John Adams

John Adams

The enthralling, often surprising story of John Adams, one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- "the colossus of independence," as Thomas Jefferson called him -...

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Title:John Adams
Author:David McCullough
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Edition Language:English

John Adams Reviews

  • Mary Etta

    Since reading John Adams I have continually been reminded of my delusion of our country's history. Today as I saw the conclusion of the John Adams' series on HBO I realized I was one of those John Adams saw as "deluded" by the artistic portrayal of our history in Trumbell's "Declaration of Independence." Adams was right. Too many of us believe Trumbell's view of the Declaration of Independence not acknowledging the many difficulties over many years before and after the signing of that great docu

    Since reading John Adams I have continually been reminded of my delusion of our country's history. Today as I saw the conclusion of the John Adams' series on HBO I realized I was one of those John Adams saw as "deluded" by the artistic portrayal of our history in Trumbell's "Declaration of Independence." Adams was right. Too many of us believe Trumbell's view of the Declaration of Independence not acknowledging the many difficulties over many years before and after the signing of that great document.

    I'm reminded of that as we too often expect other countries to simply get their act together over a short space of time to form a more free country such as we enjoy. It was never easy. It shall never be easy. There must be always those within the country who are willing and able to do something to make a difference. It takes many making a difference and it takes respect for one another--never simple. Much happens in the process in the making of people. God raises up good and able men and women to make a difference among every people.

    An important book to read.

  • Stephen

    Tidy up your prose, sharpen your story-telling, knowledge up on your source material and bring your entire bag of game, because the gauntlet has been chucked, the bar has been raised and David McCullough has taken off his literary glove and pasted all of you upside your second rate heads. The challenge is before you.

    This is,

    , the best biography I have ever read. It is also, again

    , the best story on the American Revolution and the creatio

    Tidy up your prose, sharpen your story-telling, knowledge up on your source material and bring your entire bag of game, because the gauntlet has been chucked, the bar has been raised and David McCullough has taken off his literary glove and pasted all of you upside your second rate heads. The challenge is before you.

    This is,

    , the best biography I have ever read. It is also, again

    , the best story on the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America that I have ever read.

    The breadth, depth and detail of this biography is unbelievable. Epic does not begin in describe it. It is epic epicness on an epically epic scale. This is only appropriate given the subject matter.

    After finishing this book, I believe the John Adams is the "founding father" I most admire. By making that statement, I do not want to downgrade the importance of the others. Jefferson was arguably more intelligent and was clearly the better writer. Washington was the most beloved and admired figure and without his leadership, the fledgling country would not have had a much needed symbol to rally around and the revolution may very well have failed. Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, James Madison, Samuel Adams, John Jay and all the rest deserve to be acknowledged for their significant contributions.

    So why John Adams? Two simple but very important reasons. First, John Adams, through the beautiful prose of McCullough, came across to me as the quintessential

    . True, he was short tempered and intellectually vain in so far as he very much desired to be acknowledged as "great" by his countrymen. He was a man with many faults.

    However, he

    allowed any of his shortcomings or personal desires to influence any decision he made or any action he took. He was a

    and every action he took and decision he made (though not always correct in hindsight) was what he genuinely

    to be in the best interest of the country. Thus, he came across in this story as the person who most aptly illustrated the qualities of

    .

    In contrast, Jefferson's "behind the scenes" attacks on Adams and his inability to even acknowledge the same later on struck me as shallow and less than admirable. I point that out not to bash Jefferson (who I also admire) but to demonstrate that even the best of men had moments when they did not act in accordance with their conscience. Everyone that is, except John Adams, who never seemed to waiver from the path his conscience set before him.

    The second reason, and one that goes hand in hand with the first, is the absolute devotion, respect and love that he and his wife, Abigail, displayed for one another throughout their lives. Call me sappy and overly sentimental, but I was absolutely awe struck by the level of commitment and affection that they felt and showed to one another even across great distances and during long years when they hardly even saw each other. John and Abigail drew strength and comfort from one another in a way that was special and unique.

