• James Monroe

  • A Life
  • By: Tim McGrath
  • Narrated by: Arthur Morey
  • Length: 28 hrs and 54 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (224 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The extraordinary life of James Monroe: Soldier, senator, diplomat, and the last Founding Father to hold the presidency, a man who helped transform 13 colonies into a vibrant and mighty republic.

“A first-rate account of a remarkable life.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America)

Monroe lived a life defined by revolutions. From the battlefields of the War for Independence, to his ambassadorship in Paris in the days of the guillotine, to his own role in the creation of Congress's partisan divide, he was a man who embodied the restless spirit of the age. He was never one to back down from a fight, whether it be with Alexander Hamilton, with whom he nearly engaged in a duel (prevented, ironically, by Aaron Burr), or George Washington, his hero turned political opponent. 

This magnificent new biography vividly recreates the epic sweep of Monroe's life: His near-death wounding at Trenton and a brutal winter at Valley Forge; his pivotal negotiations with France over the Louisiana Purchase; his deep, complex friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; his valiant leadership when the British ransacked the nation's capital and burned down the Executive Mansion; and Monroe's lifelong struggle to reckon with his own complicity in slavery. Elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816, this fiercest of partisans sought to bridge divisions and sow unity, calming turbulent political seas and inheriting Washington's mantle of placing country above party. Over his two terms, Monroe transformed the nation, strengthening American power both at home and abroad. 

Critically-acclaimed author Tim McGrath has consulted an extensive array of primary sources, many rarely seen since Monroe's own time, to conjure up this fascinating portrait of an essential American statesman and president.

©2020 Tim McGrath (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"This is a welcome and long-overdue portrait of an essential American. Soldier, diplomat, and president, James Monroe was a vital figure in the early Republic, and Tim McGrath has given us a first-rate account of a remarkable life." (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power and American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House)

"As Tim McGrath deftly demonstrates in this nimbly written and meticulously researched biography, there is much more to James Monroe than the famous doctrine that bears his name. This is the captivating story of a president who after gaining his political reputation amid the partisan battles of the early republic, did his best to bring a nation together. That Monroe was only partially successful makes his presidency all the more relevant to our own contentious times. Highly recommended." (Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times best-selling author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea

"Tim McGrath’s James Monroe fills out a luminous portrait of the most underappreciated of our Founders. In this comprehensive new biography, McGrath colorfully portrays the man whose ambition transformed the shape and character of our nation. Monroe will be underappreciated no more." (Joel Richard Paul, author of Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times

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Large and inconsistent, much like Monroe himself.

The last of the Virginian dynasty, McGrath goes a bit too far in describing Monroe the last of the Founding Fathers to be president. While definitely a part of the Revolutionary Generation, Monroe cannot really be described as a Founding Father as his political career only started after the war and most notably, he opposed ratification of the Constitution.

At most and throughout this inconsistent biography, Monroe comes across as an "able lieutenant." I.E. a colleague of Madison and Jefferson's around the margins who finds his own pathway to political prominence in Virginia. McGrath's attempts to bind Monroe to Washington's hip strains credulity and isn't support by the text.

McGrath does a passable job contrasting the early, hyper-partisan Monroe with the latter, more "Presidential" and compromise-seeking Monroe. Unfortunately, we never quite get a sense of WHY Monroe was so partisan other than "Federalists/Hamilton bad" nor do we get a great understanding of how Monroe's thinking changed as he rose in station. Maybe it was a factor of the Federalists no longer being a major political force/foe by the time he was President that Monroe could afford to be magnanimous in victory. Maybe Monroe's experiences as a diplomat and the war of 1812 mellowed him towards his domestic political opponents -- McGrath doesn't really help the reader understand. Instead we get, at times, a fairly dry recounting of day-to-day machinations of Cabinet work.

Some passages stand out however, the lengthy description of the slave rebellion led by Gabriel Prosser is very well done even if the rest of McGrath's treatment of Monroe's views towards slaves and slavery is fairly pedestrian and a bit too "friendly" to be credible. There are only so many times one can describe Monroe as hating slavery (but not doing anything about it because of money issues) before the claim begins to ring hollow.

Another very interesting, if admittedly minor, theme that nevertheless gets a lot of attention is Monroe's constant money troubles. SEVERAL pages are spent throughout the book describing Monroe's debt problems and his attempts to get repaid for various expenses incurred throughout his public service. It's almost like reading an 19th century audit.

