As we all know (or so the sign welcoming us to Orange County, VA informs us), James Madison is commonly known as the “Father of the US Constitution.”
Despite this impressive legacy, however, there are few great, or even popular, biographies of this early president and influential leader. My library currently includes just three (but almost four) books on Madison.
The oldest (and the book I’m starting with) is the 1971 classic by Ralph Ketcham (“James Madison: A Biography”). Anyone who has ever read a Madison biography seems to have read this book. I’m about a quarter of the way into it now. Reviews are solid but not spectacular, but only time and more progress will help me render my own verdict.
Next up is “Madison and Jefferson” by Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, published in 2010. Rather than being a strict biography, this is more a tale of the extraordinary friendship and partnership between these two leading historical figures. Nonetheless, I hope to learn as much from it as I would an ordinary-course biography. I almost began the Madison presidency with this book but opted to start with an “old classic” instead.
Next, and currently hostage to the U.S. mail, is Richard Brookhiser’s 2011 biography “James Madison”. Reviews are underwhelming, but this will be my first book by Brookhiser so I decided to give it a shot. Also, I live “next door” to Madison’s home county (the photo above required about a six minute drive from my house) so I feel obliged to devote more than four inches of shelf space to his presidency.
Last is Kevin Gutzman’s 2012 “James Madison and the Making of America”. Here, too, reviews suggest something other than a gripping thriller, but I’m going to give it a try anyway. I (usually) love an underdog…
It is worth pointing out that James Madison’s Montpelier is just a thirty-minute drive from my house, so of course I have not yet visited. I’ve been to the catacombs in Paris, driven across the northern-most bridge in the world, and done a multitude of even more ordinary “touristy” things. But I’ve still not visited Monticello or Montpelier despite their proximity to my home. This will change shortly. Hopefully. Stay tuned.