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The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness Paperback – September 28, 2010

143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Dead Presidents website, 10/19/10
“What stands out most about Unger’s book is the clarity and ease of the author’s writing…I read a lot of books about Presidents that I already know a lot about, but this book taught me more about a single President than I have learned in years…James Monroe deserves his place amongst the giants of our Founding, and Harlow Giles Unger has forever ensured it.”

WhatWouldtheFoundersThink.com, 1/27/11
“This book is so full of interesting connections and characters that it is impossible to do it justice in the space of a review…This book is a pleasure to read and the wonderful use of illustrations augments it.”

 

Journal of Southern History, May 2011
“Unger shows how the public and private commitments of early American diplomats were sometimes intertwined.”

The Waterline, 10/6/11
“Unger writes an excellent biography, and dissects the major events that would shape our young nation…A fine read.”

 

About the Author

A former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at Mount Vernon, Harlow Giles Unger is the author of sixteen books, including six biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681918X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306819186
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

109 of 117 people found the following review helpful By duke on October 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Unger provides a service with this biography of the unjustly neglected Monroe. The book provides much valuable information about Monroe's life-long service to this country. The basic problem is Unger's Monroe-could-do-no-wrong attitude. While others might be self-interested, Monroe supposedly always had the best interests of the country at heart and virtually never made a mistake except perhaps in naively always thinking the best of others. So in his traditionally criticized service as ambassador to France Unger views Monroe as performing perfectly. In any dispute or problem it is always others who are at fault. Unger is especially critical of Madison as President, claiming that Monroe basically had to take over running the country because of Madison's ineptitude. And, of course, Unger ridicules any notion that John Quincy Adams might have had anything substantial to do with the development of the Monroe Doctrine. I'm not an expert on any of these topics, but I have to be skeptical of Unger's incredibly positive picture of Monroe in every situation.

Another aspect of Unger's writing that I find unattractive is the obvious pleasure he gains from describing spectacle in detail. In Monroe's national tour as President, Unger spells out the details of innumerable parades, banquets, toasts, etc. For gatherings at the White House, he goes into excessive detail about the dress and beauty of Mrs. Monroe and other females in Monroe's family. His absolute obsession with Mrs. Monroe at some point becomes embarrassing to read.

I don't want to be too critical. I'm glad I read the book. But it could have been much better if more critical and much shorter if a lot of the fluff were removed.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Charles E. Rittenburg on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Harlow Unger's "Last Founding Father" is a great read and a wonderful biography of perhaps the youngest of the Founding Fathers, but one of great character, leadership, and success in establishing our young Republic. Reminiscent of David McCullough's "John Adams," Unger does not neglect the fascinating character and contributions of Monroe's fair wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, who contributed significantly to her husband's success and her country's call, and became a bit of a celebrity in her own right as an outstanding First Lady. She even demonstrates her determination and courage in a successful cloak-and-dagger operation she conducted to free Lafayette's wife, Adrienne, and her family from prison and the shadow of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. The book is a great combination of Unger's wonderful story-telling skills and a great subject. James Monroe, a war hero, heroic Ambassador to France during the Terror, and the most popular president after George Washington, himself, made a difference for our country. How we cry out nowadays for the kind of leadership exerted by Monroe, who presided over the enviable "Era of Good Feelings," and whose perspicacity in foreign policy, including the longstanding "Monroe Doctrine," held off the machinations of European powers, Spain, France, and England, and ensured these United States were launched on a course by which our unique experiment in representative democracy would survive and would achieve our "Manifest Destiny." I personally consider David McCullough's "John Adams" to be in a class of its own, but Unger's "Last Founding Father" runs in the same vein. It is a great, very readable, and informative tribute to an often neglected American hero. I highly recommend it to the history buff or to the casual reader. Great stuff!
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful By M. Bailey on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brand new publication, and I'd hoped for a thoughtful treatment of Monroe's life and career such as McCullough or Ellis might offer. Instead, the book earned just 3½ stars. My main complaints are that the author appears overly enamored with his subject, using effusive and extravagant descriptions of him at every opportunity, and that Monroe never quite stands out as the main character in his own story. I can't quite put my finger on why this is so, unless the author meant the book less as a biography and more as a history of the times.

There is little analysis, just many quotes and bald statements strung together. The Louisiana Purchase is dealt with summarily, and no case is made for Monroe's ownership of its success. Madison is portrayed largely as a fool, with Monroe the genius behind the throne for much of Madison's second term.
*1809: "..., Madison - perhaps forgetting earlier Monroe-Jefferson correspondence on the subject - made what he thought was a peace offering to Monroe by reiterating Jefferson's offer of the governorship of Louisiana. Monroe took it as an insult, and the incompetent Madison was left to totter in his rickety presidential chair, with an equally incompetent secretary of state beside him."
*1814: "The explosion at Fort Washington left Madison shaking - emotionally spent. A tiny man, only slightly more than five feet tall, he had been subject of seizures much of his life that left him sickly and often rather weak. He winced at the destruction that surrounded him and all but shrank behind Monroe at the approach of angry citizens who cursed him for permitting the destruction of their city."
*And again, "In fact, Madison had lost all credibility as a national leader, and Monroe was acting as the nation's commander in chief and president.
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