    This just cemented for me the truly exceptional nature of John Adams' character. He made me proud to be an American and to have such men in my country's history. Anyway, to sum up, I loved this book and give it my HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!! 6.0 Stars.

    One final note: for those of you that listen to audiobooks, I wanted to point out that I listened to the unabridged version (all 30+ hours of it) narrated by Nelson Runger and Mr. Runger did an amazing job that I believe added both to my enjoyment and absorption of the material.

  • Chrissie

    I haven’t read a book this good in years!

    I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this book.

    This is a book about a man, John Adams, but it is also much, much more. It is a book about American Independence, the American Revolution and

    the Founding Fathers, the seven most important being George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, George Madison and Benjamin Franklin. The book follows all the events from the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutio

    I haven’t read a book this good in years!

    I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this book.

    This is a book about a man, John Adams, but it is also much, much more. It is a book about American Independence, the American Revolution and

    the Founding Fathers, the seven most important being George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, George Madison and Benjamin Franklin. The book follows all the events from the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution, through the presidencies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Madison, James Monroe and finally John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president!

    This is a book about

    , each very different in character, but the author brings each one of them to life. I adore learning about people. I loved the book for this reason alone. You understand how the individuals think, what they feared, what they loved, what made each one special. You understand their differences. It is the little details that will make you LOVE this book. John Adams, this guy wrote volumes in the margins of his books. Jefferson loved his books too, but rarely did he write in them. The relationship between these two men is extraordinary. John Adams relationship with his wife Abigail is extraordinary too!

    I love how it taught me history, and it was never ever boring. I don’t read books about politics, but this book is definitely about politics, and I adored it! I normally avoid books on politics because I find them confusing. Why? Because for me politics doesn’t follow the rules of logic. A party claims they stand for a given set of principles, but then the politicians do not follow these principles. The result is that I get confused. A central theme is, and particularly John Adams presidency and the following election where he sought his second term but lost it to Jefferson, was a battle of politics, and yet I understood exactly what was happening. This book is clear, informative and presents a balanced view of

    the prime players.

    by

    is stupendous. I cannot help but compare it with

    ’s

    , which I recently read and loved, but Isaacson’s book doesn’t come near to McCullough’s. John Adams wrote letters to all his contemporaries, to newspapers, public officials, friends and his dear wife Abigail. He kept diaries. John Adams was opinionated. Jefferson and Franklin were close-mouthed! After his presidency, when he was much older, Adams wrote copious letters to his dear friend and previous arch-enemy, Jefferson. Adams is the person to follow if you are interested in learning about American Independence, American life in the colonies during the 1700s and about France and England and Holland too, about the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. It is all here and it is all interesting.

    Every page has quotes. Don’t assume that this makes the book dry and difficult to read. The opposite is true! You learn about the peculiarities of all the important Founding Fathers. Jefferson bought and bought and bought. He couldn’t stop buying. It is the way the author depicts these small idiosyncrasies that will make you laugh out loud! Jefferson lists all that he buys, but the funniest is that the columns and columns of purchased items are never added up. Never. Both Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, fifty years after the Declaration of Independence!!!!! Guess which one was wealthy then! I REALLY love this book and I want you to understand that this is the book to choose if you have any curiosity about any of the Founding Fathers, about American Independence or about life in Europe during the 1700s and early 1800s.

    Have I convinced you to choose this book? Here is another reason why! The descriptions of the people, places and events are

    ! When the British ships are set to attack at Staten Island you see them in the sun and you

    the imminent threat. At Washington's inauguration he travels in a canary yellow carriage pulled by white horses. I am skipping all over the place, I know, but the descriptive quality of the lines is perfect throughout the entire book. I personally adored the depiction of French, English and Dutch mores. I adored how family problems are described so you laugh. Charles, one of Adams’ sons, had some difficulties in Harvard and almost got thrown out. Yes, they were running around naked. But wait, you will cry too when you learn of his final fate. “Moral” and so very devoted to his wife as Adams is, you should hear his conversation with the French women! “Instincts” will show us what to do, he replies to a tricky question about men and women’s sexual behavior! :0) This reply is just so perfect; it is so “Adamsee”! And Hamilton, oh what he does! I could wring his neck!

