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James Madison and the Making of America

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  475 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
In James Madison and the Making of America, historian Kevin Gutzman looks beyond the way James Madison is traditionally seen -- as "The Father of the Constitution; -- to find a more complex and sometimes contradictory portrait of this influential Founding Father and the ways in which he influenced the spirit of today's United States.

Instead of an idealized portrait of Madi
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by St. Martin's Press
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I was invited to a friend’s house for cocktail party and dinner. As I walked around her library, I could not get my eyes off of this book. I made a mental note to purchase it the following day.

On my way out and in the midst of a friendly hug, a good-by, and a thank for you for a delicious dinner; I felt something enticing being slipped into my hand. The shape, the could only be one thing. I looked into my hands and smiled as I saw James Madison eyes staring into my very own! I do not
Aug 26, 2014 Stacey rated it liked it
I won this book as a First Reads ARC. Let me start by saying what this book is not - this is not a biography as I think of McCullough's "John Adams" or Chernow's "Hamilton" as biographies. If I were looking for "James Madison and the Making of America" in a brick and mortar book store, I'd expect to find it in the History section. At least 95% of the focus is on Madison's politcal/public career.

It's obvious that the author did a tremendous amount of research and gives us a detailed account (lots
Aimee Tate
Feb 03, 2012 Aimee Tate rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I totally agree with Caren, this book does read like a textbook. I'm a huge history buff, and I love reading about it. But I too could not get though it.
Mar 08, 2012 Justin rated it liked it
I received this Advance Reading Copy through Goodreads First Reads program, so I'll refrain from any quoting or commentary on spelling and proofing.

Gutzman has obviously done a tremendous amount of research to put this book together. If what you're looking for is a more textbook telling of James Madison's public life in in-depth detail, this is the book for you. Unfortunately, Madison's public life does not lend itself to a very compelling narrative. Though he was one of the great Founding Fathe
Alex Orr
Feb 09, 2015 Alex Orr rated it did not like it
It's hard to imagine a more poorly written biography...hell, it's hard to even call this a biography. The best way I can describe this is to guess that the author had a long series of essays on the Federalist Papers which were rejected for publication, but, at some point, an editor suggested he pad the essays with some bare-bones facts about Madison and call it a Madison biography. By the end of this book you will know virtually nothing about Madison as a person, nor is the time in which he live ...more
Paul Pessolano
Feb 05, 2013 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“James Madison and the Making of America” by Kevin R. C. Gutzman, published by St. Martin’s Griffin.

Category – Biography/ United States History

There are not too many of us who are aware of James Madison, other than he was a President of the United States. It would surprise many of us to know that he, in fact, was the “The Father of the Constitution”, was largely responsible for the Bill of Rights, and formed the first political party. He was also a major contributor to “The Federalist Papers”, w
Steve Smits
Feb 17, 2012 Steve Smits rated it really liked it
Ask average persons on the street who is the most revered founding father and they'll likely say "Washington" or "Jefferson". Fair enough: Washington for his guiding example of leadership (more for what he could have done but didn't) and Jefferson for his lofty political ideals. But, if you want to appreciate the practical founding architect of our political model you must know Madison. Gutzman's gives us a very close look at Madison's brilliant work toward the establishment of the nation. We ha ...more
The American Conservative
'Kevin Gutzman’s "James Madison and the Making of America" tackles the daunting task of answering how, in a remarkably purposeful and active life, James Madison devised the basic republican theory behind American government, led in drafting and ratifying the Constitution, sat at Washington’s right hand in establishing the new government, and then late in life was the authoritative voice interpreting the place of the Constitution in a growing America.

