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This majestic new biography of James Madison explores the astonishing story of a man of vaunted modesty who audaciously changed the world. Among the Founding Fathers, Madison was a true genius of the early republic.
Outwardly reserved, Madison was the intellectual driving force behind the Constitution and crucial to its ratification. His visionary political philosophy and rationale for the union of states - so eloquently presented in The Federalist papers - helped shape the country Americans live in today.
Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison would found the first political party in the country’s history - the Democratic Republicans. As Jefferson’s secretary of state, he managed the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States. As president, Madison led the country in its first war under the Constitution, the War of 1812. Without precedent to guide him, he would demonstrate that a republic could defend its honor and independence - and remain a republic still.
I was expecting something more like Ron Chernow's biographies of Washington and Hamilton. This book seems more like a history of the early national period. Madison was certainly a major part of that period but in this book he just seems like a character in the larger story rather than the center of attention. It's fine, but I wish I had picked one of the older Madison biographies on audible.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
I am not a historian but have listened now to a dozen or more books on presidents and those connected to the presidency. This book stands out from the rest with the amount of guess work included. So many sentences started with probably, possibly, likely... and then would make a statement that yes, could be true, but there is no evidence of it. I don't mind inferences being drawn from pieces of information, but stating what someone probably thought when hearing or reading something; or saying that probably one person visited another when in the same town, etc. is not allowing me to finish this book, especially with the frequency that it occurs - I made it to chapter 8. I also don't watch Oliver Stone movies for this reason. I don't want to have to sort thru in my memory what was fact.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from Lynne Cheney and/or Eliza Foss?
What could Lynne Cheney have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?
Rely more on factual events and writings rather than speculating or "imagining" what it must have been like during the course of the events written about.
Would you be willing to try another one of Eliza Foss’s performances?
It would depend on the subject of the book.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Disappointment. A waste of my time. I expected a better narrative of one of the most influential and fascinating people in U.S. history.
Any additional comments?
While it usually doesn't matter to me whether a book is narrated by a man or woman as long as the performance is good, I must say that the choice of narrators here was not a good one. I have encountered many female narrators who have done an excellent job "voicing" the men in a book but that was not the case here. This book seemed to need a man's voice considering virtually all the individuals quoted or referred to are men, or at least a better female narrator. Foss sounded like a 2nd grade school teacher and an uninspired one at that. In addition to a poor choice in narrators, Cheney's book itself was not satisfying. I barely got 1/3 of the way through before I had to give it up and it was a struggle to stick with it that long. I cannot count how many times Cheney relies on speculation of facts or "imagining" what it must have been like to fill out her narrative. Isn't there plenty of factual evidence on which the narrative can rely without retreating to inferring, guessing or imagining? Cheney's attempts to be folksy or familiar with her subject also falls flat. I just do not find her to be a good writer. I do not recommend this book at all on any level.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
I so wanted to like this book. I am a fan of the Ms Cheney's father, as he's one of the few contemporary GOP members that evokes any of Mr Madison's thought. Unfortunately, the book is bogged down with irrelevant minutia and trivialities, and spend far too little time with the formation of Mr Madison's brilliant philosophies.
The narrator, Eliza Foss, has a wonderful voice - but not for a historical biography. Her rather sing-songy read compounds the lack of substance. At least this is true for the first half of the book, which is where I gave up.
After reading Jefferson: The Art of Power, Washington: A Life, John Adam, and The Bully Pulpit: Roosevelt & Taft (all spectacular books) A Life Reconsidered was a major disappointment.
My apologies the the author and narrator, as they obviously put much effort into this book. I just did not find compellingly constructed.