    All the details are amusing, engaging, thorough, and

    . When I compare Isaacson’s versus McCullough’s portrait of Benjamin Franklin, I feel that McCullough’s is superior. His is unbiased and clear-sighted. An author may not “fall in love” with the character being portrayed; impartiality is essential. So here is my advice: read

    first! The two are similar, but this one is superior. Read

    ’s

    afterwards if you then still want a little bit more about Franklin’s scientific inventions. Nelson Runger is the narrator of both of the audiobooks. Yes, he slurps and seems to need to swallow his saliva repeatedly, but there is less of that in McCullough’s book. His French pronunciation could definitely be improved, but otherwise the narration is fine. Don’t shy away from either audiobook for these reasons. The narration’s speed and clarity is fine, and that is what is most important.

    I really did enjoy

    , but I absolutely loved

    ! And I think I sort of have a crush on John Adams, even with his faults! What a man! What a time! What writing!

  • Diane

    This is a must-read for anyone interested in the American Revolution. I would call this David McCullough's masterpiece, except I've read several of his remarkable books, including

    and

    , and they are all so good I don't think I could pick a favorite.

    But let's get back to John Adams, who, along with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, was a critical founder of America. If you've seen the impressive HBO miniseries based on this book (starring Paul Giamatti and the ama

    This is a must-read for anyone interested in the American Revolution. I would call this David McCullough's masterpiece, except I've read several of his remarkable books, including

    and

    , and they are all so good I don't think I could pick a favorite.

    But let's get back to John Adams, who, along with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, was a critical founder of America. If you've seen the impressive HBO miniseries based on this book (starring Paul Giamatti and the amazing Laura Linney as Abigail Adams), you already know the outline of events. John Adams was a lawyer in Massachusetts, and after the Boston Massacre in 1770, he agreed to defend the British soldiers, arguing that "facts are stubborn things." Despite widespread anger toward the British, John Adams won the case.

    Meanwhile, the colonists were growing increasingly dissatisfied with their English overlords, especially with their "taxation without representation." When a Continental Congress was formed in Philadelphia, Adams was chosen to represent Massachusetts. It was there that he found his voice in politics, and met the other men who helped design the American government we know today.

    Adams was also sent to France and England as an ambassador, and the stories of him abroad were charming in their fish-out-of-water-ness. Oh, and let's not forget Adams became our second president (and his son, John Quincy Adams, became our sixth).

    In short, John Adams lived an amazing and full life, and had an impact on history that few have the opportunity to do. Aside from being a fascinating person, what really makes this biography shine are the passages from letters that John and Abigail wrote to each other. This is where McCullough excels as a writer of history, in weaving together the best quotes and stories and making the narrative flow as smoothly as a novel.

    I came away from this book a great admirer of John Adams, and grateful that he was in the right place and the right time to help build this new country. He was smart and fair, but also stubborn and vain. He was a good man with flaws, as many of us are. As I write this,

    the musical is a huge hit on Broadway, but in my mind, John Adams deserves his own show.

    "The source of our suffering has been our timidity. We have been afraid to think ... Let us dare to read, think, speak, write."

    "Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives."

    "So, it was done, the break was made, in words at least: on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence. If not all thirteen clocks had struck as one, twelve had, and with the other silent, the effect was the same. It was John Adams, more than anyone, who had made it happen. Further, he seems to have understood more clearly than any what a momentous day it was and in the privacy of two long letters to Abigail, he poured out his feelings as did no one else: 'The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.'"

    "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

    "The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know ... do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough."

