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James Madison: The American Presidents Series: The 4th President, 1809-1817
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James Madison: The American Presidents Series: The 4th President, 1809-1817 (The American Presidents #4)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,042 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
A bestselling historian examines the life of a Founding Father

Explore Madison's rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation if the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress. Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and had to confront issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress,
Audio, 6 pages
Published August 17th 2002 by Macmillan Audio (first published January 1st 2002)
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Bill  Kerwin
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography

In James Madison, Garry Wills attempts to answer the question: how could one of our greatest Founding Fathers turn out to be—at best— just a decent, average president? What were the factors, in his character and circumstances, that brought about this result?

Circumstances were certainly against him, for he became president at a time of international conflict and had the war of 1812 almost forced upon him. (On the other hand, he eagerly embraced the war, seeing it as an opportunity to annex Canada
May 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: listened-to
Book fifteen of my Presidential Challenge. Let me get this out of the way right here: James Madison was a great man. He is known as the "Father of the Constitution" because he wrote a huge chunk of it. He also wrote the Bill of Rights...yeah, that Bill of Rights. If he had never become President he would still go down in history as one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived.'s the deal, he did become President. The fourth President to be exact. And by all outward measures, he was
Zohar -
This short biography of James Madison focuses on his time as president of the United States – imagine a biography of Miguel de Cervantes focusing on his time as a soldier in a Spanish Navy infantry regiment.

James Madison was a great theorist, extraordinary writer, cunning politician and an effective legislator – but as president he was simply “good”. Madison was never counted as one of the great presidents and author Garry Wills acknowledges as such in the opening of the book. As a matter of a c
Fred Kohn
I was quite excited to see this book by Garry Wills in the American Presidents Series, because I am working my way through this series and have had my eye on other books by Garry Wills. Win/win, right? I was shocked at how little I enjoyed this book by a well-known prolific and eclectic author with a massive reputation. It seemed like either Wills was writing with a gun to his head, or that he had originally written a 700 page book and the editors told him to whittle it down to 160. Sure, the wr ...more
Kai Palchikoff
Nov 12, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A bestselling historian examines the life of a Founding Father. Renowned historian and social commentator Garry Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress. Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and was forced to adjust some expectations he had formed while drafting that document. Not temperamentally suited to be a ...more
Robin Friedman
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Madison In The American Presidents Series

James Madison(1751 -- 1836) played a major role in organizing the Constitutional Convention, in drafting the Constitution, and in securing its ratification through writing "The Federalist" (with Hamilton and Jay). After the Constitutional Convention, Madison won a difficult debate with Patrick Henry which led to the narrow ratification of the Constitution in his home state of Virginia. Madison also worked valiantly for the separation of church and s
Zach Koenig
The first three Presidents in our country's history, George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, are usually considered to be pretty "big names" in their selected company. James Madison, however, is not, thus the challenge of creating an interesting summary of his life and presidency.

Author Garry Wills gives this cause a valiant effort, but ultimately does not succeed in living up to the previous three books. Sure, I know a lot more about President Madison than I had previously, but I n
Randal Samstag
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Garry Wills's short book on Madison is not the complete story on our puzzling fourth President, but it captures well the many contradictory positions which Madison embraced during his long life. Wills's book was a commissioned study in The American Presidents Series, so he concentrates on Madison's tenure as President, which most historians (except perhaps Lynn Cheney) see as not anywhere near to the quality of the presidencies of Washington, Lincoln, or FDR.

The most notable event in Madison's p
Father of the Consititution was less successful as president. Wills' writing is uneven...sometimes clear and concise, other times obfuscated.
Eric Paulsen
James Madison goes forgotten in most circles. Countless friends inquire how my Presidential Biography Project is going, and when I mention the name of our fourth president, many had no idea who he was, much less know anything else about him. I don't say that to shame anyone, for my knowledge of the man was limited to the 10 minute documentaries History Channel plays during President's Day. In my readings of his three predecessors, I have obtained a fairly general vantage into his life, particula ...more
Steven Peterson
Aug 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Garry Wills, eminent author on the American mind, writes a literate and compelling political biography of James Madison, "Jemmy" as he was called earlier in his life. Here was someone whose resume seems made to become president. Yet this man, "the Father of the Constitution," was not near the success that one might have guessed from his background.

