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The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  4,378 Ratings  ·  217 Reviews
In this compelling biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals the epic story of James Monroe (1758–1831)—the last of America’s Founding Fathers—who transformed a small, fragile nation beset by enemies into a powerful empire stretching “from sea to shining sea.” Like David McCullough’s John Adams and Jon Meacham’s American Lion, The Last Founding Father is b ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Da Capo Press (first published September 1st 2009)
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Mary LaPointe I am only 75 pages into it, so far it seems Monroe is in awe of Washington and that Washington has taken him under his wing due to a request made by…moreI am only 75 pages into it, so far it seems Monroe is in awe of Washington and that Washington has taken him under his wing due to a request made by Monroe's wealthy Uncle. I will keep your knowledge in mind as I continue to read the book. It is the current one on my phone that I read when stuck waiting somewhere.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Martin Bihl
As I’ve said in preface to reviews of other bios, I accept a level of bias in these things – because you can’t expect someone who has dedicated several years of their life to studying someone to remain objective. But you know you're in for an exceptionally wild ride when, in the introduction, the author refers to Adams, Jefferson and Madison as mere "caretakers" and implies that Monroe was the obvious heir to Washington’s legacy.

But hey, everyone gets to have an opinion, and Unger should be no d
A more suitable title for this biography may have been something to the effect of James Monroe: the Musings of a Fanboy. You might think I'm exaggerating, that, like many biographers after years of research and editing, Harlow Giles Unger was just a bit taken with his subject at the time of his writing. In that case, I'll direct you to Exhibit A (which I've tried to keep mercifully short).
Washington’s three successors—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—were mere caretaker presiden
Jay Connor
Mar 27, 2011 Jay Connor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating President who deserved a less subjective biography. Monroe by himself is due five stars, but the fawning, blind-eye treatment by Unger diminishes rather than elevates. I can't think of one situation where Unger finds fault in his hero. If recent historical biographers (from Vidal to Ellis to McCullough to Chernow) allow us to see and relish in the founding generation -- warts and all -- why isn't James Monroe, who certainly deserves to be in the pantheon of greatness, afforded this ...more
Doreen Petersen
Dec 28, 2015 Doreen Petersen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents
I really loved this book. To me James Madison was a just and honorable man and president. He gave his all for his country. What I find disturbing is the way subsequent politicians have perverted his legacy. I would definitely recommend this book.
Oct 02, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book Twenty-Eight of my Presidential Challenge.

James Monroe's life plays like a Presidential Greatest Hits Album. You want a revolutionary war hero like Washington? Boom! You want a President who will greatly expand the size of the U.S. like Jefferson (as well as being in love with France?) Bam! You want a pragmatic politician slowly working his way up through the ranks like Van Buren? Boo-yah. You want a super attractive and fashionable First Lady like Jackie O? Pow!

Monroe really did it all. Th
Jul 23, 2016 J. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-reads
Hyperbole and inaccuracies abound. Hyperbole, I can forgive, inaccuracies I cannot. Monroe in this account, like a Dean Koontz character, can seem to do no wrong. I took this on because I had no time currently to read the biography by Harry Ammon, which is reportedly the best written about the man to date. Unger here makes Monroe out to nearly be the greatest President in our nation's history. True, he was a Revolutionary War hero and implemented the Monroe Doctrine, which was essentially the re ...more
Steven Peterson
A readable biography of President James Monroe, the last of the Virginia Dynasty (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison). This work makes a strong case that he was an able political leader and a capable President. People probably need to know more about Monroe, and this book would be an aid for those not knowing much about him. The book is a fairly quick read.

It traces the usual arc of a biography--from his family's background to his youth to his actions during the Revolutionary War to his public s
Brian Pate
Dec 08, 2013 Brian Pate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-presidents, 2013
Interesting and fast-paced. Very pro-Monroe biography.

