James Madison was our most cerebral founder. What he had uniquely to offer was the theory of the extended, divided, self-regulating republic enshrined in the Constitution and defended in TheFederalist. But his intellectual bent makes him an unappealing subject for biography. Scholars, perhaps, thrill to the twists and turns of Madison’s political philosophy, but for general readers it can make for dull stuff. That may be why Richard Brookhiser has come to Madison only after publishing two books on Washington, one on Hamilton, an Adams family chronicle, and even a life of the relatively obscure Gouverneur Morris, among other works.

Whether by design or luck, Brookhiser picked a good time to revisit Madison. In this year of stalemate between a contemptible Congress and a feckless executive, Brook-hiser’s typically swift pacing, conversational style, and judicious choice of sourcesdo more than restore...


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