  • Matt

    McCullough dazzled with his depiction of Harry Truman and brings that passion now to look at the life of John Adams. As he tackles the more daunting task of bringing this Founding Father and former president to life, through a plethora of research and historical tomes, McCullough illustrates the varied life Adams lived and the complexities of his journey. Presenting Adams as both a man of the people and a politically-minded gentleman, McCullough shows how he shaped the formation of the United St

    McCullough dazzled with his depiction of Harry Truman and brings that passion now to look at the life of John Adams. As he tackles the more daunting task of bringing this Founding Father and former president to life, through a plethora of research and historical tomes, McCullough illustrates the varied life Adams lived and the complexities of his journey. Presenting Adams as both a man of the people and a politically-minded gentleman, McCullough shows how he shaped the formation of the United States and led it through its early years. Crossing paths with numerous greats, Adams not only took from them but also added some of his own ideas, which benefitted all who took the time to synthesise the discussion. Throughout the biography, McCullough shows three predominant sides to Adams, all of which play an important part in his entire personality: Adams the advocate, the political leader, and the family man, though not necessarily in that order of importance. Written in a clear and fluid manner, McCullough does an amazing job of showing John Adams to be more than a stuffy politician who signed the Declaration of Independence. I have new-found respect and admiration for Adams and took way so much from this one book, as I do whenever I give McCullough the chance to teach.

    McCullough makes reference throughout that Adams enjoyed playing the role of advocate, especially for the underprivileged. In his early years as a lawyer, Adams handled defending those whom others would not assist, citing that he wanted to grow both in his knowledge of the law as well as strongly believing that everyone deserved a proper defence. McCullough shows that Adams sought to use his way with words (both the written and spoken) to present as strong a case as possible, no matter the defendant. One might extend this advocacy to Adams' role in Philadelphia, where he acted as one of Massachusetts' representatives at the Continental Congress. Adams planted the seed of formal independence from Britain in the minds of many, through speeches and shaped legislation. McCullough comments that Adams sought to advocate as vociferously as possible against the oppressive George III and tried to promote the idea of an independent country whose rights ought to be held in Congress, not some far-off parliament with no representation. McCullough illustrates Adams' passion for independence and while some of the pre-conference happenings receive but a passing mention (Boston Tea Party, for example), the actual constitutional discussions at the Congress receives much attention and exemplifies how Adams shone repeatedly. After declaring their independent interests in 1776, Congress sent Adams abroad to advocate for treaties of support and commerce in France, as well as peace with England when it became clear that George III's armies would be no match for Washington's forces. Congress went so far as to appoint Adams as the first Ambassador to the Court of St. James', an awkward honour in which Adams thrived. While these were by no means simplistic jobs, Adams took them as challenges in which personal growth was assured. McCullough depicts the trials and tribulations throughout these journeys, binding them together with the thread of intense interest to advocate for what Adams felt was right for all.

    As a political leader, Adams looked past his own interests and pushed ideas of the greater whole while working in Congress and overseas. The oft stated belief that a leader ought to look outside themselves and seek what is best for the entire populace may have been based on Adams' life, as he tried to lead others when little or no precedent existed. Working to create a constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Adams drew on some of the key aspects found within the Declaration of Independence (something he thought might be tasked to him before he passed it along to Jefferson), and added key tenets that he felt were best for all those living there, Adams tried to lead by example and to use his passion for his home state (province in the early years) to better everyone. As mentioned above, Adam sought also to lead in his roles as plenipotentiary minister to both The Netherlands (an interesting story told by McCullough about how Adams scored this post) and England, seeking to forge new alliances and political ground for the newly-born state. Through trials and tribulations abounded, Adams worked to foster needed relationships and climb the ladder of importance, which worked when Congress eventually named him the first vice-president of the United States in 1788. The role still new (and the constitution's depiction of the job description lacking), Adams tried to lead from the dais of the President of the Senate, injecting himself into debate and offering up many opinions. Not used to the role well founded now, the vice-president is better seen and not heard, waiting for the demise of the president to assume any true role. Still, through his pamphlet writing, Adams sought to lead the country through his ideas and political commentary on world events, most especially the French Revolution, drawing parallels to the happenings in 1776.