His pedigree includes: key figure in the Constitutional Convention--from getting George Washington to attend (a coup) to helping structure the agenda
Alex Lee
Aug 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio, 2015, history
Here we get a tale of a bookish man driven by ideas. He learned through books, he legislated through principles -- but as a leader he proved to be mostly inept, unable to deal with a reality that didn't match his preconceived notions.

I do admire Madison for being the "father of the constitution". He saw much foresight in writing the constitution and helping with the bill of rights when he did. The United States wouldn't be as it is without him. Unfortunately though, that vision he had only worke
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wills has the gift of narrative that I wish all historians had; I stayed up past my bedtime finishing this book, turning the pages as if it were a thriller. I want to read more of the War of 1812 and I tip my hat to Wills.

The virtue of this biography rests in Wills' treatment of Madison's Presidency. Nearly two-thirds of the biography describes his two terms. Other biographers cover Madison's Constitution contributions, but it was his Presidency that tested this new Constitution. Wills describe
Other than the biography on George Washington, this book by Garry Wills was the best of the first four volumes in the American Presidents Series. I enjoy biographies that enable the reader to picture the man and the circumstances he was in in his or her mind's eye. The John Adams and Thomas Jefferson volumes in this series did not enable me to do that. This one did. I got a clear picture of what James Madison looked like early on, and I was able to picture him acting and reacting in the various ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gary Wills’s book on Madison gives an interesting insight into Madison life. You learn how Madison was a master legislator and is the leader drafter of the U.S. constitution. However, many of his strong character traits that lead to his success of before his reign in office lead to his weak Presidency. I believe you see this combination of a strong law maker but a weak president repeated in US in history multiple times (one example being LBJ). Madison intelligence an ability to work deals made h ...more
James Madison is the picture perfect Presidential flip-flopper, but in many ways this was because he grew as a person through his years in politics. He wasn't the best President and many of his own actions were the cause of his lackluster Presidency. He had a few obsessions that he would not let go no matter how many times they failed or floundered. For example, a trade embargo that wasn't influential in forcing the desired outcome yet he would not give it up. His cabinet was full of sparing pol ...more
Bart Breen
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another Wills Gem

Garry Wills is fast becoming a favorite Historian and Author to me.

As is his habit, he brings his pithy and rich style to an examination of Madison's Presidency which in many ways was decidedly less successful than his stellar legislative and constitutional achievements. Rather than stating surprise at this, as many historians do, Wills outlines why this outcome was somewhat predictable when the skills of Madison early on are examined dispassionately. Madison was a superb legisl
This biography, James Madison, wasn't quite what I was expecting. It focuses primarily on Madison's time as president, while I was hoping for more coverage on the other accomplishments he achieved during his life.

It was very interesting to learn that Madison, despite not accomplishing any of the goals he set forth at the beginning of the War of 1812, was able to bring the country together by basically abandoning his Republican principles during the war. It sounds like Madison was wildly popular
May 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography is a good primer to the fourth President - the first president who really came to the nation-building cause after the whole treason thing had passed.

James Madison is a bit of a conundrum - a great committeeman but not that strong or independent a leader. He can be considered personally responsible for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc., but he went on to build a nepotistic (and fraudulent) cabinet, managed to let the British burn down Washington, and was the ultimate flip
Russ Ewell
May 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Madison by Garry Wills describes the life of a policy genius and political workman. Mr. Madison has received very little public credit for the America we live in, because his mentor Thomas Jefferson was a colossus in whose shadow he disappeared. Yet reading Mr. Wills brief but deep biography Madison comes to life as the essential founding father.

Where Alexander Hamilton built the economic foundation of the country, which would allow for upward mobility based on merit, it was Madison who i
Jan 14, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
I must admit, I mostly chose this biography because of its length. I think it gave a fairly good overview of Madison, though it mostly focused on his time in office and I would have liked to learn a little bit more about his personal life than this biography covered.

Madison shaped our country quite possibly more than any other man, but as a president, he was simply average. He was a wonderful writer and a brilliant political mind but wasn’t the best leader. He was a bit of a flip flopper and he
Steven Taylor
Jun 29, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a rather brief book that is useful for getting some context about the Madison presidency, but is a lot less biographical than it ought to be. One does not get much of a sense of the man or even of his presidency (aside from the fact that it was somewhat dysfunctional).

