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A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation Paperback – February 20, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; First Edition edition (February 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083002
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Twomey's dulcet tones smooth out the sharp edges of Allgor's biography of Dolley Madison, her polished reading lulling listeners into pleasant reverie of the American political past. Allgor's book itself is not always so pacific, concentrating on the era of instability and violence surrounding the War of 1812, and Dolley's influence on her husband, James Madison, and the new American capital that she reigned over as First Lady. Twomey occasionally sounds like an announcer in a prescription-drug commercial, employing her most soothing tone to read off a list of potential side effects, but the effect is pleasant, her reading serving to calm the storms of the past, smoothly sailing over the choppy waters of the American early 19th century.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Once she married the much older James Madison, in 1794, Dolley Madison became a celebrity of the founding generation—popular but polarizing. Her enemies circulated rumors that Thomas Jefferson had sold her sexual services, and they attacked her as "Queen Dolley" for her aristocratic pretensions. But Allgor's sympathetic biography argues that, as the architect of Washington's social scene, Dolley gave the new republic the forum it needed for the development of an indigenous political culture. If Allgor occasionally overreaches—Dolley's drawing room, she says, "changed the course of the republican experiment"—she captures Dolley's charisma and her essential role in the politics of her time. Charles Pinckney, the loser in the 1808 election, was, he wrote, "beaten by Mr. and Mrs. Madison." He added, "I might have had a better chance had I faced Mr. Madison alone."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By M. Colford on May 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Not being a fan of the historical biography, or really all that interested in history at all, I am probably one of the few people who knew nothing about Dolley Madison's heroic act of saving the White House's famous portrait of George Washington during the War of 1812. Catherine Allgor's new book, <em>A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation</em>, kicks off with this very moment in history, then wheels back to our most famous historical First Lady's birth and childhood, spending considerable time on her marriage to James Madison, our third President, and wrapping up with Dolley's legacy. While Dolley's life is fascinating, from her Quaker upbringing, to her role as the social center of Washington, D.C. during her husband's presidency, it is Allgor's voice that truly brings this first serious biography on Dolley for years to enthralling and entertaining life. There is a knowing wink, a mischievous suggestion, and a comprehensive knowledge of the emerging power of women, particularly political power, infusing Allgor's prose. Allgor paints a thorough and believable portrait of a woman who broke very important ground for all the women in politics who came after her. She also does a terrific job melding the thorough research of an academic text with an engaging style that will appeal to all readers.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Laura Van Wormer on June 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The primary research behind this biography is staggering and utterly wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I also have to say that my view of the War of 1812 has been significantly altered, from viewing it as a grievous international mistake to a domestic economic crisis which eerily forecast the American Civil War. Dolley herself as a subject is enchanting. And very funny. And charming. And moving. There are some colorful implications made by primary sources: President Jefferson was a bit of a whack job; America sided with France because the French ambassador's wife was Dolley's best friend and the wife of the British envoy was so awful the couple was socially blackballed; and Madison's strongest reason for declaring war might have been to get re-elected. While I think Allgor may go a bit overboard in all she credits Dolley with, I certainly applaud her break with traditional patriarchal history to reveal the considerable power of at least this one woman in creating a sense of American nationalism. This is very well written, by the way, and quotes from the original sources are seamlessly interwoven.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Mike Klaassen on November 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I picked up a copy of A PERFECT UNION: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation, by Catherine Allgor as research material for a novel set during the War of 1812. I had already read The Velvet Glove: A Life of Dolley Madison, by Noel Bertram Gerson, but I wanted more detail and insight regarding President and Mrs. Madison. I wasn't disappointed.

A Perfect Union is packed full of information for a novelist wanting to add verisimilitude to a story. For anyone with more than a casual interest in the War of 1812, it provides fascinating insight into behind-the-scenes Washington City and a struggling new nation. Unlike most accounts, it illuminates the war and the political scene from a feminine viewpoint.

For the most part, the facts presented by Ms. Allgor were consistent with my other sources. I noticed only a few factual glitches. I believe British atrocities were committed on the raid of Hampton village, not the battle of Craney Island a few days earlier. And I understand that the Capitol was still in two parts, separated by a wooden walkway, when the redcoats torched it.

Overall, A Perfect Union is a fascinating look into the life and times of Dolley Madison.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Catherine Allgor serves up a great examination of not only Dolley Madison but a revealing picture of early politics in early America in A Perfect Union. I think she does a wonderful job in exposing how the Madison's, primarily Dolley, countered Jefferson in the way they operated in the young capitol. Allgor also gives us an entertaining glimpse into how an eighteeth century wife supported her husband, perhaps even out-shining him a bit. Allgor also shows us the private Dolley; the Dolley who managed a home but also liked to play cards and was pretty good at it. She also liked to drink....just a bit. These and other facts are great counterpoints to the public Dolley we've all learned about.

I'm always a sucker for any book that deals with this period of American history. Early conditions in this country, especially during those years immediately following the revolution, allowed for a great deal of movement, especially socially and politically. Dolley truly shined during this era and Allgor does a wonderful job in painting that picture.

As you read this book it becomes quite obvious that Allgor loves to do research. Her facts aren't in question though some other reviewers believes she goes too far. Perhaps. However, the greater value in A Perfect Union is the fact that the whole story is here

A worthwhile read for sure.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on July 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A PERFECT UNION: DOLLEY MADISON AND THE CREATION OF THE AMERICAN NATION is a 'must' for any serious history holding surveying the making of early America. With its focus on Dolley Madison and her husband James, it shows the political influences of the city as experienced by the president's wife, who became one of the most celebrated people in Washington, saving the portrait of George Washington from the White House as it burned. Rich detail probes into exactly why she was so adored - and is so little known today.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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