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James Madison and the Making of America Hardcover – February 14, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Kevin R.C. Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America revels in the intrigue of political debate and the intricacies of the political process, fashioning a narrative that re-creates the drama of nation-making and governing. Mr. Gutzman's narrative concentrates on Madison's maneuvering in Philadelphia at meetings of the Continental Congress and, later, at the constitutional convention. Mr. Gutzman meticulously recounts Madison's efforts to secure ratification of the Constitution in several recalcitrant states, working in concert with the redoubtable Alexander Hamilton, who later became an adversary not just of Madison but also of Jefferson."—The Wall Street Journal

"Gutzman’s meticulous disquisition on the proceedings of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention ... will most profit scholars. His perspective on an important Founder, and his minute examination of the Federalist Papers, will ... appeal to serious readers."--Library Journal

"[A] groundbreaking work. More than merely the definitive biography on James Madison, Kevin Gutzman’s book is essential to understanding the men, ideas and historical context of the U.S. Constitution and the early American republic. If the founders are important, then James Madison and the Making of America is vital to understanding what they actually said and did."--The Washington Times

"This book is relatively thorough, covering the years leading up to the Revolution and especially focusing on the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, ratifying the Constitution, inaugurating the Constitution, and, finally, Madison's years as Secretary of State and President [and] Gutzman's style of writing is refreshingly sprite at times."--The Peorian

"A well-considered and written biography of this gifted Founding Father's many contributions to the early republic."--Kirkus

"Kevin R. C. Gutzman, relying for the most part on primary sources, gives us an authoritative, vivid and wide-ranging exploration of Madison’s public career in James Madison and the Making of America... a solid and insightful biography that should appeal to both those readers who know a lot about Madison and those who want an introduction to him."--BookPage

"With James Madison and the Making of America, Kevin Gutzman has raised a glorious standard to illustrate and illuminate the importance of Madison and why he may be unfairly overlooked and buried in the shadow of Jefferson. On the whole, [it] is an impressive book. Gutzman makes history easy to read and keeps the expected dry boredom of reliving the 1700s at bay, making them vibrant and exciting, as they no doubt were to the people who lived them. With this book, the foundations of America are laid open for examination, and the specific work Madison undertook to bring about the glorious new nation with a republican-style government gets the attention it properly deserves."--Book Reporter

"Kevin R. C. Gutzman ... has written a well-researched public life of Madison that draws heavily on the documentary record.  His ... discussions of Madison’s role in the Virginia Convention of 1776, where he argued for free exercise instead of mere toleration, his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, and his successful efforts to gain passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, are particularly acute, as is his judgment that the last mentioned was Madison’s 'greatest accomplishment' (p. 48)."--The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"...a fascinating account of Madison’s role in forming the institutions and the policies that characterize the United States of America."--City Book Review

"Gutzman’s day-by-day analysis of the debates and actions of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 is long—80 pages—but superb. He demonstrates Madison’s deep insight and great skill in first framing the task of the Convention, then, in responding to virtually every point raised by its members, guiding the debate to workable conclusions, and most remarkable of all, helping to fashion a document agreed to by “all states present.”... Later, in a well-informed analysis, Gutzman treats insightfully Madison’s contributions to The Federalist essays as a dialogue with increasingly effective Anti-Federalist articles, highlighting the basic issues of energetic government, insurance against tyranny, and meaningful representation.... Gutzman’s most thorough and penetrating analysis is of Madison’s premier role in the fateful discussion of the new constitution and its principles... His book is a signal contribution to our understanding of this near-miraculous epoch in our national history."--Ralph Ketcham, The American Conservative

"The serious reader who wants a detailed account of James Madison's long public career, drawn from primary sources, will find Kevin Gutzman's book deeply rewarding.  The author's treatments of Virginia's ratification convention and the drafting of the Bill of Rights are particularly valuable.”--Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

“Writing with authority and verve, Kevin Gutzman merges James Madison the practical Virginia politician and James Madison the world-class political theorist in this well-rounded biography of one of the most remarkably multifaceted founders of the republic.”-- Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson’s Women and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America

"Kevin Gutzman's beautifully written and insightful account of James Madison's fascinating life promises to become the standard biography of this great Founding Father."- Edward G. Lengel, Professor and Editor-in-Chief – The Papers of George Washington, University of Virginia and author of Inventing George Washington:  America's Founder, In Myth and Memory

