The rise of James Monroe from farmer to leader of a fledgling empire paralleled that of his country. His risk-taking, ability to undergo hardship in pursuit of bold visions was fueled by that of the country, and also inspired those he governed to reach and achieve.
The most interesting parts of the book dive deeper into the textbook thesis, finding nuggets that color Madison’s quirks and shortcomings. Hot-tempered and egotistical times, he generated such a rivalry with Alexander Hamilton that it nearly came to a duel, spared only by the intercession of Hamilton’s future Murderer, Aaron Burr, of all people.
He also suffered major falling outs with mentors Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that drove him to near disgrace and left him out of politics for interminable stretches.
A slave owner who arguably laid the groundwork for abolition by standing fast against the demands of southern industrial giants who sought to spread their inhuman ways westward, Madison rose from heroism during the Revolutionary War to orchestrate the Louisiana purchase and hold European forces in check with a mixture of diplomacy, intimidation, cooperation, and when it came to it, dogged, ruthless war.
The narration in the Audible version is somewhat stiff and dry, but expressive enough to expand beyond the realm of bland historical narration. The production value is spare and limited, but takes nothing away from the author’s gripping narrative.
Monroe was not only the last of his kind - the line remaining giant to have stood tall against the British in the 1770s and 80s — but in many ways the first of his kind. Not only a second, universally beloved Washington, but a precursor to bold, enterprising heads of state who eagerly and casually took their seat at the table at the head of the free world. America still operates under the Monroe playbook.