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

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,936 ratings  ·  120 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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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
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
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
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
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
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

“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.
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
After finishing this biography, the lesson is that Monroe was perfect. And James Madison was weak, small, and generally ineffective.

In fairness, I enjoyed this biography of James Monroe. I knew very little about him outside of what I had learned from biographies of other founding fathers, and there was much to learn. However, I hesitate to give this book a higher rating because of the transparency of the bias. There were moments when I rolled my eyes as Unger described yet another way that Monr
Mark Vikner
James Monroe was a 2nd or 3rd-tier president. While he presided over the first major peaceful period in US history - the Era of Good Feelings - he was also ineffectual in his 2nd term.

Unger writes a biography that seemed to be more a concise history of the Revolutionary period rather than a good public or private portrait of Monroe. He also paints a very biased, overly-flattering picture of the man, often at the expense of Madison, Jefferson, and JQ Adams. Unger would give no credit at all to t
David Bowman
I enjoy reading Presidential biographies, and was excited to encounter this recent book about our 5th president, of whom I knew little. In addition to being a very enjoyable read, I learned much about the man and the times. Yes - Mr. Unger comes across as a fawning fan, but this doesn't bother me so much. It seems more the rule than the exception that presidential biographers tend to lionize their subject, and it is interesting to me to compare biographies of two competing contemporaries - such ...more
I suppose when the nation was young that it was easier to be a pioneer and a visionary because the concept of a true democracy was an empty canvas. Still i can't help but marvel at the time in our nation's history when presidents actually did something; Monroe was a doer among doers. He held more offices serving his country than anyone in US history: governor, senator, congressman, ambassador to Britain, France and Spain, secretary of state, secretary of war; he fought and was seriously wounded ...more
An excellent biography of our nation’s 5th President the last of the Founding Fathers. It covers his career from his service as an aide to General Washington during the revolution. His service as a diplomat to France, Spain and England during both Washington and Jefferson’s terms where he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, exceeding his authority as he was only to buy New Orleans and West Florida. His wife helped free the Marquis De Lafayette’s wife from prison during the terror and they h ...more
Craig Williams
A very brief, easy-to-read biography, I was sometimes distracted by the author's obsequiousness towards the fifth President. Considering the many laudable accomplishments of Monroe, a major one being western expansion and saving the country from the jaws of defeat by the British in the War of 1812 (the importance of his role is widely corroborated in many US history texts), Unger's elevation of Monroe to a demigod wouldn't be so bad if he weren't so harsh of the other Presidents by contrast. Ung ...more
The Last Founding Father is a great overview on the life of the United States of America’s 5th president and one of the most seasoned diplomats James Monroe. The book covers the Monroe family (including his two degenerate brothers) and Monroe’s children from their times in Europe through the Ashlawn in Charlottesville VA. Monroe who served under Washington and arguably saved the life of Lafayette rose to prominence from his service and continued that service under his mentor Thomas Jefferson pla ...more
A novel, a novel! This biography for a novel!
At least, that's what I was thinking when I picked up my next read from my local library. Not yet having acquired a taste for these non-fiction works - I admit it readily. Though they are no doubt far superior in the long run, I still can't seem to savor them. I'm working on it though! - I was averse to reading yet another when what I really wanted to do was curl up on the couch with some fiction.
As it was, I sighed and opened to the first page of Har
The Last Founding Father is a great review of the life on James Monroe by Harlow Giles Unger. His early life is well documented up to the point of his presidency. The time that Monroe had during the Revolutionary War, his work overseas, and his leadership during the War of 1812 show how his relationships with prominent politicians developed over time. Where I found the book lacking was in the descriptions of his presidency. I feel that Unger dismisses The Era of Good Feelings and doesn't go into ...more
Andy Miller
This was a well written, interesting book that read like a novel, I often did not want to put it down. It included many fascinating stories unknown to me, his role in crossing the Deleware on Christmas, leading the capture of the cannon and being wounded in the process. His wife going to prison during French revolution and getting the release of LaFeyette's wife while Monro was ambassodor was a very compelling story.

