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Lynne Cheney plans James Madison biography

After eight years in Washington, Lynne Cheney plans to write about a politician she regards as "steady," "reserved" and given to working "from behind the scenes."
/ Source: The Associated Press

After eight years in Washington, Lynne Cheney plans to write about a politician she regards as "steady," "reserved" and given to working "from behind the scenes."

No, it's not a memoir about her husband, Vice President Dick Cheney, but a biography of James Madison.

"I think of him as an intellectual and political genius," she says during a recent interview. "It's a rare combination."

Cheney's book, "Founding Genius: A Biography of James Madison," will be published in 2011. Madison is a favorite of Cheney's, dating back, she says, to her work in the 1980s on the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. Cheney sponsors an annual James Madison Book Award for historical writing for young people and has written several children's best sellers about American history, including "A is for Abigail" and "When Washington Crossed the Delaware."

Led by David McCullough's "John Adams," all the major founders have been subjects of best sellers over the past few years — except Madison, regarded as a brilliant thinker and tactician by historians, but also too dull and reclusive to inspire a compelling biography

"He has the style of an insurance policy writer," says Joseph Ellis, author of the million-selling "Founding Brothers" and of "His Excellency," a best seller about George Washington. "The Madison papers have very few moments of eloquence."

But Cheney says she is drawn not only to Madison's mind, especially to his advocacy of free expression, but to his life, to his marriage to the very lively Dolley Madison and to his leadership during the War of 1812, when the British burned the White House. The bond becomes more personal when Cheney travels to Virginia, driving along Dolley Madison Boulevard, "the route she took" when the first lady fled from the British.

Cheney usually is published by Simon & Schuster, but "Founding Genius" will be released by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) where Cheney will work with editor Wendy Wolf, whose authors include Nathaniel Philbrick, Kevin Phillips and Steven Pinker. Cheney's literary representative, Washington attorney Robert Barnett, praised Wolf, but also said that the money was key.

"There was a great deal of interest in this book. Viking made the best offer, and Wendy Wolf is a terrific editor," says Barnett, whose clients include President-elect Barack Obama and former President Clinton.

Barnett declined Tuesday to discuss financial details.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have said they wanted to write memoirs, although publishers have urged them to wait, citing the administration's low approval ratings. First lady Laura Bush is already shopping a proposal, with Barnett as her representative.

Lynne Cheney, asked if she was considering a memoir, said, "Someday I might think of that," but added, "right now I'm so happy to be focused on Madison."

Once her husband leaves office, she says their immediate plans are to return to Wyoming, where, thanks to the Internet, she can research her Madison book.