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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enticing Tribute to the Forgotten Founder
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...
Published on February 24, 2010 by Charles E. Rittenburg

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100 of 108 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but excessively worshipful
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...
Published on October 22, 2009 by duke


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100 of 108 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but excessively worshipful, October 22, 2009
This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (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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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enticing Tribute to the Forgotten Founder, February 24, 2010
By 
Charles E. Rittenburg (Marlton, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (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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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but needs less effusiveness, more analysis, November 3, 2009
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This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (Hardcover)
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 3˝ 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."

And yet, this is what Unger has to say about Monroe himself when his own abilities are questioned: "Contrary to the writings of some historians, Monroe's proclamation was entirely his own creation - not Adams's. The assertion that Adams authored the 'Monroe Doctrine' is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another's hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents."

The subject of slavery is barely mentioned except for this: "As for his personal views, Monroe had no strong objections to slavery, saying only, 'The God who made us, made the black people, and they out not to be treated with barbarity.' " In almost all cases, servants are referred to as such, not as slaves, although I suppose it's possible he had no house slaves.

The over-the-top language isn't confined just to describing Monroe. Here's an example of his treatment of those he perceives as hurting Monroe: "When Elizabeth was physically able or in the mood to entertain, however, she continued to shine. 'On these occasions,' Louisa Adams caterwauled to her father-in-law, 'we all endeavor to look well but even when looking our best...we are certain of being always eclipsed by the Sovereign lady of the mansion.' "

On the other hand, Monroe seems to have been a really nice person, kind to relatives, friendly to all he met, unwilling to think badly of his Cabinet members when they turned on him, and a determined and self-sacrificing patriot.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening on a Man Largely Forgotten by History, February 9, 2010
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This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (Hardcover)
James Monroe, as the last founding father to serve in the White House truly does close an era of history. Unfortunatley both he and Elizabeth Monroe have been largely overlooked by history to our detriment since there is much to learn from this family.

As a young man Monroe joined the revolutionary cause and fought bravely for this country, surviving a life threatening wound. Following in Washington's footsteps he didn't accept payment for his service. This would set the stage for a lifetime of financial sacrifice in his country's service.

His political career included serving as a foreign diplomat, senator, and as a governor that forever changed the role of Governor of Virginia, and finally Preisdent of the United States.

Unger portrays Monroe as an affable man who knew how to nurture relationships, queit until pushed by passion to act boldly even disregarding the Constitution at times, politically astute, a true unifer as he destroyed the two party political system for a time, and a visionary who successfully increased the land mass of the country and set forth the famous Monroe Doctrine.

Elizabeth Monroe is portrayed as a fascinating, beautiful, highly educated and courageous woman. Thier marriage and dedication to each other rival John and Abigail Adams.

Unger does an incredible job of completely telling the story of James Monroe and providing important details where they belong. For those who find biographies fraught with too much detail that will not be an issue here. Those who want a complete understanding of the subject will find it with Unger.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars More fiction than history, February 28, 2012
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One of the most alarming problems with this book is the author's tendency to simply make things up. In Chapter 8, for example, when discussing Gabriel's Rebellion, the author suggests (page 140) that after taking the city of Richmond, the slaves intended to bargain for "funds and a ship" to carry them outside the United States. In fact, the documentation, although scant, makes it clear that the rebels intended to remain and work in the city after forcing Virginia to follow states such as Pennsylvania and New York into manumission. He then writes that the militia kicked in slave cabin doors, "uncovering large caches of weapons and gunpowder." In reality, knowing that few slaves knew how to fire a musket, blacksmith Gabriel had been making short but lethal swords from wheat scythes (which required no gunpowder). He then has all twenty-seven slaves dying together on the same October day, when in fact the executions went on for several weeks and slaves were hanged at various points around Richmond and Henrico County. In a most creative paragraph, the author then has the executioner hoisting Gabriel up by a noose to slowly strangle him rather than allow him to die quickly. Not surprisingly, the author cites no primary or secondary sources for such creative acts of fiction, since no such account of Gabriel's death exists. The author also confuses the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo with the French colony of Saint Domingue, but that at least is a mistake rather than a work of fiction. Readers in search of a carefully researched, balanced biography of the fifth president should stick with Harry Ammon's classic study.
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38 of 50 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the Poorest Presidential Bios, January 25, 2010
This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (Hardcover)
Bought this book with no prior research, there just isn't much out there on Monroe so I was happy to see something new on him. If I had simply read the inside cover notes I would have at least had a clue that this book was hagiographic in nature. The author obviously is quite enamored with the subject, to the point of being blind to the facts.

The book is also empty of analysis and quite dull. A straightforward, textbook biography except for a completely one sided view of the subject. Unbalanced in the story telling - a two term president, we hit the presidency on about page 260 of 347 and then spend the remainder talking about styles and Monroe's trips around the country.

