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James Madison: A Life Reconsidered

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  781 Ratings  ·  143 Reviews
A major new biography of the fourth president of the United States by New York Times bestselling author Lynne Cheney

This majestic new biography of James Madison explores the astonishing story of a man of vaunted modesty who audaciously changed the world. Among the Founding Fathers, Madison was a true genius of the early republic.

Outwardly reserved, Madison was the in
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Viking
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Nov 01, 2015 Ron rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students of American history, biography-philes
Shelves: history, biography
Why write another biography of a historic figure, who every school child knows all about? Because modern scholarship allows the diligent researcher to retrace exchanges by letters, some in cipher, with official records and contemporary media accounts to give a fuller picture of who said and did what to and with whom. This approach is especially fruitful with eighteenth century figures whose correspondence was saved. Through these we learn that the office of Vice President was an accident, the Br ...more
Tex Reader
3.5 of 5 stars – An Interesting Bio of a Fascinating Man in American History
(I'm excited to have won this as a Goodreads First Read – so thanks!)

I love history and bios, particularly those of the revolutionary era, but I hadn’t yet read one devoted to this intriguing founding father. Cheney does a good job of capturing Madison and enlightening us on the details of his life, accomplishments and times.

I’ve read a number of bios of American revolutionary figures (Washington, J.Adams (my personal fa
Larry Bassett
First let me comment on the title of this book: A Life Reconsidered. The author notes that she feels that James Madison has often been slighted in his role as president. She wished to revisit that historic view. I also want to note for what it's worth that the author is the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney. My own recollections of reading about James Madison in other presidential literature is that James Monroe who was Madisons Secretary of State is sometimes given significant credit fo ...more
Well researched but it felt (actually sounded as I listened to this as an audiobook) more like a newspaper story. Lots of reporting of the facts but it failed to weave a story that brings the reader in along the lines of a good Ron Chernow or David McCullough biography.
John Daly
Aug 21, 2016 John Daly rated it really liked it
Book 19 of 40 for 2016

It's hard to believe that I've never read a stand alone biography of James Madison. Earlier this year I read "The First Congress" which gave a great amount of insight into James Madison's work in making the First Congress work. I picked up Lynne Cheney's James Madison when it came out two years ago.

Cheney does a great job of keeping the book moving and not getting bogged down but giving a lot of great information.

It was interesting to learn that one of the reasons that Madi
Jun 07, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
I didn't finish, got halfway, and its due back at Library and cannot renew because there is waitlist.

I really only picked this up to make an evaluation of Lynne Cheney (yes, that Cheney). I've concluded she's a good historian, and a fair writer. This did not grab me in the same way many other historical books have (think McCullogh or KearnsGoodwin). Do not know if that is me, Lynne or the material. Madison, while very active in the forming of our government, didn't really "do" anything. He didn'
Jim B
Feb 06, 2015 Jim B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
Every American needs to know the stories of the founding of our country. I've enjoyed reading "John Adams" by David McCullough, and now this biography of James Madison, the great man behind the constitution. Those who make heroes out of everyone who lived at revolutionary times are unaware of how precarious the early years of our nation were. Are you ever discouraged by all the trolls and shallow people who comment on the news stories on the Internet? Well, that's a side of human nature that has ...more
May 18, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
What an interesting read. This book did a great job presenting the struggles, frustrations, successes, and failures of creating a new country. In school we could not delved into and fully absorb what the founding fathers went through. We just got a snippet of it. There just wasn't enough time. But this book really help me see what they went through and gives me a better understanding of what happened. The main focus of the book is to show how influential James Madison was to the breaking away fr ...more
Mar 18, 2016 Mike added it
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Undoubtedly, it is the best non-fiction book I can remember reading in the last 20 years. If all history books were written like this, history would be much more widely known and understood. This reads like a historical fiction novel, but it is the real history of James Madison. The prose and writing have you turning each page as if it was a cliffhanger. I have a fairly good knowledge of American history, particularly the Continental War for Indepe ...more
Katherine Wacker
Sep 18, 2014 Katherine Wacker rated it it was amazing
Lynne Cheney’s James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, a biography of the 4th President of the United States, is a comprehensive look at one of the most important yet unknown of America’s founders. The book begins with highlights from Madison’s childhood, his college days, and his battle with epilepsy. It continues with his views on the War for Independence, the writing of the Constitution, the Presidency, and the War of 1812. This is perhaps the most important recent work done on the man who had th ...more
Josh Muhlenkamp
I read this book as part of Goodreads' First Reads program.

