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James Madison and the Making of America

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  756 ratings  ·  82 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
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
Aimee Tate
Dec 28, 2011 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.
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 Fo
Alex Orr
Jul 10, 2014 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
Dec 22, 2011 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 a
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
Steve Smits
Feb 17, 2012 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
Jun 03, 2012 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 particu
Paul Pessolano
Jan 31, 2013 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 “T
Shannon Lovejoy
Dec 16, 2011 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.
Robert Owen
Jun 21, 2013 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.
Jul 08, 2015 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
May 06, 2013 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’s “James Madison”
Casandra Hassett
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I greatly enjoyed this book with the exception of 1 chapter.

What I liked. This book was pretty detailed in his political accomplishments. We go into great detail during his time at the Philadelphia convention and Virginia's Constitutional convention and many of the details were new to me.

Downside: we do skip a few things, well maybe not skip but graze over a few of his bad decisions.

Upside: in no other book that I have read about Madison have we gone into this great detail about hi
Mar 15, 2012 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 Secretary of Sta
David Murrell
Aug 05, 2012 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 r
Apr 09, 2013 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 spe
Apr 05, 2014 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
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
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
If someone is looking for a biography of the country's fourth president, this is not the book.

This book is heavy on Madison's role in creating the Constitution, defending it in the Federalist Papers, and then seeking is ratification in Virginia. The author spends a great deal of time setting forth Madison's positions on various parts of the Constitution. This book would be a good companion to someone reading the Federalist Papers, since it elaborates and clarifies Madison's thinking
Scott Pearson
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
James Madison was a genius. He was the main crafter of the United States Constitution and its main defender/expositor in the Federalist Papers. He saw human and governmental problems more deeply than anyone else in his era. We have him to thank for our world's embrace of democracy and self-government.

Nonetheless, he might not succeed as a politician in the television era. He was small and had a soft voice. He had aristocratic tendencies. He was exceedingly bookish. As such, his biogr
Jan 03, 2014 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
Pam Kearney
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I was expecting a biography, but this was really more of a detailed, almost hour by hour account of Madison's involvements/contributions first in Virginia, and then in the American Revolution (the Federalist Papers, the U.S. Constitution, etc) Those interested in how important documents in our country's history came to be will enjoy this well researched work. I actually didn't enjoy this one as much as most non fiction works of the Revolutionary War Era, probably because of my expectations. I wa ...more
Jan 15, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book. Overall, the author did a good deal of research and I learned quite a bit about Madison and his large contribution to writing the constitution.

Unfortunately, this book read like a collection of documents all pieced together. Though highly factual, the read was quite dry. In my opinion, the author failed to really bring Madison and his story to life.
Al Lock
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have always admired James Madison, both for his efforts during the writing of the Constitution and his arguments on the limitations that document prescribes on the power of the Federal Government. It is enlightening to see how Madison's positions varied over the years. His human failings are clearly displayed. Great book, highly recommended.
M Nyberg
Jun 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is as much or more about the development of America and constitution post revolutionary war than it is about Madison. But then again, Madison is not a very exciting figure. Unlike Washington, Adams and Jefferson, Madison is some what boring. I wish more attention would have been payed to Dolly Madison. She is quite interesting. This is a very heavy read.
Debbie Jacob
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A thorough biography of Madison and a detailed look at the history of the constitution. The author manages to convey Madison as a person, which is not an easy task given the fact he was anything but a publicity-seeking person.
Brad Hart
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I certainly wouldn't call this the definitive biography on James Madison but it's still a wonderful source of information (accurate information) on the life of this extremely interesting and important Founding Father.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very detailed but very readable.
Mallen Baker
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
The telling of a good story is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. In this book, the recounting of the debate that created the constitution of the US, and then ratified at, leaves nothing out. That makes it hard going. It's of interest if you really want to get a sense of where all the sensitivities were, what were the flashpoints, and how arguments were expressed. And I did, so I persevered and was glad to have done so. But this is not a biography that grabs you and leaves you ...more
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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
“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever … nor shall … suffer on account of his religious opinions … but all men shall be free to profess … their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” 0 likes
“As far as they were concerned, if the U.S. government did not extinguish its debt, there would always be public creditors. Those creditors, who would come from among the wealthiest Americans, would support the U.S. government. The Union would thus be cemented. Madison cooperated closely with Hamilton and” 0 likes
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