments of society." Seems we never learn from history and continue to force the same arguments.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Biographies can be tricky. Some are highly technical and detailed, challenging even the most interested reader's ability to make it to the last page. Others, like Rakove's "James Madison" gently flow along right up to the end. And the book really does flow along, chronologically touching various destinations in Madison's life in manner that is, in some cases, underwhelming. Here Madison is portrayed as an intellectual heavyweight with "a rigorous political intelligence that enabled him both to maintain the integrity of his own positions but also to recognize when logic had to yield to reality" (p31). James was always the more pragmatic of the Jefferson/Madison duo, and his awareness as a tactician placed him in a league of his own amongst the Framers. Such intelligence was on full display during the ratification debates, Rakove notes, when Madison muted his own doubts about the Constitution while forcefully arguing in favor of it in his Federalist essays. A handful of chapters in the middle of the book deserve special attention from the reader, as they highlight the events that pushed Madison's politico-philosophical stance from staunch nationalist to states' rights proponent. Overall, this book is an ideal starting point for those interested in the "Father of the Constitution." Readers looking for in-depth analysis of Madison or particular aspects of his career will be disappointed, as this is a simple biography and nothing more. (3.7 Stars, rounded up to 4.)
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on February 18, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
James Madison is one of the most influential founders and considered the 'Father of the Constitution'. This book gives a brief, but well written overview of his life and his contrubtion to our system of government.
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on January 24, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I purchased this book for a class and did a book report for it. This is a good book and it helped me learn that President Madison made a great contribution to the US.
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on August 21, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It was a good read. Fast shipping, but got wet in the mailbox so had to recycle it when it turned moldy ; (
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