Most importantly, according to the author, Monroe did nothing wrong and everybody else did nothing right. Catch this great nugget from the very last page of the book - "One by one, President Monroe's self-serving, politically ambitious successors undermined the national unity he created during his presidency, and during the thirty-five years that followed, the Era of Good Feelings metamorphosed into civil war." Give that some thought. Guess if Monroe remained president we would have remained happy and at peace - and with slaves!

He doesn't debate who authored the Monroe doctrine, to hear the author Adams had nothing to do with it. Monroe's first trip to France was a roaring success, Monroe played a major role in winning the revolutionary war, Monroe's wife was the bravest, smartest and prettiest first lady ever, etc. I could go on forever.

I've never given a "1" review but on this I wish I could give a "0". I'm almost ashamed to have bought and read this book. If the quote above was on page one perhaps it would have saved me some time.

Avoid at all cost.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness., May 25, 2010
By 
Eric Williams (South-Eastern Pennsylvania) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness (Hardcover)
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness. Author: Harlow G. Unger. 400 pages. 2009

Nicholle brought this book home from the library with the intent to read it herself. I picked it up off the stack and proceeded to read it. I had little interest in James Monroe until I visited and toured his estate Ash Lawn-Highland in Charlottesville, VA a few years ago. My interest was piqued less by his presidency than by his house and lifestyle.

This book fills in some of the gaps. My previous knowledge had been limited to: The Monroe Doctrine, His estate, and his actions at the Crossing of the Delaware and his actions and grievous wounding at the subsequent attack on Trenton by the Continental Army. Beyond that I knew little or nothing.

The book is a breezy, easy, quick read which surprised me considering the subject and the era. Monroe in philosophy and style stands in the middle of two great titans of the era, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Monroe like many of the founding generation remained in awe of Washington his entire life. Yet, he was a protégé of Jefferson and a very close friend. Monroe seemed politically more inclined in form to follow the examples of Washington then the Republican virtues of Jefferson.

The book offers great insight into the interpersonal relations and passions of the founding era. The free and easy exchange of assistance between these men was a revelation. Not just letters of introduction, advice, patronage etc but real money. Often friendships and support crossed political disputes. Politics was a passionate vocation, in many ways more so than today.

This book does pay homage to Monroe, his fellows, his life, and his legacy. The author has an affinity for Monroe and seeks to present his life and legacy in a positive manner. But the presentation is not hagiography, the author is critical especially near the end of Monroe's presidency. Too often modern writers adopt the jaded pundits habit of being hyper-critical at all stages. Monroe was an accomplished man who was deeply and widely involved in the founding of our nation. His accomplishments even when not as the main actor seem almost mythical when we look at current politicians. No other President of the US, except for possibly George H. W. Bush, had as long and as varied of a government career. Some times the depth and breadth of Monroe's accomplishments seem unreal in the modern context and critics using modernity as the mirror seek to find others.

Monroe's accomplishments and influence deserve more study and acknowledgement. He was the last of the founding fathers to be President, and he was the first true foreign policy President. This book is a good introduction to both the man and his presidency.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dubious scholarship, May 1, 2014
By 
Frederic A. Bush (San Antonio, TX USA) - See all my reviews
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I'm not a trained historian, but even I recognize lots of errors in this book. It repeatedly calls Napoleon short (he wasn't), misstates American casualties during the Battle of Monmouth, misleads about the policy of impressment, treats the battle of Tippecanoe as decisive. The author doesn't recognize the relatively common word tares (meaning weeds). That's just what I spotted, but it makes the whole edifice seem to stand on a dubious foundation.

It doesn't tell you much about Monroe's character but basically makes him into a Chuck Norris figure.

Eyewitness accounts about Monroe's wife's personality are ignored because they don't fit the author's agenda. The author decides that John Quincy Adams couldn't have written most of the Monroe Doctrine because the very idea is insulting to the dignity of the Presidency, or something.

The bibliography cites books from Cokie Roberts and Margaret Truman.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read About One Of Our Greatest Founding Fathers, December 19, 2011
Having read many books on the typical founding fathers, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, I naturally progress down the line to read one on Monroe. Much to my surprise, he was a great man, leader and president, which seems to be forgotten to history. This book sheds light on Monroe, his distinguished life from his days at William & Mary to being injured at Trenton to his European travels to his two terms as president. It was a fantastic read, one that I highly recommend to all history and non-history lovers alike.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Medicore, February 24, 2012
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I'm currently reading a biography on every president and with Monroe there are plenty of biographies out there in which to choose from. In this effort the author, Unger does a good job of explaining specific events that Monroe had a role in. It is well researched but most certainly on the more biased side of where you want a biography to be. It is a quick and an easy read that flows decently well. The man lived an exciting life during an exciting period in American history and yet I was not excited reading it like how I was with a good Washington or Adams biography. However, in his own right Unger did a decent enough job to make me not regret reading it and I learned plenty. When comparing it to the other great presidential biographies this novel does not live up to the lofty standards set by some others. It was not bad but it was not great, I would choose a different biography for Monroe if I were to do it again.
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The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow G. Unger (Hardcover - September 29, 2009)
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