Book Review: James Madison by Garry Wills

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I bor­rowed this book from the local library.

I set a goal to read, in order, all of the biogra­phies of the pres­i­dents of the United States who have passed away.

Book Review James Madison by Garry Wills

This short biog­ra­phy of James Madi­son focuses on his time as pres­i­dent of the United States – imag­ine a biog­ra­phy of Miguel de Cer­vantes focus­ing on his time as a sol­dier in a Span­ish Navy infantry regiment.

James Madi­son was a great the­o­rist, extra­or­di­nary writer, cun­ning politi­cian and an effec­tive leg­is­la­tor – but as pres­i­dent he was sim­ply “good”.  Madi­son was never counted as one of the great pres­i­dents and author Garry Wills acknowl­edges as such in the open­ing of the book.  As a mat­ter of a com­plete biog­ra­phy this approach, in my mind, is the oppo­site of what it should be.  Wills points this out and fol­lows with a clear, clean and inter­est­ing biog­ra­phy focus­ing on Madison’s administration.

The book is divided into five parts:
-    Intro­duc­tion
-    Pre-Presidential Years(1751 –1809)
-    The Pres­i­dency: First Term (1809–1813)
-    The Pres­i­dency: Sec­ond Term (1813–1817)
-    Epi­logue: The Legacy

Wills hits the high­lights and low lights of Madison’s time in office.  The author lauds the pres­i­dent for try­ing extremely hard, and suc­ceed­ing, in not to abus­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion dur­ing the War of 1812 (some­thing which could not be said for his suc­ces­sors such as Lin­coln, Franklin Roo­sevelt and oth­ers) but bal­ances those with such behav­ior as Madison’s quixotic para­noia about such peo­ple as Alexan­der Hamilton.

James Madi­son, even though short, is writ­ten in an aca­d­e­mic style.  Infor­ma­tion is being sent at the reader fast as if you were read­ing a text­book – just data with­out the spicy anec­dotes which make a biog­ra­phy worth read­ing.  I still don’t feel I know Madison’s per­son­al­ity or what, if any­thing, did the lively Dolly Madi­son saw in him (besides some rich guy from Vir­ginia).  I’d rather read the long, more paced biogra­phies that give me a com­plete pic­ture of the person.

My rat­ing for James Madi­son — 3
Please leave a com­ment if you agree or dis­agree with my review, or just to say hello.

Zohar — Man of La Book
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