Myron Magnet is a New Yorker and an architecture buff. In his years editing the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, he produced the most aesthetically appealing quarterly in America with its black-and-white photographs of elegant New York buildings. But like many New Yorkers he seems not to have gotten around much to the rest of the nation: He only recently visited Mount Vernon and Monticello for the first time. That visit and others have had a happy result, his book The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817. It’s a blend of history and architecture, showing how the houses several Founders built (or added onto) reflected their character.

The greatest space is devoted to the most famous Founders—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Washington, the second son of a second marriage, lived in...

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