"Focusing on the fourth president's public life, Kevin Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America recaptures the drama and excitement of the new nation's bold experiment in republican self-government.  No one played a more important role than Madison in the drafting, ratification, and implementation of the federal Constitution.  The power of the great Virginian's penetrating intelligence is amply evident on every page of this nicely balanced, well-written, and lucidly argued study."-- Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, University of Virginia and author of Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, of Virginia's American Revolution, and (with Thomas E. Woods, Jr.) of Who Killed the Constitution? The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush. He is Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University and lives in Bethel, Connecticut.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312625006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312625009
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Kevin Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America takes what we thought was a familiar story and gives it a fresh and important interpretation that challenges old orthodoxies and helps us better understand important episodes in American history.

For instance, proper credit for the world-historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is at last granted not to its draftsman, Thomas Jefferson - who had his gravestone list the statute along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia as his proudest achievements - but to James Madison, who actually managed to get the statute enacted (and who would have nothing inscribed on his gravestone).

More significantly, we are treated to a precise and detailed description of Madison's evolving role vis-a-vis the drafting of the Constitution. At the Philadelphia Convention Madison had championed a much stronger central government, a veto over state laws, and a diminished role and significance of the states. He favored a national rather than a federal government, and one in which the states would be retained insofar as they might be "subordinately useful." His major proposals, including the veto of state laws, a legislature with plenary authority, and basing both legislative houses on population, were all rejected.

Madison may be known as the father of the Constitution, but Gutzman is having none of it. "Far from being the `father of the Constitution,' Madison was an unhappy witness at its C-section birth. Perhaps he might be more appropriately called an attending nurse. He certainly did not think of it as his own offspring."

What emerged from the Philadelphia Convention was a federal government with enumerated powers, not a national government with plenary authority.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read most of the books written by Dr. Kevin Gutzman, all of which I have found enlightening, well researched, enjoyable and brilliantly written. I must say though that in a growing list of outstanding contributions to the topic of American history, James Madison and the Making of America is without question this author's crowning achievement.

I've personally been a student of the Founding era for quite a few years now, during which time Madison has been something of an enigma to me. The same James Madison who argued vehemently for Federal veto power of State laws during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond, would later pen the Virginia Resolution which effectively birthed the concept of "nullification" of FEDERAL actions by the STATES. What are we to take from this one example?

History to this point has painted Madison as brilliant while often ambiguous and at times perhaps even duplicitous. Yet, the reader will discern a transformation taking place in Madison, as his story progresses through recorded history, that most other literary offerings fail to detect. I will not give all of the details away here, but suffice to say that Gutzman provides something that American history has lacked for decades with regards to James Madison- a fresh, objective, fair, honest and painstakingly detailed approach to the man, his philosophy and his immense contributions to the "Making of America."

While by no means is this book an attempt at canonizing Madison the man, it allows the reader to digest the plain facts as they are. From his early years, through the Philadelphia convention, to his writings within The Federalist, the Virginia Ratifying Convention and beyond, the author leaves no stones unturned.

I believe that this book will prove to be the quintessential biography on James Madison. It is a must read for all who wish to gain an honest and thorough understanding of this man, Patriot and Founding Father. Five Stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Gutzman has obviously done a tremendous amount of research to put this book together. If what you're looking for is a more textbook telling of James Madison's public life in in-depth detail, this is the book for you. Unfortunately, Madison's public life does not lend itself to a very compelling narrative. Though he was one of the great Founding Fathers, other luminaries such as Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, and Jefferson are much more interesting reads. This book never really takes the reader from Philadelphia, Virginia, or DC, and we spend most of our time inside convention halls, salons, and newspapers. Perhaps that is the greatest take-away for me from this book: Madison's contributions to our nation's founding were instrumental and demand careful study, but they do not lend themselves to a compelling read.

The other strike against this book is Gutzman's presentation. It is 363 pages (without the end notes), yet it is only divided into eight chapters with no additional breaks in the narrative. It is simply page after page of text, which makes for chewy reading. Fischer's Washington's Crossing in contrast (a book of comparable length) is broken up into 19 chapters and includes a wonderful introduction that orients the reader. Additionally, Washington's Crossing includes 19 maps and many dozens of inset portraits and paintings of the relevant personalities and places involved. These not only serve to further inform the reader, but also break up the text to make it more digestible. Gutzman's organization of the material may be logical (in that it is chronological), but it needs to be served in more concise and smaller portions.
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