A Perfect Union by Catherine Allgor, Anne Twomey |, Audiobook (CD) | Barnes & Noble
A Perfect Union

A Perfect Union

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by Catherine Allgor, Anne Twomey
“Delightful and discerning . . . In this evocative study a remarkable woman, creator of the ‘first lady’ role, comes vividly to life.”The New York Times
When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s capital.


“Delightful and discerning . . . In this evocative study a remarkable woman, creator of the ‘first lady’ role, comes vividly to life.”The New York Times
When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere—which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain—Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband, James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and by her death in 1849 was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she’s best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House.
Why did her contemporaries so admire a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, acclaimed historian Catherine Allgor reveals how Dolley manipulated the contstraints of her gender to construct an American democratic ruling style and to achieve her husband’s political goals. By emphasizing cooperation over coercion—building bridges instead of bunkers—she left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.

Editorial Reviews

Writing about Dolley Madison (1768-1849), one is all too tempted to paint her as a modern; perhaps as a Federalist-era Jacqueline Kennedy, elegant, cosmopolitan, tactful; or as a proto-feminist born centuries too soon. Catherine Allgor's subtle portrait of the wife of our fourth president demonstrates that such forced parallels are unnecessarily; Dolley's skills as a savvy hostess and a charming diplomat require no contemporary counterpart. As the award-winning author of Parlor Politics notes, Madison's sensitivity to local politics registered even on her wallpaper; in her Virginia home, she favored French décor; in Washington, she adopted more nationalistic tastes. An elegant biography of an influential First Lady.
Mary Beth Norton
In this evocative study a remarkable woman, creator of the "first lady" role, comes vividly to life.
— The New York Times
Susan Dunn
… [the book] paints a lively and colorful tableau of Washington in the early 19th century and also of Dolley and James as a couple. For they were indeed a couple. James Madison pitched in, helping to organize dinner parties, meticulously making seating plans. Eighteen years older than Dolley, he was joyous when she agreed to be his wife in 1794. She was less enthusiastic. "Dolley Madison! Alass!" she wrote to a friend. But eventually they were signing their letters "ever affectionate" and "with unalterable love."
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Twomey's dulcet tones smooth out the sharp edges of Allgor's biography of Dolley Madison, her polished reading lulling listeners into pleasant reverie of the American political past. Allgor's book itself is not always so pacific, concentrating on the era of instability and violence surrounding the War of 1812, and Dolley's influence on her husband, James Madison, and the new American capital that she reigned over as First Lady. Twomey occasionally sounds like an announcer in a prescription-drug commercial, employing her most soothing tone to read off a list of potential side effects, but the effect is pleasant, her reading serving to calm the storms of the past, smoothly sailing over the choppy waters of the American early 19th century. Simultaneous release with the Holt hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 23). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, was, through her salon and dinner parties, an influential, behind-the-scenes politician during America's early years. A Perfect Union is not only a fascinating biography of a charming, savvy, and beautiful woman, it is the detailed story of the growth of America, its early customs and political wrangling. Madison defined the role of First Lady and was able to tread the thin line between being an impressive aristocrat who could rival any lady in the courts of Europe and a simple, homespun American. Anne Twomey's narration is uneven; at times her enthusiasm and enjoyment of the book come through, while at other points her voice becomes a monotone. Recommended for the biography sections of academic and public libraries.-Ilka Gordon, Park Synagogue Lib., Pepper Pike, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
No union is ever perfect. Yet it's not a stretch to consider Dolley Madison the perfect First Lady, "a bridge between presidential dignity and democratic accessibility."As Allgor (History/Univ. of California, Riverside) details, Dolley and James Madison certainly enjoyed an uncommonly good partnership, perhaps against the odds. He was 43 and she 25 when they married, he retiring, she fond of the social swirl; James-Allgor puts himself on a first-name basis with the founding couple-"resided most comfortably in the theoretical realm, happiest when composing or untangling complex political theories," while his wife was a master of practical diplomacy. She put her skills to work early on, when James became Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state; one of the more newsworthy aspects of this book is its revelation of Jefferson's misogyny and poor manners, which resulted in more than one diplomatic flap, especially when they were combined as in the wonderfully complicated "Merry affair," which almost caused new warfare between the fledgling United States and England. So skillful was Dolley at repairing some of the damage Jefferson did that she even managed to fly under his radar, even as he sternly condemned other women active in Washington politics. Dolley also forged a diplomacy of the dining-room table that brought together feuding Federalists and Republicans; "by welcoming all and making her house the place to see and be seen, Dolley also upped the social ante, making society even more necessary to politics in the capital city." So it was when she became First Lady, taking charge of making a White House worthy of the name, soon to be burned by the British in the War of 1812, in which sheemerged as a national hero. Allgor also credits Dolley with skillful campaigning that saved her husband's bid for reelection in 1812. A welcome life of a woman who deserves greater representation in history books.

Product Details

Publication date:
Sound Library
Product dimensions:
6.73(w) x 7.12(h) x 1.56(d)

Meet the Author

A professor of history at the University of California–Riverside, Catherine Allgor has received the George Washington Egleston Prize, the Lerner-Scott Prize, and the James H. Broussard First Book Prize for Parlor Politics. She was awarded a Bunting Fellowship for her work on Dolley Madison.

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