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Publisher's Summary

An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it 

How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about the dangers of political parties in the Federalist Papers and then helped to found the Republican Party just a few years later. This so-called Madison problem has occupied scholars for ages.

As Jay Cost shows in this incisive new biography, the underlying logic of Madison’s seemingly mixed record comes into focus only when we understand him primarily as a working politician. Whereas other founders split their time between politics and other vocations, Madison dedicated himself singularly to the work of politics and ultimately developed it into a distinctly American idiom. He was, in short, the first American politician.

©2021 Jay Cost (P)2021 Basic Books

Critic Reviews

“A vivid account of Madison’s energetic efforts…Cost’s book deserves high marks as a skillful study of an iconic historical figure.” (Kirkus)

"Cost effectively reconciles Madison’s well-documented contradictions...a solid intellectual biography of one of America’s most consequential founders.” (Publishers Weekly)

"In this profound and clarifying biography, Jay Cost shows how some familiar Madisonian contradictions can be reconciled by grasping that James Madison’s practice of politics was devoted to the same great cause as his theories of politics: the challenge of reconciling differences in a diverse republic. That is very much our challenge now, and this is a book with much to teach today’s America." (Yuval Levin, author of A Time to Build)

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  • 11-17-21

A timely reminder

Jay Cost has written an excellent account of the life, the contributions and the outstanding influence of James Madison on the very fabric of democracy, relating not only to the United States of America but to all countries aspiring to keep democratic forms of government and institutions. Madisons incredible intellect and work ethic has benefited now Peoples over the last 200 years and we are in his debt. This book is an excellent summary of the key issues that are critical to the maintenance of a republic and a democracy, both of which are entwined.