The list of things I didn't like about this book will make it seem like this was an utterly awful attempt by Ms. Cheney, but it's not that bad. The list of things not to like is a little bit superficial, for the most part, and the deeper part of the book is definitely readable.

One of the first things I disliked was Cheney's constant use of doubt to fill in holes in her knowledge/research. She'd say "One can imagine/see..." or "no doubt..
Robert Sparrenberger
Apr 27, 2015 Robert Sparrenberger rated it really liked it
Very readable account of the life and times of James Madison. I've read all of the biographies on the founding fathers and I would rate this one in the middle. Addresses all the issues of the time without being preachy or resorting to the trap the biographers sometimes fall into of worshiping their subject.

The one very minor issue I had with the writing was the sprinkling of supposition into the story about what Madison may have been doing at various parts of the book. These sentences distracte
Dave Hoff
Oct 11, 2014 Dave Hoff rated it really liked it
The author wrote a readable book on the complex matters of putting together necessary documents to rule a democracy. Madison, a patient genius, who had differing opinions from other founding fathers. He had a loving younger wife, a ner-do-well stepson, a private secretary, Edward Cole who helps Madison when in financial straits. I found Mr. Cole made the thick book worth reading to the end.
Dec 09, 2014 Ivan rated it really liked it
FIRST LINE REVIEW: "He hurried along Market Street, his high-crowned hat offering scant protection against the rain." And with this personal beginning, Cheney continues to paint a well-researched and, as importantly, engaging portrait of a founding-father president I knew little about. Now I'm greatly impressed with Madison, his challenges, his victories and his legacy. And that's the true mark of an excellent biography. I'm now eager to visit Montpelier (though I think I was there as a kid). My ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Eric rated it really liked it
An enjoyable book. The author. Spent most of the book on Madison's pre-presidency life and times. Confirmed that Madison was instrumental in our constitution that O is shredding. The insight of our founders is amazing in how they designed our government. I don't believe Madison ever thought a a president would ever exert powers not explicitly laid out in the constitution but he also thought Congress would have the balls to not let its powers be taken over by the executive.

The writing was good b
Oct 26, 2015 Skipr rated it really liked it
Cheney's biography confirmed and heightened my admiration for Madison. It also reminded me that there have always been scoundrels, opportunists, and bitter disagreements in American politics, including among those who founded the nation. Without Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Washington, and a handful of others I hardly can imagine how the United States could have been established, much less survived the first half century. Cheney doesn't shy away from presenting the faults of even the best of the f ...more
Chase Parsley
Jul 16, 2015 Chase Parsley rated it really liked it
Given my dislike for the Cheney family's politics (except for gay marriage which they support), I was pleasantly surprised to read a wonderfully written and well-researched book. My boss gave this to me and I thank him.

Madison was one of the truly great Americans. His work ethic was relentless and he was one of the smartest Presidents to ever serve. He strongly believed in freedom from religion, wrote the Federalist papers which argued in support of the Constitution, skillfully led the country t
Jul 12, 2015 Amy rated it liked it
This was an interesting, well-written book but not really my cuppa. I was a little disappointed in the overall thrust of the information given. Rather than being all about James Madison and how the events and politics of the time affected him, I felt it was more about the events and politics and how James Madison affected them. I felt it read more like a history lesson than an autobiography. Though it was obvious that she had done her research, Cheney's book just didn't pull me into Madison's li ...more
I was surprised to learn that at least one of the Cheney's could research something for 5 or more years before making any final conclusions, unlike some other Cheney we know. Having said that, I thought the beginning and most of the middle of the book was lively and interesting. For example, in the first part of the book, we find out that James Madison had epilepsy--accompanied with "atonic" seizures, where he would drop to the floor and become unconscious. And so, growing up, when the Anglican ...more
Mar 15, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
All that I really knew about James Madison was about his wife, Dolley, and how she saved the painting of George Washington from the British army during the invasion of Washington during the War of 1812.
But now that I have read this most enlighten book about James Madison I have a new appreciation and respect for this man.
Cheney gives a good overview of Madison in his early years. The people that he met and became friends with would help him for the rest of his life. He was the man that others tu
Kevin Christiansen
The book was not nearly as comprehensive as the Ketchum biography. I suspect that it was not the author's intention to give a definitive history of James Madison. It was a nice read, but I thought it could have delved deeper into a number of topics. In particular, I was disappointed that more time was not spent exploring the relationship Madison had with both Jefferson and Monroe. Because Madison and Jefferson are so deeply linked to each other, I think some authors have a tendency to separate t ...more
Chris Kostenko
Jun 05, 2014 Chris Kostenko rated it really liked it
I guess I have been reading a lot of history, because it is getting easier to see the author's point of view.

