Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: James Madison the Founding Father

Author: Robert Allen Rutland
Format: 12discs (11 hrs 40 min) 287 pg equivalent
Subject: Life and contributions of James Madison
Genre: Biography
Source: public library audio book download
Challenge: US President's Biographies

Several years ago--I think it must have been in the late 70's--I decided I wanted to read a biography of each of the US Presidents in order of their service. I figured that way I could learn about the history and the personalities in an organized fashion. I did fine until I got to Madison. There just didn't seem to be any good solid but readable edition of his life on the shelves in Northern Virginia where I was then living. So I put the whole endeavor on hold. Last year, my sister and I decided to open the challenge again, and began the quest on LibraryThing. We now have almost 50 people reading along with us. So I had to take the plunge and get on with it.

This is a well researched, very readable biography of one of our early presidents. Rutland makes the case that Madison is truly "The Founding Father" since he was present and actively involved in all aspects of the nation's birth and early years up to the cementing of the concept of a united group of states acting and being perceived by the world as one nation.

The book dwells mostly on his years when he represented Virginia at the Continental Congress, then served in the House of Representatives during Washington's term. He also served as Secretary of State before becoming the 4th President. His authorship of the majority of the Federalist papers in support of ratification of the constitution was explained with many elucidating quotes to highlight how he felt the nation should progress. At the time of his death, he had the only set of notes surviving from the Continental Congress, notes that have served to enlighten us as to the thinking of the founders as they brought the country to birth.

This was a very interesting and enlightening book about one of the most important and influential presidents we have had, who often gets lost in the shadows of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

As I've been doing this US President's Challenge, many of the participants have remarked on how difficult it has been finding a good biography of Madison. This one is bare bones, but does have enough flesh on its bones to give us a decent feel for the man and his accomplishments. It certainly has opened my eyes to see how he fits into the procession of presidents, and will form a good basis for going to the next one in the line. It was especially well done in the audio format I found, holding my interest even through boring workouts on the elliptical


  1. I do have to wonder what sort of people you are hanging around with if the topic of discussion is "how difficult it has been finding a good biography of Madison"

  2. Madison does seem to be a forgotten founding father. We toured his house and I kept thinking it was a good thing he and Dolly were short people - the rooms are tiny. Not much of a house actually, but the gardens are lovely.

  3. We actually have a "Montpelier" right here in mid-coast Maine. It was the home of General Henry Knox who served as Washington's Sec/War. Knox modeled his house after Monroe's.

    I also used to live on land that was part of Geo Wash's Mt Vernon estate in Northern VA, and am familiar with that house. High ceilings, but rooms that are much smaller than we would have thought--probably helped to preserve the heat in the winter. Big windows that could be opened to let in breezes in those hot Virginia summers.


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