Heather's Reviews > A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

A Perfect Union by Catherine Allgor
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Sep 08, 2011

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bookshelves: 19th-c, 18th-c, audio-book, library-book, non-fiction, united-states, first-lady
Read from September 08 to 28, 2011

First of all, I was drawn to this book because of my fascination with all things Dolley Madison. I was actually trying to find a biography that I had read about her years ago and stumbled across this one. Without knowing the title of that previous read, I think I enjoyed this one a little less and I will elaborate on the reasons further on. Most people today do not know that much about this amazing woman – more than the cursory of saving Washington’s portrait and serving ice cream in the White House. But she was so much more than that – really she was much of the power behind her husband’s presidency.

This book did do a great job of giving the reader a solid understanding of just how much of a political role Dolley had and how important she was not only to her husband’s presidency but that of Jefferson as well. You get a well rounded idea of who she was and why she was so well known.

I was also thrilled by the quantity of primary source documents and references that were peppered throughout the book. We are privy to many of her letters to her friends and sisters which provide not only a glimpse at the political but also the private life of this lady. You are able to feel very connected to her thoughts and feelings through these words.

But, there were also some aspects of this book that I thought could have been much better. First of all, there is a lot of repetition of phrases – and it’s not done to drive home a particular message – it is more like there needed a better job in the editing process. When these things are noticeable there is a something wrong. I kept thinking, “you already told me that!”. I also thought that there was a little bit too much time spent on the personal life of Thomas Jefferson. To some extent this is necessary as Dolley did a lot for Jefferson as well, but there came a point when I started thinking I was reading a Jefferson biography instead and lost sight of the subject of the book. I would also have liked a little bit more about James Madison – he just appears and then they are wed. He is someone who’s backstory would have fit well into the book and helped support more of Dolley’s story as well.

Overall this was a decent read, but I have read better – and I would recommend it if I could come up with the title!

The narrator, Anne Twomey, did a decent job of narrating this non-fiction work. I never lost interest in the narrative and she was able to keep your attention – which can sometimes be difficult when listening to a biography. The sound of her voice leant itself to the subject – I could believe her to be Dolley as her personal letters were being read.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by CLM (new)

CLM Maybe you read Elswyth Thane's book about DM?


Heather I don't think it was that one, but thanks for the suggestion! I will keep looking!


message 3: by Jan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jan I'm surprised by so much this author had to write about Jefferson & am simply trusting her extensive research. He doesn't seem (to me) to be such a 'great' man, benevolent, wise founding father. It seems he's duplicitous, cunning, manipulative, a hypocritical, just like most politicians we presently have.:) I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version.


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