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03

Choosing which book to read on our 4th president was a bit challenging, but I settled on Richard Brookhiser's "James Madison" partially because it was only 250-pages versus the 800-page tomes I have been tackling. I opted for this "beach read" (as one reviewer called it) and I was not disappointed.

There was little about Brookhister's book I did not like, including the length. I have read books by other accomplished biographers including McCullough, Isaacson, Chernow and Meacham and have fretted that they often failed to take their subjects to task. Not Brookhiser. He called out Madison on his lack of taking a stance on slavery, on his (and Jefferson's #3) major miscue in believing Florida was included in the Louisiana Purchase, on his ineptness as commander in chief that led to the British being able to burn Washington City to the ground during the War of 1812 (Madison's War), and for his overall poor performance as president. Brookhiser often slipped into "I" and gave his conclusions as to what Madison was thinking when his letters or other resources failed to fill gaps. While some may not have cared for this, I looked forward to it. It felt conversational, plus Brookhiser had gained my trust so I respected his musings.

I do not feel I missed anything major about Madison in this "short" read, especially since I also learned about Madison while reading biographies on presidents #1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. (I haven't read a bio on Andrew Jackson (#7) yet but Madison will be a focus as Jackson is often credited with ending the War of 1812). 

What this biography lacked was sufficient information on Dolley. I am making up for that with my next blogpost on our three first First Ladies. (Jefferson's wife died before he became president, as did Jackson's). 

Through Brookhiser's bio of Madison, I continued to receive an excellent education on the birth of our political system since Madison wrote the majority of the Constitution, on an invaluable friendship between Madison and Jefferson, on the making of politics and a politician, and much more.

Do not discount Brookhiser's bio of Madison as a valuable resource. Like Madison, the book is short. Also like Madison, the book is intelligent and motivated to do the right thing.

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Joanne Lewis Blog