Monday, October 09, 2006

The Great Little Madison, by Jean Fritz

Jean Fritz
ISBN: 0-590-43749-6
Book #06-144

James Madison is perhaps best known for being the fourth President of the United States, but this biography, published by Scholastic, brings Madison's many other achievements to light. Small in stature and in voice, yet in possession of a formidable intelligence, Madison was an unlikely figure to shape the Constitution. He hated public speaking, mostly because he could rarely be heard beyond his immediate circle of listeners. If it were not for his passionate dedication to the Constitution as the ultimate law of the land, America might have taken on a very different national identity. In the years leading up to the War of 1812, with New England threatening to secede from the Union and the battle between political parties roiling at its vituperative worst, the nation seemed to be holding its collective breath, waiting to see if the fledgling country would stand on its own or collapse like a house of cards.

This slim book is packed with loads of interesting information. Many readers may be unaware of what a spoiled twit Dolley Madison's son (by her first husband) was. Many of the stories students learn about American history are fleshed out in Fritz's book, including the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the squabbles over where the nation's capital should be located, and the bitter struggle between two major political parties for control of the nation. Fritz's kamikaze approach to writing is a bit confusing at first: his account of Madison's life begins almost in mid-thought, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear and engaging. Young readers with a love of history will enjoy the appearances by many of the glitterati of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially since most of the leading figures of the day are portrayed as normal people (with normal flaws) who did extraordinary things when the occasion called for them. THE GREAT LITTLE MADISON is a great little book about a truly remarkable figure in early American history.

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