By Richard Brookhiser
Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465019830, 287pp.
Publication Date: September 2011
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In this penetrating biography, eminent historian Richard Brookhiser presents a vivid portrait of the Father of the Constitution, an accomplished yet humble statesman who nourished Americans fledgling liberty and vigorously defended the laws that have preserved it to this day.
Joseph J. Ellis, author of First Family: Abigail and John Adams
“Brookhiser brings his succinct style to bear on the only founder more elusive than Jefferson. The result is a distinctive portrait of Madison as America's original man for all seasons.”
“Richard Brookhiser has written a lively, deeply informed, and penetrating look at the small man who played such a big role in America’s founding. Father of the Constitution, prime mover behind approval of the Bill of Rights, trusted advisor and confidant to the young nation’s first president, and its fourth chief executive himself, James Madison is also our country’s first practical politician. He founded not just the first American political party, but also the American system of party politics itself. For James Madison had come—after long study and extended practical experience—to believe deeply in majority rule, public opinion, and a government of, by and for the people.” Kirkus Reviews
“Though he came of age under the influence and tutelage of luminaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Brookhiser’s portrayal of Madison grounds him in the backbiting, often inglorious machinations of his contemporary political system; this approach is both significant and refreshing in presenting Madison as a flawed man, rather than a godlike ‘founding father.’… A useful introduction to a man who is often out shone by his presidential predecessors but who nevertheless was instrumental in creating our modern political system.”
“An astute, witty biography…. [Brookhiser’s] concise account deserves high marks.”
“Having previously examined the ‘Holy Trinity’ of the Federalist Party (Washington, Hamilton, and Adams), Brookhiser turns his relaxed and accessible writing style to the oracle of American constitutionalism and ‘father of modern politics.’… He has produced an exceptional synopsis of the essential founder’s political life…. Brookhiser gives fans of the Revolutionary generation and those interested in the origins of American politics an engaging and succinct narrative.”
National Review online
“If you want to read an engaging account of the life of the Father of the Constitution, this is the book for you… The prose is clear and reader-friendly.”
“[Brookhiser’s] prose is concise and readable…. Mr. Brookhiser’s James Madison captures the delicate, complex and important ideas Madison formed and the lengths he went to to see to fruition the events that have contributed to the success of the experiment of a republic.”
History Wire“Brookhiser presents a prodigiously researched, warts-and-all study of Madison, as he interacted not only with the ‘Virginia dynasty’ but with such major players as Albert Gallatin, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.” Washington Independent Review of Books
“Richard Brookhiser’s new biography of Madison shares [John] Adams’s deeper insight into Madison’s achievements. It is a short, readable account of Madison’s remarkable political career from a good and perceptive writer.” Newark Star-Ledger “[Brookhiser] offers a new perspective on Madison as the father of American politics, an often overlooked part of his legacy. Brookhiser’s Madison is more than just constitutional scribe and protectorate of liberty. He’s the alchemist behind, if not the inventor of, the sometimes ugly business of politics.” Wall Street Journal
“Madison is remembered today as one of the key framers of the Constitution and the drafter of the Bill of Rights; as the husband of the vivacious Dolley Madison; and as the president who barely escaped capture by the British punitive expedition that raided Washington during the War of 1812. But he deserves to be remembered for a great deal more. Richard Brookhiser, in the latest in his series of concise and highly readable books about the Founding Fathers, conveys the man in full and files a strong paternity suit pointing to Madison as the father of American politics.” The American Spectator“It is a challenging and important task to recognize and understand the founder’s faults without losing sight of their greatness while illuminating their enduring significance along the way. No historian does this better than Richard Brookhiser….James Madison is a small, unvarnished monument to its diminutive namesake. Drawing from and explicating Madison’s own public and personal writings, Brookhiser, employing equal doses of his customary acumen and wit, walks readers through the man’s eight decades in little more than 200 pages. It is an honest and at times unflattering rendering, but one that reaffirms Madison’s genius, and proves authoritatively that his fingerprints remain all over our institutions.” National Review
“When walking the halls of the Revolutionary and early Federal periods, Brookhiser is a writer of the Plutarchan stamp, capable of reducing his subjects to their essence without resort to the gross simplifications of the reductionist. He tells us what we should know, not – exhaustively – what we might know. His books have a light touch, and the characters who emerge from his pages take on the reality they deserve. They don’t gather dust; they cast shadows…. Brookhiser simply shines pinpoints of light, penetratingly, into the more obscure corners of Madison’s life and work, raises his achievements into higher relief, and elevates this founder to a proper, merited place among his brethren. And that is much.” New York Times Book Review“[Brookhiser’s] sprightly narrative will serve as an entertaining introduction for those who are making their first acquaintance with Madison…. As an avid observer of the hyperpartisan political environment of our own age, Brookhiser uses Madison’s often tumultuous career to remind us that day-to-day politics have never been very pretty. Anyone involved in the political wars as long and as relentlessly as Madison was surely bound to make a few missteps, and a few enemies, along the way. But Brookhiser effectively argues that Madison, by melding his knowledge of political theory with shrewd political instincts, deserves a place close to the top of the list of America’s most successful politicians.” The New Yorker“In this congenial biography, the fourth President does indeed shine….[Brookhiser’s] descriptions of Madison’s friendships combine sentiment and anecdote in irresistible proportion.” Thomas S. Kidd, Books & Culture “Richard Brookhiser’s James Madison…is a welcome addition to the literature on Madison. His lively biography helps us understand Madison’s political brilliance and its lessons for today…. [Brookhiser] is the rare author who grasps the complexities both of history and of contemporary politics.”
Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs:“James Madison was among the most secretive of the Founding Fathers; Brookhiser’s engaging biography gives readers a deeper understanding of who he was and what he thought.” Jack Rakove, The New Republic:“Brookhiser is absolutely right to portray Madison as a politician whose leading ideas were driven by events, who did his best thinking precisely because he was responding to events, decisions, personalities, and elections…. Brookhiser brings an admirable appreciation of the political realities in which Madison operated to every chapter, and that appreciation in turn reflects his own incisive grasp of Madison’s significance.” The New Criterion “Whether by design or luck, Brookhiser picked a good time to revisit Madison. In this year of stalemate between a contemptible Congress and a feckless executive, Brookhiser’s typically swift pacing, conversational style, and judicious choice of sources do more than restore Madison’s place in the story of American politics…. There can never be too many books that treat our founders with the respect due to statesmen, while avoiding the reverence fitting only for gods. James Madison is a welcome addition to this honorable genre.”
“The father of the U.S. Constitution and fourth president of this nation deserves all the praise given him by Richard Brookhiser in a perceptive new book, James Madison…. To those who love history coupled with politics, here is a chance to become wiser while enjoying doing so. Thank you, Richard Brookhiser, for bringing Madison alive on the printed page.”
“[A] smart, stylishly written portrait…. Balanced and persuasive.”
“Brookhiser’s new book, simply titled, James Madison, makes the case that Madison should be remembered, too. That’s a timely message as a presidential election year approaches, and voters sort through the qualities they deem most effective for the nation’s commander-in-chief…. [Madison] would probably look at the ongoing presidential campaign season and find a world not unlike his own. Whether he would find that development worthy of regret or celebration is anybody’s guess.” San Francisco Book Review“[A] brilliant book on our nation’s fourth president and the main individual responsible for the Bill of Rights.” Roanoke Times“Brookhiser’s prose is so entertaining that it is likely that a reader with no interest in Madison would enjoy this book…. Brookhiser is able to present a concise portrait of the studious (today we might call him ‘nerdy’) Madison with all his warts and still have us understand him not as the demigod who helped establish our laws and build a dynasty of Virginia-born presidents, nor as an evil political manipulator, but as a flawed human who set the ship of state on a course that we follow today long after that captain went over the side.” NPR.org
“While some books about the founding fathers tend toward hagiography, Brookhiser’s portrait of Madison is fair-minded but sometimes critical…. Brookhiser is a remarkable biographer – there are no wasted words in this slim volume, but plenty of fascinating insights into the patriot who ‘glimpsed our world before it existed.’” Yuval Levin, National Review Online
“[A] superb new biography…. By telling his story through the lens of an appreciation for (indeed love of) politics, warts and all, Brookhiser manages to tell a fresh and powerful story. We’re used to Madison the political thinker, and this book conveys the power of his ideas of course, but what it does better than anything I’ve read on the father of the Constitution is tell the story of Madison the political actor. And it tells it in a highly readable, crisp, lean way that only a historian with utter confidence in his grasp of his subject could manage.”
Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books “Brookhiser has a number of biographies of the Founders to his credit. Like the others, this life of Madison is a sprightly narrative.”