Gutzman’s day-by-day analysis of the debates
Jul 08, 2015 Steve added it
Shelves: bookreporter
When looking back on the founding of the United States, some prominent names tend to rise to the top in the discussion of history: Washington, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton and, most notably, Jefferson. Some will call upon Thomas Paine. Still others who spend more time invested in history will mention Patrick Henry. Somewhere amongst these names, someone is likely to bring up James Madison. His is a name that carries its share of weight, but few understand the true depths of his contributions to the ...more
Shannon Lovejoy
Jun 04, 2015 Shannon Lovejoy rated it it was ok
I received this book for free through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. I could not get into this book. The facts were interesting but after a while, things ran together. I'd get information overload after just a few pages. I'm hesitant to give two stars because this is the first biography I've read on a historical figure...perhaps they're all dry and crammed with details. I will probably try to enjoy this book again in the future because I do want to learn about Madison.
Apr 12, 2014 Iain rated it really liked it
James Madison was a man who left his mark on the fabric of what is America. In 1787 he was the principal author of the U.S. Constitution, during 1788 he authored about a third of the Federalist Papers, and for the first ten amendments to the Constitution (said to be based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights), and thus is also known as the "Father of the Bill of Rights." Kevin Gutzman presents a history of Madison at his most influential on the development of the infant American nation and the ...more
Robert Owen
Jun 21, 2013 Robert Owen rated it really liked it
Dull, dry and dispassionate. I gave it four stars because if you're looking for a "just the facts, ma'am" biography that will make you look smart when some blowhard starts popping off about the Constitution at a dinner party, this baby does the trick. Sadly, in the author's hands Madison becomes kind of a wax figure with little emotional depth or range.
Mar 09, 2014 Nathan rated it liked it
An able overview of the fourth president. The book is a fantastic recollection of his experiences at the Constitutional and Virginia state ratifying conventions, and his writing of the Federalist. However, Gutzman mostly skips through the periods wherein Madison had his most dramatic and inconsistent burst of action. In my opinion it is the political life beginning in the mid 90s that came to shape his legacy and burnish his controversial reputation, both of which would have enormous ramificatio ...more
Feb 06, 2014 Cara rated it liked it
A fairly good biography of James Madison, covering mainly his role in writing the Constitution through the end of his presidency. Definitely dry at times - I think the author assumes you have significant knowledge of the time period already, so if you don't, you might find yourself a little confused at times, struggling to remember who's who. I haven't really read anything about this period in American history since high school, and at times I was lost. I came away knowing more about James Madis ...more
Aaron Boyes
Jul 08, 2015 Aaron Boyes rated it liked it
This book is more of an examination of Madison's ideas and his contribution to the Philadelphia Convention (which produced the Constitution of the United States), as well as his extensive thoughts about the future of the country, as laid out in "The Federalist". In that way it is not much of a biography, which is what I was hoping for. Gutzman does a good job explaining Madison's ideas, but it is at times tedious to read about every essay that Madison wrote in "The Federalist" and what the Conve ...more
Jan 03, 2014 Allen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A couple of things struck me while reading this book. First, Madison's youth was a surprise; he was only 25 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and in his 30s when he was the "father of the Constitution". I tend to think of the Founding Fathers as we see them in their portraits, old and staid.

The best insight I got from the book was the start of an understanding of how political parties first developed in the US. We lament the polarization of American political life today, but stri
Trey Smith
Apr 02, 2016 Trey Smith rated it it was amazing
An excellent look into the life of one of the most important founding fathers of the United States of America. More so than any other book on Madison,this book explains his nuanced view on government as he collaborated with such opposing figures as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, contributed to The Federalist yet formed the Republican Party in opposition to the Federalists, wrote the Virginia Resolution of 1798 yet opposed South Carolina's nullification effort against protective tariffs ...more
Andrew Kapral
Apr 03, 2016 Andrew Kapral rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Well written and mostly interesting, but would more appropriately be entitled The Making of America and James Madison. Most of the history focused around the late Articles of Confederation government and the ratification of the Constitution, which was around 150 pages of the 330 pages of content, while his time as Secretary of State and President were combined for 40 pages.

Bottom Line - good book but not appropriately titled. If you are looking for a James Madison bio, then look for another tit
Jun 03, 2012 Manny rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite subject and period. James Madison was an amazing person and his accomplishments still astonish me even by today's standards and the perceived advancement in technology. This biography does not bog you down with useless minutia about the subject, such as favorite food or their favorite color, rather Mr. Gutzman uses the time to show the great contribution Madison made and how his life experiences affected Madison's thoughts and ideas.

Madison believed that a particular religion
Andrew Barney
I don't feel like this biography does much as far as giving a well-rounded view of who Madison was as a person. However, this does not seem to be the author's intent. As the title implies, the book shows how Madison was influential in the establishment of the American government. Also, the author's concluding paragraphs make the point that Madison did not feel like he needed to tell people how to remember him - rather, his actions and accomplishments speak for themselves.

