…[Brookhiser's] sprightly narrative will serve as an entertaining introduction for those who are making their first acquaintance with Madison. Moreover, Brookhiser's book is a useful corrective to some of the recent works in the fields of political science and law that place excessive emphasis on Madison the theorist…Brookhiser effectively argues that Madison, by melding his knowledge of political theory with shrewd political instincts, deserves a place close to the top of the list of America's most successful politicians.
The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"A useful introduction to a man who is often outshone by his presidential predecessors but who nevertheless was instrumental in creating our modern political system." Kirkus
Having once remarked that "if men were angels, no government would be necessary," James Madison lived a life dedicated to establishing a government that would both check the passions of the public and usher in the "rule of law." Much more than a minion of Jefferson, he was a true politico who understood the value of enlightened public opinion, the utility of an effective partisan press, and the necessity of political compromise. Having previously examined the "Holy Trinity" of the Federalist Party (Washington, Hamilton, and Adams), Brookhiser (senior editor, National Review; Alexander Hamilton, American) turns his relaxed and accessible writing style to the oracle of American constitutionalism and "father of modern politics." VERDICT While Brookhiser underestimates Madison's more radical ideas in an effort to claim him as a prize for modern conservatives, he has produced an exceptional synopsis of the essential founder's political life. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg's recent, outstanding Madison and Jefferson provides a much more in-depth biographical account, but Brookhiser gives fans of the Revolutionary generation and those interested in the origins of American politics an engaging and succinct narrative.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
Brookhiser (Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement, 2009, etc.) explores America's tangled two-party political system and the man instrumental in creating it, James Madison (1751–1836).
The author investigates Madison's transition from ideological framer of the Constitution to a fervent party man who fought against the Federalist party for decades and led his Republican party during its first military foray, the War of 1812. Though he came of age under the influence and tutelage of luminaries like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Brookhiser's portrayal of Madison grounds him in the backbiting, often inglorious machinations of his contemporary political system; this approach is both significant and refreshing in presenting Madison as a flawed man, rather than a godlike "founding father." The author focuses exclusively on Madison the politician, and thereby exposes some of Madison's less respectablemotivesfor tackling his political enemies—one favored strategy was to enlist vocal, if not always reliable, journalists to spearhead political attacks in the rough-and-tumble world of early American periodicals. This practice, coupled with Madison's lifelong faith in the power of public opinion and his commitment to protect the freedom of the presses, opens an interesting avenue into this early usage of public opinion and blustering journalism to shape public policy. This is a slim volume, noticeably so in a biography of an instrumental man like Madison; as such, there are episodes of both personal and political moment that would greatly benefit from additional context and analysis. How, for example, could two such close allies, Madison and the fiery Alexander Hamilton, find themselves at opposite ends of a bitter political feud over the role of central government? What was at stake, other than a rather parochial land lust, for Madison and Jefferson as they pursued western expansion? How did Dolley Madison, historically recognized as the first "political wife," contribute to his politics and his personal life?
A useful introduction to a man who is often outshone by his presidential predecessors but who nevertheless was instrumental in creating our modern political system.