    Political leadership took on a new role when Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson (by a mere 3 votes) in the Electoral College in 1797. The presidential campaign of 1796 saw the birth of party politics in America. Tarred and feathered as a monarchist by many of those seeking to derail him, Adams had to shed the moniker in order to move forward and to keep him from the figurative (and perhaps literal) gallows. Forging ahead, Adams used a great deal of his political knowledge to act in as strong a capacity of president as he could. Faced with an openly volatile and confrontational vice-president, Jefferson, the nation faced its most strained administration. While Jefferson tried to set pitfalls for his president, congressional progress appeared glacial and the two parties (the Republicans and the Federalists) sought to stop the other from any crumb of success. McCullough presents much support for the argument that Adams' presidency was ultimately shaped by the post-revolutionary French government, which began goading America into war. Adams built up the needed defences, should war become necessary and proposed two major pieces of legislation to define America for decades thereafter, the Aliens Act, and the Sedition Act. He argued that these pieces of legislation would defend honour and patriotism within America and let foreign potentates know with whom they were dealing. While McCullough posits that peace was Adams' ultimate goal, this is hard to see amongst the military chest bumping. While making the ultimate decision to seek peace, Adams ruffled the feathers of many and may have cast himself in a poor light from thereon in in the eyes of Jefferson and other key Republicans. However, it is his prerogative to do so. This paved the way for the highly vicious campaign of 1800, pitting president against vice-president for the first and only time in history. McCullough presents a highly intriguing story surrounding this campaign and the dirty politicking for which America would eventually become known. McCullough further posits that the outcome of that election hinged greatly on Adams' decision not to go to war with France.

    Perhaps his greatest role, seen as a major arc throughout the tome, is that of a family man. McCullough uses this role as an overarching one throughout the book. Abigail Adams plays a central role in the story of John Adams' life and there is no section found therein that McCullough does not have some reference to her importance in his life. Adams valued his family above all others and tried to include them wherever he could. Granted, looking at things through the lens of the time, some might query his dedication to family and he and Abigail discuss stillbirths and deaths by letter, but there is no doubt that Adams did all he did to better the lives of his wife and children, going so far as to bring his sons with him to France and The Netherlands on various plenipotentiary missions. His constant letters to Abigail and the detail in which he discussed his adventures, as well as the poetic way in which he waxed wand waned about missing his brood shows how dedicated he was to their inclusion in his life. McCullough does a wonderful job illustrating this through the book's numerous parts and keeps the theme of family predominant throughout the numerous segues. Bringing family along with him on his numerous political appointments, Adams sought to enrich their lives as much as his own, exemplifying his dedication to the family unit. McCullough shows a strongly supportive father and keen head of household whose determination to open new paths for his children as a central tenet of the biography. Even through his trying years as president, Adams always kept his family close at hand, especially Abigail's near death at the hand of yellow fever. He juggled things as best he could, never shutting him family out to run the executive of the country.

    Of interest, McCullough does not isolate the story to the life of John Adams and family. Numerous, detailed accounts of some of the other Founding Fathers and key actors in the rise of American independence whose interactions with Adams were central tasks undertaken by McCullough throughout. Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and even Madison all receive great attention from McCullough and offer a teaser to the biographical backgrounds of each. Jefferson surely played a significant role in Adams' life, even if they did eventually distance themselves when wearing their respective political hats. The executive clashes between Washington and Adams would likely be accentuated with an alternate perspective, making Ron Chernow's biography of Washington essential. In the same light, Jon Meacham will surely help show Jefferson's side to the numerous clashes with Adams, both as Founding Fathers and within the executive. Some great storytelling surrounding the difficulties Adams and Franklin faced while working 'together' in France may give the reader a new perspective on both, though surely that is to be expected in such a thoroughly documented tome.

