Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Favorite Reads: A Perfect Union

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past. July is American History month!

A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor

Summary (from the publisher):
An extraordinary American comes to life in this vivid, incisive portrait of the early days of the republic—and the birth of modern politics hen the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of American politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s newly minted capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain in 1812, Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and, by her death in 1849, was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she’s best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House, or as the namesake for a line of ice cream.

Why did the Americans of her time give so much adulation to a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, Catherine Allgor reveals that while Dolley’s gender prevented her from openly playing politics, those very constraints of womanhood allowed her to construct an American democratic ruling style, and to achieve her husband’s political goals. And the way that she did so—by emphasizing cooperation over coercion, building bridges instead of bunkers—has left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.

Introducing a major new American historian, A Perfect Union is both an illuminating portrait of an unsung founder of our democracy, and a vivid account of a little-explored time in our history.

Why I chose this book:
A fascinating story of the woman who was the first "First Lady" as we think of her (Martha and Abigail stayed home on the farm, and Thomas Jefferson was widowed.) She helped smooth out her husband's rough edges when dealing with politicos and she saved the famous painting of Washington when the Brits burned down the White House in the war of 1812. Really shed light onto an era of American History I wasn't very familiar with. Dolley was sharp, outgoing, fiercely loyal to her husband, and without her, the US would look very different today. I listened to the unabridged audio of this book, and it was really fantastic. One of the best history books I've ever read.

1 comment:

Alyce said...

This is definitely not a book I would normally pick up (too many bad experiences with boring history books). Thanks for the recommendation! Really all I know about her I gleaned from a visit to Montpelier a few years ago, but even that wasn't much, especially since they were remodeling at the time, so it was a short tour.