11 of 15 people found this review helpful
“James Madison: A Life Reconsidered” by Lynne Cheney surprised me with new facts and perspectives, I was previously unaware of. The biography traces the entire life, but it is at its most absorbing in the retelling of Madison’s epic efforts from 1785 through the ratification of the Bill of Rights in December 1791. Madison worked with Jefferson to write the Virginia Constitution, Madison was drafting the blue print that would later become the U.S. Constitution, including the important tenet for religious liberty. A diligent member of the Continental Congress, he along with Alexander Hamilton, proposed a state’s revenue to pay the new county’s debts and promoted Jefferson as a peace negotiator in Paris. Cheney portrays Madison as a brilliant, shrewd statesman who, more than anyone else was responsible for writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Cheney devotes substantial space to new information about Madison’s physical maladies, especially a syndrome involving attacks akin to those of epilepsy. Cheney makes clear that Madison was a practical politician. “He was capable not only of deeply creative thinking,” she writes, “but of turning his thoughts into reality.” Cheney primarily portrays Madison in a favorable light but did point out he was capable of changing his mind, for example, during the debates over the Constitution and designing the government, Madison disagreed with Hamilton about the need for a federal bank. Hamilton won the point and developed a federal bank which was dissolved later on. When Madison became President he fought to have the Bank reinstated as he said that the government could not function without a federal bank just as Hamilton had advocated. The author provides the reader with considerable amount of detail about Dolly Madison. She was not only a great hostess but was helpful to Madison in politics and later with managing his papers. I learned from a side note by Cheney that the Republican Party of Madison and Jefferson was actually known as the Democratic-Republican party and had nothing to do with the current day Republican GOP Party which was established just prior to the Civil War. The author goes into a significant amount of detail, such as, Madison’s boarding bill in Philadelphia, the purchasing of table setting from James Monroe, and to Dolley’s knee abscess this all contributes to the richness of the biography. I believe one must read more than one source about a person or topic to obtain a more complete picture of the person or situation. The books I have read about Monroe are an excellent example, because each has provided a different picture of Monroe and his life. I read “James Madison: the Founding Father by Robert Allen Rutland published in 1997 and James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham published in 1971. Compared to the above books Cheney provided far more insight into Monroe’s personal life and that of Dolley Madison. The biography is well written and Cheney clearly brings to life the character and personality of James and Dolley Madison. Lynne Cheney is the wife of Dick Cheney the former vice President of the United States. I must admit the reason I bought the book was just to see what she had to say and if she was able to write. I am glad I decided to give Cheney a chance as she has turned out to be a good historian. Eliza Foss did an excellent job narrating the book.
11 of 15 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I would change the reader who although easy to understand might better suited to read children's books.
What was one of the most memorable moments of James Madison?
I was most interested in his medical trials, especially what appears to be lifelong psychomotor seizures.
How could the performance have been better?
There is no sense of command to Eliza Foss's reading. Where moments are solemn it is best not to end a sentence with an upward inflection
Do you think James Madison needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
No. Subject adequately covered
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
I love biographies of Presidents. This was very uninteresting, felt the author was just reciting Madison's accomplishments. Never got to know him personally, which is what a great biography should do.I don't think this book is a listen, at all!
Has James Madison turned you off from other books in this genre?
No, maybe this author and narrator
How did the narrator detract from the book?
She was terrible. Her narration did not jibe with the story. It's like someone told her to vary her voice which she does, but at completely inappropriate times. Like her voice will go up when it should go down. It made it very boring and irritating to listen to. I actually stopped mid-book which is a pity!
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from James Madison?
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
I enjoyed the book but felt like the vast majority of it was an overview of early American history rather than a biography of Madison. Madison is really relegated to a supporting character as the book focuses on the birth and early days of the nation. The book lacked the focus that other historical biographers typically have. I almost felt like Madison was just the hook to retell some of Cheney's favorite stories from early American history.
Did Eliza Foss do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?
Goo reading, clear and easy to understand.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
The reader is tedious the dialogue is poor and unexciting .I do not recommend this book
The main issue I had with this audiobook is its chronic lack of direction. A good biography is more than an amalgamation of facts in chronological order. The art of crafting a biography comes from the author's ability to weave a cohesive narrative through the facts, which gives a sense of direction and a theme to the story. For example, an early chapter of this book takes a time-out to explain the details of growing crops. It didn't narrate how James Madison grew these crops, or a meaningful experience he had while growing them, but simply the dry instructions of how to grow crops.
As I near the end of this book I still don't understand what principles motivated Madison and why, which is a result of the lack of plot and theme. Almost every chapter feels like a disconnected chunk of information rather than a natural progression of Madison's character. I want to be able to answer at the beginning of each new chapter, "What did my protagonist learn in the previous chapter? How will that affect the decisions of this next chapter?", but that type of character progression falls flat.
Also, the narrator doesn't seem to know what she's reading. Her voice barely rises above a monotone, retaining the lulling pace of a bedtime story. Charisma is essential for reading the relatively bland text of a biography. This narrator would be better suited for children's books.
In sum, I'm shocked that this audiobook has 4 stars out of 5. The text itself has serious problems and the narration amplifies them. I got a better understanding of Madison from the biography on Jefferson by Meacham than this book.