James Madison: A Biography / Edition 1by Ralph Ketcham
Pub. Date: 03/29/1990
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
The best one volume biography of Madison’s life, Ketcham’s biography not only traces Madison’s career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It
The best one volume biography of Madison’s life, Ketcham’s biography not only traces Madison’s career, it gives readers a sense of the man. As Madison said of his early years in Virginia under the study of Donald Robertson, who introduced him to thinkers like Montaigne and Montesquieu, "all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man." It also captures a side of Madison that is less rarely on display (including a portrait of the beautiful Dolley Madison).
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I would like to say I enjoyed this book, but honestly, I found it brutally long and boring. While 660pages may be reasonable to detail a presidents life, far too many pages were neither biographical nor historical accounts, but analysis by the author and 'contrast & compare' commentary. Furthermore, key (very key!) historical events that I wished to learn more about were only touched upon. Specifically, the election and re-election events and the hand-over to Monroe. In the case of the latter, I don't recall reading more than a paragraph or so on the topic. When this text is edited down to 400 pages and the above issues addressed, I would be able to recommend this text, but until then, I would - with all due respect to the extremely knowledgeable author - suggest readers pass on it.
This book is a tour de force as an intellectual history of Madison's republican ideology and how the "nation builder" remained loyal to his bedrock beliefs even as world events placed enormous strains on the man and the politician. Ketcham's detailed look at the formation of Madison's ideology is unparalled in its scope and completeness. The author also provides a first rate and even-handed analysis of who was at fault for the burning of the capital during the War of 1812. The only down side to this tome is what I consider the unnecessary detail -- often mind-benumbing minutiae --around names and personages long forgotten and unimportant to the story of Madison's life. Having to read through the names of each of the visitors to the Montpelier mansion for Dolly's many parties and socials is just a distraction. Overall, the work will appeal to serious students of history and those with an appreciation of fine scholarship and detailed historical discovery. For those looking for an entertaining read, such as one might find in a popular biography like "John Adams", look elsewhere because this book requires time and effort. Well worth it, though, for the initiated.
THIS IS SUCH A WELL WRITTEN LOOK AT JAMES MADISON THAT YOU FEEL YOU ARE ACTUALLY WITH HIM, FEELING HIS FRUSTRATIONS, JOYS, AND VICTORIES. HIS PERSONALITY COMES ALIVE AND YOU SEE HIS STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES AND HIS GREAT RESOLVE. THIS IS A BOOK EVERYONE WHO IS INTERESTED IN OUR CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD READ.
Ketchum's biography is an excellent one volume account of Madison's life. For those who do not wish to read Brant's definitive 6-volume biography of Madison, Ketchum's work is a wonderful alternative. The author deals, in great detail, with the various influences upon Madison's constitutional thought, its maturation, and ultimate devotion to the concept of Republicanism. He defends Madison's actions in the war of 1812. At the end of the book, though, the reader doesn't feel that they really 'know' Madison. In other words, the 'inner' Madison is still elusive. Ketchum's treatment of the former President's years in retirement should have been more detailed. Nonetheless, it is an excellent book and well documented. Highly recommended for students of American biography and early American history.