Unger's thesis seems to be that Monroe is the rightful successor to Washington. He minimizes Monroe's three predecessors by calling them "mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack, its capital city in ashes" (p. 2). Unger repeatedly points out similarities between Monroe and Washington (e.g., pp. 263, 268, 314). In short, he believes that America was the "nation [Monroe] had i
John Brackbill
I listened to this on the audio book format.

James Monroe was a loyal man, a family man, and a good friend. He remains influential today through the used and misused "Monroe" doctrine and he has forever left his stamp on American given his part in securing the vast territories that make up much of our nation today. The effort of Monroe to unite the nation and his success in that was impressive. Reading this made me wish we were in an era that had a presidents that brought the people together in
Richard Bray
Harlow Giles Unger’s James Monroe biography, THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: JAMES MONROE AND A NATION’S CALL TO GREATNESS, reads less like a biology and more like a sacred tomb for acolytes to use in worshipping the do-no-wrong object of their devotion.

The parts where Unger is simply relaying the events that happened are well done and quite readable, but all too often, he offers opinions designed to glorify Monroe and his wife beyond all reason.

By Unger’s description, Monroe was preceded by three pre
Jul 11, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” is one of the most recent of author Harlow Unger‘s nearly two dozen books. He is a former journalist, broadcaster and professor and has written biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry, Lafayette and George Washington, among many others.

Unger’s biography of Monroe is, on a basic level, extremely readable and entertaining, but excessively opinionated and needlessly provocative.
It must be difficult to write a biography about someone without turning that person into something of a protagonist. I don't expect perfect objectivity from biographers - certainly if a person is worth writing about they probably evoke strong feelings one way or the other - but this biography blows past 'championing' James Monroe to downright trying to deify him.

The most offensive phrase, of course, is the obviously infamous 'caretaker president' quip about Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, but th
Jean Poulos
I have read Unger’s biographies of John Quincy Adams, Patrick Henry and George Washington and have enjoyed his writing style.

The author does a good job telling the story of the pre-presidential years in a fast paced informative succinct manner. In the book Unger claims Monroe alone wrote the Monroe Doctrine. Yet in his biography of John Q. Adams he implied John Q. helped Monroe author the document. Unger states that Monroe was not a strategic thinker but he describes him as hard working, observa
Aug 26, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't put this biography down. Like many of his contemporaries James Monroe's life was full of amazing accomplishments. As a teenager he volunteered to fight in the American Revolution, crossed the Delaware to be wounded at the Battle of Trenton, where he nearly bled to death. In his twenties he was a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses, and then ran against James Madison in the first congressional election. He served as one of Virginia's first U.S. Senators. President Washington sent h ...more
Larry Bassett
This book is pretty effusive about the expansion of the United States. James Monroe was eager to make the country a one party political system in the book suggest that he had some success in bringing the parties together. The book is a bit giddy about the good feelings in the country. The biggest loser according to the book was the president who preceded James Monroe, that is James Madison who is portrayed as incompetent. In fact the book claims that James Monroe was the defacto president for th ...more
Sep 27, 2015 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this overview of the little known President. About the only thing that I knew before I read this book was the "Monroe Doctrine".
I now have a better understanding President Monroe.
He a truly a remarkable man (with an equally remarkable wife, Elizabeth).
It's very interesting to see how different authors describe the same events and show them from the point of view of their subjects.
Monroe's relationship with Madison & Jefferson seem a bit more like they were all equals, peers, but th
Apr 27, 2016 Susie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
This was excellent. I confess that I knew very little about James Monroe before I got into this little presidential adventure of mine, but he's emerging as one of my favorite founders. I love his attitude, and I suppose it was partly a matter of luck, but his administration was truly one of good feelings. Dude got it done. Dude got so much done, and got a little bit shafted by the government over and over and over again, but he just kept coming back for more, so strong was his passion for public ...more
Gene McAvoy
Oct 20, 2009 Gene McAvoy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this presidential bio, perhaps a bit more than the preceding 4 presidents. Monroe was much more of a patriot than I realized. It is a shame that the early presidents were treated so poorly by Congress. Each one Washington thru Monroe died heavily in debt or living as a dependent of their children. Conversely, it seems very sad that the last few presidents in my memory have been so lionized by their supporters. Perhaps Monroe was right - this country might do well without political part ...more
Tom Buske
Jan 11, 2016 Tom Buske rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good account of the life of our 5th President, James Monroe. After reading this, you may want Mount Rushmore blown up so that Monroe's face can be added to it. Seriously, Monroe's presidency was quite effective (national unity, strong economy doubling of the size of the country due to the Louisiana Purchase (which he helped negotiate)), especially in relation to his close friend James Madison's relatively disastrous terms.
Really liked learning more details about the early days of the Republic of the United States. Author did stress all the positive attributes and actions of Monroe; sometimes I wondered if he were a bit too adulatory.* Also, I needed to slow my reading when coming upon so many passages quoting directly from primary sources. Wished Unger had simply paraphrased the material. I do appreciate it when authors cite their sources as he did in the concluding notes; feel he could have put the passages ther ...more
Betty Confetti
I've greatly enjoyed this biography because I knew so little of James Monroe. Some interesting aspects of this book for today--the loss of a two-party system led to very specific problems that undermined the country and President Monroe. During his early career, Monroe followed in the footsteps of Jefferson to despise national authority, and yet expand it while Chief Executive. I also learned a lot about the Madison presidency--its weakness and now Monroe came to exemplify the command that Madis ...more
“Then look at the map of United North America as it 1783. Compare it with the map of that same Empire as it is
now...The change, more than of any other man, living or dead, was
the work of James Monroe.” – Former President John Quincy
Adams, 1831