McGrath's writing style is adequate but never rises above that. Much of this book feels like an "accordion" in that we spend a LOT of time on certain time-periods of Monroe's life (or digressions like Gabriel's rebellion) and then a very quick/dirty fast forwarding through other parts to the next long-form section. McGrath's coverage of Monroe's second presidential term is dominated by the development of the Monroe doctrine but done in a way that still feels rushed. Equally rushed is Monroe's post-presidential life.

A welcome addition to presidential biographies, but inconsistent writing and narrative theme prevents it from being more.

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Skip this one, save the time and pain



If you are ready to listen to almost 30 hours of a book that could an should be no more than 10 this is this book

If you really love to know a million unimportant, irrelevant and frugal details you will never remember you even hear, this the book

If you want to focus on the type of carriage the main personage used, the color of the shirt he wearied and other “important” information instead of the real character of him, this is the book

In short? Skip this one

It was a miracle I could listen to 3 chapters…

 

 

2 people found this helpful

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Interesting Story

I had not known much concerning our fifth President including his challenges as a farmer and extensive experience in Europe. A lot of interesting details.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent bio

Monroe wasn't a giant in the way that Washington, Jefferson and Madison were but he did lead a very eventful and interesting life that is well worth a major biography.

He crossed the Delaware ahead of Washington, fought against ratification of the constitution, was a member of the early Senate, Governor of VA during a foiled slave rebellion, a diplomat in France just after Robespierre's fall and then again in the Napoleonic era where he played a big role in the Louisiana Purchase before becoming Madison's Secretary of State and Secretary of War and of course a two-term President. He was close to Jefferson and Madison as everyone knows but also had extensive dealings with many other major figures including Hamilton (whom he nearly fought in a duel), Lafayette, Thomas Paine, John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Andrew Jackson.

McGrath delivers nicely on all this, admiring of Monroe but not engaging in hagiography. Monroe like his friends Jefferson and Madison was a slaveholder and always crying poverty while living like a wealthy aristocrat. McGrath tries to address slavery a bit especially with Gabriel's rebellion but doesn't get much into the financials other then pointing out how frequently Monroe used his own money to pay for things the govt should have (which doesn't explain how both Adams' managed to hold similar jobs and stay solvent).

Arthur Morey's voice takes a little getting used to but overall he's a good narrator.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent.

Fair and generous recounting of one of the most underrated Founding Fathers. Well researched and lacking in any unnecessary virtue signalling of the type common in modern accounts of the Founders.

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Knew very little about Monroe

I knew very little about James Monroe, but after listening to this book I have a much deeper appreciation for him. His accomplishments and what he has done for the creation of this country cannot be overstated.

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An Extremely Thorough, Balanced Biography

If you're looking for a general overview of President James Monroe's life and years in office, this isn't the book to read. "James Monroe: A Life" is extremely detailed and exhaustively thorough, not only recounting the major and minor events in the fourth U.S. president's life, but drilling down and covering everything that led up to and resulted from them. For example, seemingly all the debates, conversations and letters written by public officials regarding the Missouri Compromise are included here, which some readers might find overwhelming.

But this isn't a flaw of the author's. Tim McGrath can't be accused of not doing his research. The biography is impressive and highly informative, and the audiobook is well-narrated.

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Quiet Greatness.

Monroe has always been one of my favorite American heroes and this book is a testiment to that fact.....the only detractor being the repeated mispronounciation of several names and towns, like, "George Wythe", and a few others. but if this is the only detractor then there are not any.....

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An Historical Tome for The Ages

This is an historical account for the in-depth reader. Not a casual walk in the park type of volume - though the satisfaction drawn from the subject's presentation is proportionate.

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incredible all around

I really love this book as it sees everything. circumspectly, lays it out in very clean sequence, and is read by a great voiceover actor. fantastic work, and has opened my eyes to how important James Monroe was, despite all of his faults common in his era.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-20-21

A lesser known president is now better known!

One would think having a a continuing foreign policy doctrine named after you, this president would be better known. This would be the first mistaken assumption. James Monroe was not the only author. One could assume that Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams were the only founders of what we know as the United States. That is an error as well. We forget the sustainers: those who wholeheartedly accepted their oath of office and ensured the nation endured internally and in its relationship with the nations of the world. James Monroe was the lead sustainer. A well written and well read book.