Your audiobook is waiting…

The Three Lives of James Madison

Genius, Partisan, President
Narrated by: John H. Mayer
Length: 34 hrs and 12 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (205 ratings)

$14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

OR
In Cart

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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    121
  • 4 Stars
    61
  • 3 Stars
    16
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    5

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    119
  • 4 Stars
    54
  • 3 Stars
    10
  • 2 Stars
    6
  • 1 Stars
    4

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    116
  • 4 Stars
    55
  • 3 Stars
    14
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    3

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Favorite biography of James Madison!

I loved this biography! the depth in which the author pulls back the curtain to both James Madison's role at the constitutional convention and his presidency were incredible!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting and informative

First let me praise Noah Feldman's performance. He is very easy to listen to, his voice, his intonation, and pronunciation.

Moving on to the book, Mayer paints a picture of the man that is nearly idyllic. Madison is flawless even in his loss of Washington DC and a stalemate war. I guess I have come to expect this in biographies, the author falls in love with his subject and deifies him.

That said, Mayer does delve into some of Madison's contradictions and political misdirections. Madison isn't exactly called out, rather it's just what a politician has to do. Probably, even admired in a politican one agrees with.

One thing became annoying after awhile, in every single example of Madison referring to religion, the author follows the line with assurances that Madison was not a Christian and did not in fact believe what he was saying. In some cases even stating that Madison was doing so for political reasons.

Mayer will always authoratively tell you how to interpret any quote that might make you think Madison had any religious beliefs. I find this laughable. Just because a man believes in religious freedom, (and this was a Madison hallmark), it does not follow that he therefore has no convictions of his own. If in youth we don't question our beliefs, we cannot have a firm basis upon which to believe later in life. Rarely do intelligent people carry their youthful opinions unchanged into old age.

Overall I did get a better idea of Madison as a leader and the times in which he lived.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

1.3x for the win

I'm glad I could listen at 1.3x the speed, because the narrator was a little slow for my liking. Ultimately a great read. Thanks!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Intense and detailed

I am an avid reader and am American History teacher (Eighth grade). I confess this book took me four months to finish because the author's voice was so slow and deliberate that it drove me up the wall. Each word was carefully considered before it was uttered. I went weeks avoiding my Audible app because I just wanted to be done already. I did not need details on EACH and EVERY individual document in the Federalist Papers. Eegads. Finishing this book became my personal endurance test, and it pains me to say it. I wanted more information about his relationship with Dolley; I did appreciate the details on his step-son's travails. I feel giddy, now that I've finished it.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Hard to follow

I found this to be a bit hard to follow with the way the author broke up Madison's life and I did not really get a good grasp on Madison as an individual person.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

An Important Founding Father

This book explains how critical James Madison was to the evolution of our independent country and our Constitutional thought. At every stage of the country's development, Madison's presence made a difference. The book is very informative, but not quite as compelling as I had hoped (hence only 4 stars instead of 5). #Leadership #Informative #AmericanHistory #Tagsgiving #Sweepstakes

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good book, but feels incomplete

This is an excellent recounting of Madison's significant achievements. The performance is excellent. However, given the vast library of documents Madison left behind, it feels incomplete and almost a bit rushed (odd for a 34-hour long listen on audio). Overall, it is still a very worthy endeavor.