Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pg. 99: Catherine Allgor's "A Perfect Union"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Catherine Allgor's A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation.

About the book, from the publisher:
When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere -- which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain -- 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.

Why did her contemporaries so admire a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, acclaimed historian Catherine Allgor reveals how Dolley manipulated the constraints of her gender to construct an American democratic ruling style and to achieve her husband’s political goals. By emphasizing cooperation over coercion -- building bridges instead of bunkers -- she left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.
Among the praise for A Perfect Union:
“Delightful and discerning.... In this evocative study a remarkable woman, creator of the ‘first lady’ role, comes vividly to life.”
--New York Times

"The erudition and charm of this biography are rivaled only by that of its subject...."
--Publishers Weekly

Allgor "captures Dolley's charisma and her essential role in the politics of her time."
--The New Yorker

“Allgor ... is a fine writer and a perceptive historian who easily captures the political landscape of early America. She provides helpful guides to various battles dividing the country: Federalists vs. Republicans, Anglophiles vs. Francophiles, and New England (the region voted most likely to secede) vs. everyone else.”
--Christian Science Monitor

“For some time Dolley Madison has been a beguiling ornament, flashing her femininity in the parlors of the early American republic. Here, at last, Catherine Allgor, with great style and wit, recovers a different Dolley, a full-fledged political partner with James Madison. Now, in addition to John and Abigail, we have James and Dolley.”
--Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington

“Where is Dolley Madison when we need her? Catherine Allgor makes clear that Mrs. Madison's skills as a hostess and politician held the country together when rabid partisanship threatened to tear it apart. This is a well-told biography of a true nineteenth-century celebrity, but a celebrity with substance, savvy and courage.”
--Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
Catherine Allgor is a professor of History at the University of California Riverside. Her previous book is Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (University of Virginia Press, 2000), which won the prize for the best first book by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Pulitzer Prize Winner Joseph J. Ellis calls it, "An extraordinary piece of work, easily one of the most intellectually original and stylishly elegant first books I have ever read."

The Page 99 Test: A Perfect Union.

--Marshal Zeringue