Most of the discussion is understandably focused on the War of 1812, but in so doing the focus is less on the President at war as it is simply on the war itself. Indeed, there are some relatively lengthy segments that descr
I enjoyed this exposition, but I was disappointed there was not more detail about Madison the man and president.
While I understand that you cannot divorce the presidency of Madison from the War of 1812, the book was more about the war and its prosecution under (for the most part) inept and incompetent commanders. This was great military history; but I wanted to read a biography of James Madison.
That said, I did enjoy this book. Wills is a fantastic writer and has a great narrative style. His bo
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes called the Father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights, he was among the greats of the Founding Fathers. Sadly that didn't translate well into a great President. Responsible for the War of 1812, it was on his watch that the White House was captured and burned by the British. He was surrounded by incompetent advisors at first. Only late in his second term did he surround himself with better men. He was wildly popular as his second term wound down. Eventually he'd go on t ...more
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did not like this book very much at all,. I picked it up because I don't know very much about James Madison and I wanted to acquaint myself with him, but this book certainly wasn't a good start. I wish it had more details about his personal life and about his work before the presidency. I mean it does mention those things, but I felt like it went a bit overboard with the War of 1812. But I suppose I should have expected that since his entire presidency pretty much focused on that. I aldo didn' ...more
Jun 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Note: this is a review of the audiobook edition.

This is not a comprehensive biography of James Madison, but an exploration of his decision-making processes as a framer of the Constitution and as President. A lot of time is devoted to how Madison got the U.S. into and out of the War of 1812, which was a war that basically solved nothing geopolitically.

Madison was not a skilled executive by any means, and made some horrible personnel decisions, but he did manage to hold things together.

Aptly narr
Dave McMahon
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, Wills sheds light on a more obscured president. Madison's time as a legislator is well documented and interesting. It also brings interesting tones to the presidencies of Washington and Jefferson.

The part on the War of 1812 is interesting, specially as the description of the war is neither biased toward the American or British point of view.

Easy read, good entry into the history of James Madison.
Jerry Landry
Very good, solid biography of Madison. I like the premise that Wills begins the biography with and crafts it around from beginning to end -- that Madison had his flaws but that they could be understood as strengths in some of his more admirable moments (crafting the Constitution, aiding in writing the Federalist Papers, pushing the Bill of Rights through Congress, etc.). Very well done and highly recommended book.
After finishing the very good book in this series on Chester Arthur, I decided to try the book on James Madison next, who is one of my two favorite Founding Fathers along with Jefferson. Unfortunately I was disappointed in this entry; I learned a few things, but there wasn't anything very memorable about it, and Madison's writer didn't bring him and his peers to life the same way Arthur's did. I'll have to look around some more for a good Madison bio.
Jennifer Nelson
Garry Wills has produced a short, at times dry, little sketch of James Madison, mainly focusing on the presidency and the political culture of the time. Amid the dustiness, though, there were some very brilliant gem-like observations of and insights into James Madison’s personality and character. He takes a somewhat critical view of Madison’s presidency but pays tribute to brilliance of this man’s writing and thinking skills.
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  • Thomas Jefferson
  • John Adams
  • Andrew Jackson (The American Presidents, #7)
  • James Monroe
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Grover Cleveland (The American Presidents, #22, #24)
  • James K. Polk (The American Presidents, #11)
  • Martin Van Buren
  • Zachary Taylor
  • George Washington
  • Benjamin Harrison (The American Presidents, #23)
  • Rutherford B. Hayes (The American Presidents, #19)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (The American Presidents, #34)
  • James A. Garfield (The American Presidents, #20)
  • Woodrow Wilson (The American Presidents, #28)
  • Chester Alan Arthur (The American Presidents, #21)
  • James Buchanan (The American Presidents, #15)
Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

More about Garry Wills...

Other Books in the Series

The American Presidents (1 - 10 of 41 books)
  • George Washington
  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Monroe
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Andrew Jackson (The American Presidents, #7)
  • Martin Van Buren
  • William Henry Harrison (The American Presidents, #9)
  • John Tyler (The American Presidents, #10)
  • James K. Polk (The American Presidents, #11)

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