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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping reexamination of the Founding Father who transformed the United States in each of his political "lives" - as a revolutionary thinker, as a partisan political strategist, and as a president

Over the course of his life, James Madison changed the United States three times: First, he designed the Constitution, led the struggle for its adoption and ratification, then drafted the Bill of Rights. As an older, cannier politician, he cofounded the original Republican party, setting the course of American political partisanship. Finally, having pioneered a foreign policy based on economic sanctions, he took the United States into a high-risk conflict, becoming the first wartime president and, despite the odds, winning.

In The Three Lives of James Madison, Noah Feldman offers an intriguing portrait of this elusive genius and the constitutional republic he created - and how both evolved to meet unforeseen challenges. Madison hoped to eradicate partisanship yet found himself giving voice to and institutionalizing the political divide. Madison's lifelong loyalty to Thomas Jefferson led to an irrevocable break with George Washington, hero of the American Revolution. Madison closely collaborated with Alexander Hamilton on the Federalist papers - yet their different visions for the United States left them enemies.

Alliances defined Madison, too. The vivacious Dolley Madison used her social and political talents to win her husband new supporters in Washington - and define the diplomatic customs of the capital's society. Madison's relationship with James Monroe, a mixture of friendship and rivalry, shaped his presidency and the outcome of the War of 1812.

We may be more familiar with other Founding Fathers, but the United States today is in many ways Madisonian in nature. Madison predicted that foreign threats would justify the curtailment of civil liberties. He feared economic inequality and the power of financial markets over politics, believing that government by the people demanded resistance to wealth. Madison was the first Founding Father to recognize the importance of public opinion and the first to understand that the media could function as a safeguard to liberty.

The Three Lives of James Madison is an illuminating biography of the man whose creativity and tenacity gave us America's distinctive form of government. His collaborations, struggles, and contradictions define the United States to this day.

©2017 Noah Feldman (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"James Madison is famously known as the 'Father' of the American Constitution. With great insight, conveyed in elegant and commanding prose, Noah Feldman gives us a rich portrait of our fourth president in all his many aspects: constitution maker, politician, partisan, friend, slaveholder, husband, president, and elder statesmen. The result is a fresh, bold, and much-needed look at a pivotal figure in American and, therefore, world history." (Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family)
"Noah Feldman brings a scholarly rigor and a gift for narrative to this impressive account of the sprawling - and often perplexing - life of James Madison. Understanding America requires understanding this often-overlooked Founder and his long, eventful life in the arena. We are fortunate indeed that Feldman has given us such a thoughtful examination of Madison's mind and its still-unfolding role in the story of the nation." (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power)

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Fantastic

Loved this book! My only complaint is that it was read too slowly. I listened to it at 1.25x and that was perfect.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Cogently organized, meticulously balanced

This is the first book I have listened to about Madison, so it is hard to be sure it is a balanced view of such a complex figure, but I can say that Noah Feldman works hard to explore the good, the bad and the hypocritical. He shares the historical, personal and partisan contexts of Madison's words, actions and beliefs. One gets the sense of Madison the complex, brilliant, evolving, contradictory human. I found the explanations of his growth and changes more subtle and plausible than the "he was great and then Jefferson ruined him" narrative. I am happy I chose this as my Madison biography. Still not sure if I am satisfied and ready to move onto Monroe or want to stay with Madison a bit longer. I'd be interested in hearing other people's feelings about the thoroughness of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting take on one of the founding fathers.

Definitely a well written and narrated work. Both authors did their homework and I hope to see more of this style of historical reflection geared toward other framers and founders by both of these men.

Based on what was presented, however, and this is just one man's opinion, just because Madison applied his executive authority in a manner that promoted his executive position compared to when he was first constructing the Constitution does not definitively imply that he would have argued the founding document should "evolve" with the time. People evolve, but the founding documents, which were constructed to establish a Union, would have never been agreed upon had the authors conclusion of Madison's been his own. Madison was doing his best, as President, to interpret his understanding of executive authority based on constitutional principles, not actively arguing to undermine it at the end.

Seems to me that the conclusion by the authors of this well-constructed work either deliberately or ignorantly promoted modern progressive ideology in their belief that the Constitution "evolves" with the times. Sure there are ways to modify it, but one must get to the root of the language used at the time in which it was ratified to truly understand it and not conclude that it is "living and breathing" as Wilson and the modern left so do today.

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A must for anyone interested in the US constitution

An excellent analysis of the US constitution and of the thinking of its main author.

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The birth of a nation. Founded in rights and laws.

Loved it. It shares a view of the framers which we do not hear today. It displays Madison's want not to be partisan, but the reality of partisanship in politics. I did not discover a dull moment in this book.

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Not a straight biography

This is a beautifully crafted analysis of Madison’s life by a gifted legal scholar. It is informative, perceptive, and provocative. It is NOT a straight biography. Several important events are omitted or skipped over too quickly, a premier example being (Federalist) President John Adams calling George Washington to lead a national army to confront (Republican-supported) France.

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Not sure

This is the 7th biography I’ve listed to from George Washington to Monroe including Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin. I don’t see how the author can write such a glowing book about Madison when there wasn’t anything good from the perspectives of other authors. Monroe biography for example states Madison all but turned the Presidency over to Monroe during the War of 1812 and he appears in Jefferson and Hamilton as merely a puppet of Jefferson. Interesting...

1 of 2 people found this review helpful