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

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  5,506 Ratings  ·  246 Reviews
Award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger recounts the life of James Monroe, who dedicated himself to serving his country and building AmericaOCOs future."
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Published September 1st 2009 by Da Capo Press
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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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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 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
Mar 16, 2013 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
Doreen Petersen
Nov 08, 2013 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.
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
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
Sep 14, 2014 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
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
Brian Pate
Jan 02, 2013 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
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
Nicolette Harding
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unger is a fantastic writer. He took somewhat bland subject matter (Louisiana Purchase) amd made it enjoyable and readable. This was quite the glowing love fest for Monroe. He was the last founding father, a poor planter, war hero who benefitted from the friendship and mentoring of Thomas Jefferson. Most importantly, he presided over the country during the "Era of Good feelings" the first time in our history when we were a prosperous nation not entangled in wars. Except for that darn slavery thi ...more
May 06, 2013 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.
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Minus the slaves....not a bad dude.
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
David Orphal
Unger has a wonderful topic in James Monroe: Revolutionary War hero, diplomat, Secretary of State and War, President.

On documenting Monroe's life, Unger does a good job. 3-stars

However, two things really stuck in my craw and lost a star on my review. First, Unger twice makes the claim that Alexander Hamilton wanted to be POTUS. On page 95, he writes about Hamilton and Jefferson, "Each had deep-seated ambitions to succeed Washington to the presidency and each attacked the other in pseudonymously
Gabriel Riekhof
Nov 04, 2016 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
Aug 07, 2016 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
Tom Schulte
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last of the founding fathers: the last founding father president before John Quincy Adams (certainly the next generation) and the third to die on July 4. I usually don't think of Monroe when I consider the founders, but he was there in Revolutionary War battle and instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase and defending Washington DC during the War of 1812. This book was an easy, enjoyable read on the man that presided over the Era of Good Feelings and holding a popularity akin to that of George ...more
Chiqui Esteban
Mar 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
I understand how people who write a biography feel attached to the person they're writing about, but this Monroe biography reaches a ridiculous level, looking more like the book a grandmother would write about her grandson, if that grandmother was also deeply partisan. And in order to show that Monroe was the greatest man ever, Unger also attacks everybody else who populates the Earth (with the exception of Elizabeth Monroe). Some of the worst moments: calling Adams, Jefferson and Madison mere ' ...more
Sep 27, 2015 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
Jan 17, 2015 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
Sep 23, 2009 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
Dec 28, 2015 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.
Good biography, although it's obvious that the author really admired Monroe and may have been a bit too willing to praise his victories and gloss over his mistakes. Monroe's wife and daughters were highly educated, and he favored increased education for women, which definitely earns this president points in my book!
Patrick Abdalla
You'll learn a lot about James Monroe from this biography. The problem is it's too much of a hagiography. Unger seems to gleefully shy away from any criticism of our fifth president and eager to not hand out accolades to anyone else in the story other than Jefferson.
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Unacceptably biased. Additionally, the Monroe presidency is reduced to a loose, weak highlight reel. Disappointed.
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an extremely positive, even laudatory, biography of James Monroe, fifth president of the United States and the last founding father of the country to serve as president.

The author takes exception a number of times to the general consensus of historians concerning James Monroe and his place in history. Most notably, Unger asserts (without giving much evidence) that Monroe was himself the author of the Monroe Doctrine. In most historical accounts, John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State unde
Marcus E. Huffman
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An Excellent Narrative and Introduction to a Top-tier President

Unger's portrayal of President Monroe is heroic from birth to death. The maturity Monroe displayed as an adolescent student and soldier is inspiring to any. His selflessness in sacrifice as a statesman is apparent, and his ability to unify this nation has yet to be matched by any other POTUS. After reading this book, I am tempted to rank James Monroe in my personal top five list of all the presidents.

I would have liked to have read m
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