“James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity” by Harry Ammon was published in 1971, making it the oldest of the well-read biographies of our fifth president (though this is not a particularly crowded field). Ammon is formerly a Professor of History at Southern Illinois University and the author of “The Genet Mission.”
Long regarded as a “go to” biography of Monroe, Ammon’s book is clearly intended primarily to inform and not to entertain. Like most presidential biographies of its era, it is long on historical facts and wisdom and relatively short on captivating anecdotes and observations.
Some of the blame may rest on Monroe himself, who had little of Jefferson’s worldliness, John Adams’s irascibility or the keen political cunning of Madison. Monroe was not a man of tremendous intellectual brilliance or…
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