    One area I had hoped would receive more attention (though the length of the tome justifies its exclusion) is the debates surrounding the independence movement and eventual creation of the Constitution of the United States. Being an institutional reformer, I find it interesting to see where the constitutional seeds germinated and some of the important aspects arose. From his Truman biography, I know that McCullough does present electoral campaigns in a highly detailed fashion. While 1896 was a mere blink of the eye, the re-election campaign of 1800 proved highly entertaining.

    Kudos do not seem to be enough to encapsulate how much I enjoyed this biography. Choosing a well-known president (by name, but not necessarily by background) appears to be a strength for McCullough as he weaves the detailed background of their lives, their successes and more certainly their demises. I learned more about early America (and the roots about some of the current goings-on) than I have in all my reading to date. Thank you so very much for this and I hope to dive into another McCullough classic soon.

  • Elyse Walters

    I LEARNED SO MUCH........

    I'm moved - deeply moved......

    at this 'book' and 'partly' at myself. SOMETHING HAS SHIFTED INSIDE ME THROUGH THIS READING EXPERIENCE. A handful of books have done this for me --but not usually 'two' in a very short period of time! But..... I can't deny what's so.

    SNAP CRACKLE POP....... BOOKS THAT CHANGE OUR THINKING - OUR ACTIONS - MUST BE REMEMBERED..... this is another one of those books!!!!!!

    A light switch is turned 'on' in my brain for the first time in almost 65

    I LEARNED SO MUCH........

    I'm moved - deeply moved......

    at this 'book' and 'partly' at myself. SOMETHING HAS SHIFTED INSIDE ME THROUGH THIS READING EXPERIENCE. A handful of books have done this for me --but not usually 'two' in a very short period of time! But..... I can't deny what's so.

    SNAP CRACKLE POP....... BOOKS THAT CHANGE OUR THINKING - OUR ACTIONS - MUST BE REMEMBERED..... this is another one of those books!!!!!!

    A light switch is turned 'on' in my brain for the first time in almost 65 years. I haven't been reading biographies about past Presidents. I have some natural interest in Kennedy - Lincoln - and - Obama -- but I've never been the girl to run to the history or political sections in book stores... seeking out past Presidents to read about. WHY THE HECK HAVEN'T I? Fear of boring dry reading?? It's amazing how shallow and small my thinking is sometimes.

    Has anyone else ever cried when coming 'nose-to-nose' with your own stupidity- laziness- and/or shame for allowing yourself to be ignorant? Really angry at yourself? I've been reading this book for 4 to 6 weeks ( other books too), but a couple of weeks ago I broke down: cried like a baby ..... facing the reality of HOW MUCH I DON'T KNOW.

    At the same time ....,

    I WAS FASCINATED WITH THIS BOOK - THIS STORY -

    I'm left wanting to explore more!!!! Hallelujah! :)

    John Adams worked his ass off LONG HOURS A DAY - RISKING HIS HEALTH - making constant sacrifices and contributions with the most humble heart!! A GREAT MAN!!!

    I've read my share of the "The dreaded multiple POV novels". I'm discovering it's possible that reading historical books about past Presidents might 'not' be drudgery or work any more than it's been to read about Jack or Libby taking turns narrating every other chapter. If more books about past Presidents are 'this good'.... ( good storytelling), I have nothing to fear!

    I FEEL LESS RESISTANCE TO READ ABOUT MORE PAST PRESIDENTS!!! ....That's what's shifted!!! I'm ready to read another, and another! Ha ha .... we certainly have plenty of past presidents to choose from!!! :)

    JOHN ADAMS - inspired me!!!! His character was outstanding!!

    Were all Presidents this honest, 'loving' toward his wife and children, down to earth, decent, .....really decent? He was bright - worked hard. Model integrity.

    I didn't think of him as a politician. I can't imagine Trump ever saying these word....

