Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Presidential Challenge: James Madison

Bet you guys thought I had forgotten all about this challenge, right?  I think my bad experience with the Thomas Jefferson biography really turned me off for a while, but Jacki and Jennie got me motivated again.  Jennie was even kind enough to send me her copy of James Madison by Garry Wills when I had trouble finding anything to read.

This wasn't the engrossing read for me that John Adams by David McCullough was, but it was a huge improvement over Thomas Jefferson and His Demons.  I liked the writing, although there were a few places that needed some copy editing.  It was much more accessible and I felt like the author did a much better job of highlighting the relevant aspects of Madison's career. 

Madison himself was something of a wishy-washy President, frequently changing his mind on major issues.  His Presidency is also defined by the War of 1812 as well as the country's interaction with Napoleon during the years following the French Revolution. 

Honestly I find it hard to say a lot about Madison because I didn't find him all that interesting as a President.  The parts of the book that appealed most to me dealth with the war itself and the strategic mistakes Monroe made.  I've also always had a special place in my heart for the Battle of New Orleans ever since an amazing lecture in Trey Berry's American Heritage course in college.  The comparisons between The War of 1812 and the Vietnam War also brought back a lot of good Dr. Berry memories. 

I'm looking forward to my next Presidential Challenge read, which will hopefully be The Last Founding Father.  Booney, Jacki, and Jenny have all raved about it, so I'm looking forward to diving in, assuming I can find it at the used book store that is!


  1. I know I should think otherwise, but I think I'd be in a snoozefest reading presidential books. haha. You do have a wide variety to pick through, that's for sure.

  2. I have found the mistakes President's make are almost more interesting than the things they did right. Imagining how the country could have turned out different (good and bad) should some of those mistakes not happened.

  3. James Madison was one of the most influential founders even though not a particularly "great" president. (The C-SPAN survey of historians puts him around 20 - right in the middle of the ranking of all US presidents.) Ralph Ketcham's biography is the most complete but for a really good read, check out Richard Brookhiser's James Madison. This traces Madison's long career in politics and gives a more exciting view of his talents and foibles.