Little Jimmy Rides Again

Books that refer in their titles to “the making of America” should generally be avoided.  The phrase is meaningless, except in the realm of nationalistic mysticism.  “America” was not made—she grew.  She certainly was not “made” by James Madison, who only officiously tinkered with her surface.  And which “America” is meant?  There have existed a number of different versions.  Used in such a way, the term can only mean an imaginary America of vague sentimentality, which has never really existed.

I wish Gutzman’s book had been simply titled James Madison: A Biography, for it is a better work of historianship than its hokey title suggests.  Kevin Gutzman is one of the abler young historians of the day.  He is steeped in the primary sources of the Founding and early national periods, sees things that have been missed by generations of celebrity historians, and writes well, with a light touch.  His biography is being billed as the new standard on its subject.  There is justice in this judgment.  The work is rich in context and detail, tells us all we will ever really want to know about “Little Jimmy” Madison, and is a moderate and balanced account of the subject and his times.  The author understands the Virginia context, and therefore Madison, better than anyone has...

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