Among biographies of James Madison, this recent short treatise by Garry Wills is without doubt the worst, most shallow and frivolous. Instead of history, Garry Wills, professor of "American Culture", provides a critique of Madison's personality. This book is more of an extended opinion piece and modern journalism than biography or history. There is little attempt at insight or balance. The biography provides more insights into Mr. Wills' personality than that of Madison, who is called feckless, provincal, small-minded and resentful. This book, like most of Gary Wills' books, I was unable to finish.
James Madison -short, unattractive physically, in chronic poor health (what was his chronic illness?) - became the father of the American Constitution and the single major influence in creating our Government, at least the better parts of it. His strengths were the force of his intellect and depth of knowledge of government, created by study, self-discipline and ambition. The shortcomings of his presidency reflected the shortcomings of the early American Government, several of which his administration corrected. He led the country through an unpopular war that was forced upon him without a strong treasury, with an overpowerful Congress and with poor advisors and cabinet members, to a victory that established the United States as a truly independent and forceful nation, correcting the many problems left by the Treaty that ended the Revolutionary War.
Madison learned from his mistakes and deserves better treatment than this book provides. At least give him credit for having perhaps the greatest first lady of our country.
For a more complete and balanced biography of Madison, try Ralph Ketcham's "James Madison. A Biography" and for an easier read or listen, Labunski's "James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights" available on audiobook.
David McCullough manages to weave the biographies of a dozen 19th century American painters, writers, physicians and diplomats into an engaging and totally pleasurable experience. The only disappointment was that it ended; the only shortcoming was that it lacked photographs and pictures.
Great history writing with use of many newly discovered original sources (diaries and letters of common soldiers) and expertly read.
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