I enjoyed reading the perspectives of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Mar
David Fox
Jun 10, 2012 David Fox rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Founding Father enhthusiasts
More Than Just a Doctrine

Say James Monroe & instantly, if you know anything about American history, you think Monroe Doctrine. You might not, as was the case for me, be able to intelligently discuss the particulars of this doctrine, but you do know that it's still famous & referenced reverentially by both Democratic & Republican Presidents. Monroe was a lot more than this - he was a true American war hero in the original Revolution & War of 1812. He was a savvy negotiator, who wi
Unger, Harlow Giles. THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness. (2009). ****. This is a general biography of Monroe in a popular, connect-the-dots style. Although there is no new ground broken or old ground explored in any new way with new data, the author has masterfully covered the main points of Monroe’s life and career. Moving quickly from his childhood roots, Unger takes us to Monroe’s role and performance in the War of the Revolution, where he quickly and nota ...more
This book focuses primarily on James Monroe’s pre-Presidential political life, which I found good and bad. I loved that I learned so much about his work as a Founding Father, and his life abroad because these both deeply impact his Presidential views and decision making. However, I would have like a bit more on his actual time during the Presidency as well. I am learning with each passing biography I read as part of this challenge that I want more – longer books and more details. I have a feelin ...more
Regina Lindsey
James Monroe, as the last founding father to serve in the White House truly does close an era of history. Unfortunatley both he and Elizabeth Monroe have been largely overlooked by history to our detriment since there is much to learn from this family.

As a young man Monroe joined the revolutionary cause and fought bravely for this country, surviving a life threatening wound. Following in Washington's footsteps he didn't accept payment for his service. This would set the stage for a lifetime of
Alan Jacobs
For a James Monroe biography, this is pretty good. I read a lot of founding father bios, and they are often over-long and filled with too many details about the minutiae of diplomatic memos, when what you want is some sense of the person and the great events in which he was involved.

This book skips many of the details, but, unfortunately, gives too many details in one area: I don't know how many times I read descriptions of the beauty of Elizabeth Monroe, the clothes she wore, the clothes the d
What versatile and talented men our country was fortunate to have at its founding, devoted to liberty, freedom, and the growth of the country.
James Monroe was a soldier in the Revolutionary War with George Washington, a friend, neighbor, and student of Thomas Jefferson and the Fifth President of the United States. He had a role in most state and Federal offices during his life: Governor of Virginia, Congressman, Senator, Minister to Britain and France, Secretary of State under James Madison and
Chuck Collins
This was a remarkable exposé on America's best President since Washington and until Lincoln. James Monroe not only shaped America but, in many ways, set in motion the destiny of the Western Hemisphere. I found Mr. Unger's enthusiasm for this volatile period in history compelling and vivid. One criticism might be the equivocation concerning Mr. Monroe's view of slavery, but that is minimal given the Virginian's life and times.

I did come away with the notion that had Mr. Monroe been president 30
Well written and detailed, this is a good biography of a President and Founding Father who is relatively unknown. What prevents this from being a great biography is the author falls into the all-too common trap for biographers: hero-worship of the subject. It seemed as if Monroe could do no wrong, and any failings were not his fault, but the failings of others around him (Jefferson, Madison, his cabinet, etc.). For example, the book belittles Madison for being a weak president and not having con ...more
John Potiris
In a time of unrest where a small colony fights against the world’s most powerful nation James Monroe helps form and finish many of these nation’s founders hopes and dream for it. This Biography is on James Monroe it starts with him as a child and the life he had as a son of a carpenter. This biography goes through the role of James Monroe in the Revolution and as one of the Founding Fathers and as a President of the United States. He struggles in the beginning of his life with the death of his ...more
James Monroe, the last founding father is probably the least known and understood of those who created the concept of the United States. I admit, my knowledge of Monroe was his drafting of the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution and the "Monroe Doctrine."

Unger does a very good job of chronicling Monroe's life. Unlike other Founding Fathers, he was not from a wealthy family. He did have a good education, and basically apprenticed with Washington and Jefferson. As a politician, he was a true cen
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