Although LC knows her history, and weaves her facts into a narrative that allows the reader the illusion of "being there", she falls short at presenting real drama that creates the kind of page turner readers of this period know and enjoy.

One very interesting piece:

While Madison served as secretary of state during Jefferson's presidency, he is attacked by a political opponent, and she wri
Mar 31, 2016 Sue rated it liked it
Madison was one of America's greatest men but is terribly underrated and not given proper due for his accomplishments. The man kept an infant country together despite the War of 1812 yet it is Dolley's actions we remember. Oh the opportunities his life story provides an excellent biographer like McCullough.

Cheney certainly did her homework but there was so much missing from this book. His presidency gets 30 pages? His courtship with Dolley is totally glossed over. Cheney spends way too much det
Laura Thompson
Sep 01, 2015 Laura Thompson rated it liked it
This book was not as good as I expected it to be. Maybe it is unfair that I am comparing it to McCullough's writing of the same period, but I enjoyed John Adams by McCullough much more than this book.

The main reason for not appreciating this book as much is I felt that instead of letting the readers form a judgment in regards to James Madison we were given the author's opinion. There are many examples in the book. Here is one:

"By the time of the Philadelphia convention, Madison was the politica
Dec 12, 2015 Sherry rated it it was ok
This book was really really dry. This book was great at giving every detail about what happened in the government during Madison's time period, but if you want to know anything about him personally, this is not the book to read.
As far as I can tell (this being the only biography of Madison I've read), the main part of his life that is being reconsidered here is his health. Madison has apparently usually been described as having "delicate" health. Cheney argues that overall, Madison was quite hale and hearty, but that his health difficulties can be ascribed to periodic epileptic symptoms, which would not have been something that anyone would really be talking about due to the belief that epilepsy was the result of demon ...more
Jean Poulos
May 21, 2014 Jean Poulos rated it it was amazing
“James Madison: A Life Reconsidered” by Lynne Cheney surprised me with new facts and perspectives, I was previously unaware of. The biography traces the entire life, but it is at its most absorbing in the retelling of Madison’s epic efforts from 1785 through the radification of the Bill of Rights in December 1791. Madison worked with Jefferson to write the Virginia Constitution, Madison was drafting the blue print that would later become the U.S. Constitution, including the important tenet for r ...more
Chris Burd
There were several times throughout the book when I got a bit stuck on questioning some of the superlatives used to describe Madison by the author. While unquestionably an exceptional man who made a significant positive impact on the developing United States, there was more than one place where the reference was something along the lines of the "greatest American" or the "most significant founding father".

With that aside, it was otherwise a great biography. It did not go into great background de
Apr 29, 2015 Jenny rated it really liked it
The first chapter or so of this book contains some over the top hero worship of James Madison. Then it settles into a more standard biography of James Madison. I don't think that this book provides a balanced view of the founding fathers as a whole, it is too focused on Madison at the expense of everyone else. Unlike recent biographies of Jefferson and Washington, Cheney does not focus on slavery and Madison's attitudes to it. Instead, slaves and life on Madison's plantation are mentioned almost ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Drtaxsacto rated it it was amazing
Until now there was one good biography of Madison with the depth and insight that this one provides. That is Ralph Ketchum's book of about 15 or 20 years ago. I am a big fan of Madison and this book only reinforced that view. What Cheney's narrative adds to the picture is considerable. First, you get a better idea of the breadth of his intellect - and his continuing encounter with ideas. I would have liked to have a bit more on his time at Princeton (although I had not known that his entire care ...more
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Lynne Ann Vincent Cheney, is a novelist, conservative scholar, and former talk-show host who is the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
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“The best way to avoid danger is to be in a capacity to withstand it.”45” 0 likes
“is common to youth and inexperience in like cases—but . . . unattended with that gracefulness and ease which sometimes makes even the impertinence of youth and inexperience agreeable or at least not offensive.” Rodney was a thoroughgoing eccentric who claimed to have personal visits from archangels, but odd though he was, his comment about the thirty-year-old Madison being fresh from college is revealing.32 A miniature painted by Charles Willson Peale about this time shows how Rodney might have made this mistake. The overall impression is of” 0 likes
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