If you aren't at all in
Apr 09, 2013 Shawn rated it really liked it
Very much enjoyed this book. It's my second on Madison. I dare say there would be no Constitution without him. He wasn't perfect. Early on he wanted Congress to have veto power over all state's laws. That would have ended the experiment right there.

Through the Federalist Papers and in debates over the Constitution he made incredibly important contributions to the construction of the Republic at just the right times.

A slight and often sickly man, people often strained to hear him speak, but when
Jun 15, 2013 Steve rated it liked it

“James Madison and the Making of America,” published in 2012, is author Kevin Gutzman’s fourth and most recent book. He has previously written about the U.S. Constitution and Virginia’s transition from dominion to republic. He is Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University and is currently writing a book about the rivalry between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

After only two chapters and fewer than fifty pages, I knew that Gutzman
David Murrell
Nov 11, 2013 David Murrell rated it liked it
These are my notes on the Madison book.

First, let me say that the author has a hard time deciding who his primary audience is. At times, he writes as if this were a children’s book, i.e. “in the days before bullets, firearms required gunpowder…”

If the reader is interested in the questions of the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase or the nuances of Jefferson’s rejection of the Monroe-Pickney Treaty in 1807, then it is probably fair to say that the author needn’t remind us that they didn’
Mary Lou
Nov 07, 2014 Mary Lou rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This scholarly tome is probably very good, especially for those who really want to delve, sometimes in excruciating detail, into the specifics of the Philadelphia Convention (including vote counts on quite a few motions), the writing of the Federalist Papers, and Madison's presidency. I listened to the audio book in the car. Unfortunately, between the reader's soporific voice, the heat, and the abundance of detail, I zoned out through the bulk of the 16 hours. There was next to nothing in this b ...more
Apr 26, 2012 Furbjr rated it really liked it
James Madison and the Making of America was selected by people using as March 2012's Book of the Month.

Dr. Gutzman delivers a deep look into the public life of James Madison, from his beginnings under John Witherspoon at Princeton (where he developed a keen ability to look at situations in an analytical way), on to his public life. The author delves deeply into the Madison's role at the Constitutional Conventions, the Ratification Convention in Richmond, his time as Se
Robert Sparrenberger
If you are looking for a review of the writing of the constitution, then this is your book. If you are looking for a biography of James Madison, look elsewhere.

The author goes into painful detail of the writing and arguing Over the constitution. It could be an interesting story but not told this way. Way too many quotes destroy any hope of something well written. Just Boring and it gets lost.
Sep 04, 2013 Christopher rated it liked it
A fairly interesting, if limited and unenlightening account of Madison's life. While it purports to be a biography, 2/3 of the book is focused on the Philadelphia Convention and the drafting of the Constitution (complete with vote totals of the various motions) and detailed recounts of the Federalist Papers. While quite detailed, it's also exceptionally dry. It really fails to give an understanding of how or why Madison came to his views and merely states that he has them.

The book is fairly cri
Paul Gibson
Sep 30, 2013 Paul Gibson rated it really liked it
Fun book to read. My only issue with the book was the author's decisions to dubiously link more current events with history. For example, at one point the author says, "Clearly, Madison anticipated a far more restrained judicial ethic than the judiciary has come to display."
This, however, is not clear. The Supreme court might refuse to hear a case or kicks it back down to lower courts. Often there is no resolve through legislation. Perhaps Madison thought Congress would or should be more judicio
Nov 12, 2012 J. rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
Very good once past the first few chapters. Great for providing an understanding of how the constitution came about, and exceptional regarding summarizing the years after the Revolution with good character analysis of those individuals involved. Also, it becomes clear here why it is often said that understanding the impact of a presidency does not happen until about 20 years after the person has left office. Gutzman has a way of explaining difficult political issues or events that took place, wh ...more
Patty Brower
Jan 24, 2016 Patty Brower marked it as gave-up-on
More history than biography, this book is a great blow-by-blow account of the writing of the constitution and other work that was central to Madison's like. The reading is very heavy and dry, and I ultimately traded in for Lynn Cheney's more readable true Madison biography.
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Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the New York Times best-selling author of four books. Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University, Gutzman holds a bachelor’s degree, a master of public affairs degree, and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as an MA and a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia. Happy to be a former attorney, Gutzman devotes his int ...more
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