Ask any high school student to tell you who James Monroe is, and
some of them may know he was a president of the United States; some
may even know he was the fifth. Of those who know who he is, were
you to ask what he did in his lifetime, some may even
Gabriel Riekhof
Nov 17, 2016 Gabriel Riekhof rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: Most of the time, I have a favorite quote or theme, which serves as a logical beginning to any summary, but I have neither of those after reading this book. So, I am trying to balance writing a negative review without sounding like I’m complaining.

I completely understand developing a fondness for your subject, but in “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness” Harlow Giles Unger goes completely overboard. The entire book reads like a passionate defense
Dec 28, 2016 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Granted the author's fawning over James Monroe got to be a little much, I still loved this book. There is no doubt that like his predecessors, Monroe was an imperfect man, but loyal to the cause of the United States, loyal to his family and to his friends and colleagues. He went out of his way to help others and was a gentleman. His speech in which "the Monroe Doctrine" was revealed was given context as well as "The Era of Good Feelings." He was a remarkable man.
Craig Golden
I really enjoyed learning about the life of James Monroe, which I admittedly knew little about before. He is a very intriguing figure and president. The book itself, however, was too detailed for my taste.
Monroe has an interesting place in history with all the roles he held, and this book hits on those well, but it portrays most of the women in Monroe's life as very one-dimensional.
Jan 07, 2017 Ovijit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read on our "last founding father".
Dec 20, 2016 Lena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2016
Very interesting book about our fifth president.
David Beeson
This is not a good biography of James Monroe, but not completely useless, as long as you already know something about the period: it fills in some information which biographies of Monroe’s contemporaries might leave out, but you really need to have read those biographies first, or other studies of the time, to make sure you spot the exaggerations and wild interpretations.

For instance, Unger describes John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as “mere caretaker presidents who left the nation
Brent Ecenbarger
Five books into this presidential reading challenge, I'm starting to get some perspective on this whole "what makes a good president" thing. For starters, the circumstances somebody inherits gives the most opportunity for success and failure. James Monroe took office right after the War of 1812 and had virtually none of the trials that his predecessors had in office with European powers. The result was a booming economy and an Era of Good Feeling and a second term in office running unopposed. Ho ...more
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