I know that this sounds kind of lame, but when I chose a biography to read about James Madison, I chose by length. There were only a few that were even out there. There were two that had pretty good reviews: this one (at about 200 pages) and a big old, huge 700 page one. While I’m interested in ol’ James Madison I wasn’t really ready to read 700 pages so I ended up with this one.
I am oh so glad.
While this was short, it really did pack a punch. From the get-go the author said that the general view of James Madison is that he was a great politician and a great man but really not a great president. His goal with this book was to really lay out why that was. Because of this goal, the whole book just tied together so well. Every bit of info that Garry Wills shared about James Madison supported this fact. This led to a real cohesiveness that made this kind of scholarly book really readable.
That being said, this book was kind of boring. James Madison is just sort of dull. Even the War of 1812? Kind of boring. How can a WAR be boring?! But it really was. A lot of the book was dedicated to Madison’s politics and how they shaped his presidency. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a super political person and I would have rather read more about his marriage or about his home life. Ya know? That isn’t really a knock against this book, but it’s just a personal preference.
Learning how much influence James Madison had on the Constitution was a little bit overwhelming. It’s incredible that someone that we know so little about is still shaping our country in so many ways is just kind of crazy. Even though there were all these low points in his presidency, seeing just what he did for our country is enough to kind of leave you in awe.
I do wish that there had been a little bit more about James Madison’s personal life, but outside of that I was really happy with this book. It was written is a scholarly but readable way. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about one of our most prominent founding fathers but doesn’t want to dedicate a full week to reading about him.