Random House, $35.00, 848 pages
Louisiana State University history professors Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg have collaborated on a tremendously interesting and timely book about two of America’s founding fathers. Their work is at once scholarly and accessible. James Madison, our 4th President, and Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd, labored closely together in the gritty world of 18th century power politics, their work remains as important, and at the center of debate as ever. It has been said that if one likes sausages or Democracy that you shouldn’t watch either being made. This truism is made very evident within this excellent work.
Madison and Jefferson is a joint biography that concentrates on their professional lives, especially the political developments which followed the American Revolution, and into the work surrounding the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson, who spent much of the 1780s as America’s ambassador in France, and Madison, who is now considered the prime mover behind the Constitutional Convention of 1787, developed a very close working relationship.
With so much attention being paid to the intentions of the founding fathers, and the belief on the part of some to consider the document sacrosanct, this book shows us two powerful political animals plying their trade in uncharted waters. Far from being a divinely ordained piece of literature, the Constitution is the product of one part philosophy, one part compromise and two parts good ol’ fashioned horse-trading. Madison and Jefferson is well worth reading, while weighing in at a hefty 848 pages, Burstein and Isenberg’s lively biography is well worth the investment.
Reviewed by Brad Wright