    "I only wish I were better qualified" .....John Adams

    Ohhhhhh, and Abigail.... did you not love this woman???? Up at 5am to begin her day... taking care of the needs of their family and home. - running a farm during war - loss of children while her husband was away -sadness - loneliness- missing her partner -

    She was a courageous independent woman ahead of her days.

    I knew nothing about John Adams relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Friends, ......then enemies, then friends again.

    John Adams and Thomas Jefferson 'both' died on July 4, 1826, ---same day!!!! Blows my mind!!!

    John Adams lived longer than any other American President. I wonder if it was all that Apple cider he drank every day. :)

    Question to those who are history buffs? Suggestions of 'which' President I might read about next? A few suggestions? And by whom?

    Wonderful book.... great opening for me

    Much thanks goes to David McCullough!!!!

  • Kay

    "No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it," wrote John Adams, and this superb biography by David McCullough makes it clear why Adams was undoubtedly sincere in this sentiment. Adams was a plain and honest speaking man who rose to the challenges of extraordinary times. In this biography he emerges from the shadows of the better known presidents - Washington and Jefferson - whose administrations bracketed his.

    McCullough did not originally intend to

    "No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it," wrote John Adams, and this superb biography by David McCullough makes it clear why Adams was undoubtedly sincere in this sentiment. Adams was a plain and honest speaking man who rose to the challenges of extraordinary times. In this biography he emerges from the shadows of the better known presidents - Washington and Jefferson - whose administrations bracketed his.

    McCullough did not originally intend to write a biography of Adams, it transpires, but a more general book on American history. (This eventually became his later work,

    .) But Adams' character and life made McCullough reconsider, and soon he found himself writing a book solely on Adams.

    I confess to having known almost nothing about Adams, and further confess to being dismally uninformed about the revolutionary period in general, especially considering that I majored in history as an undergrad (albeit with a focus almost exclusively in European history). Some dreadful instruction during middle and high school still casts a pall over American history for me, which I realize is a poor excuse now in my fifth decade, but sadly is the only one I can offer for not having really ever undertaken a more thorough study of my own country's development. Since reading this book, however, I've vowed to read McCullough's

    and several other notable accounts of the period.

    I'm confident that I won't go wrong if I begin with more McCullough, for he is a master portraitist, using apt quotes and vivid description to make his subjects spring to life. Someone (I forget who) remarked that McCullough never wrote a bad page of prose, or something to that effect, and while that may be an exaggeration, it's no exaggeration to say that he is one of the most graceful stylists of our time. He is eloquent without seeming over-enamored of his own words. McCullough's long years as an editor no doubt paid off in honing his own style. Like John Adams, McCullough gravitates toward "classical" modes of oration and style. There's a forcefulness and directness that shines through both in Adams and in McCullough's portrayal of him.

    McCullough has a gift for "humanizing" his subjects. Of Adams, he wrote, "He had a brilliant mind. He was honest and everyone knew it. Emphatically independent by nature, hardworking, frugal, he could be high-spirited and affectionate, vain, cranky, impetuous, self-absorbed, and fiercely stubborn; passionate, quick to anger, and all-forgiving; generous and entertaining. He was blessed with great courage and good humor, yet subject to spells of despair." Thus Adams is shown as not a paragon but as someone who had to struggle with his shortcomings.

    The author's gift for fleshing out his subjects comes the fore in describing the marriage of John and Abigail. Here is a marriage shown in all its complexity; two people who were ideally suited to one another. I couldn't help but think that in their union McCullough saw something of his own -- he's often cited his own wife as being one of the reasons for his great success as a writer, especially in standing behind his decision to quit his job as an editor and research his first book.

    I confess to having done something I usually hate to do -- I saw the HBO special based on the book before I listened to the audio version of it. Normally that ruins a book for me, but here I found it simply reinforced it. Edward Hermann is an excellent narrator, and in fact I've ordered another audio book read by him from my library,

    McCullough's biography of Teddy Roosevelt.

    It's easier for me to relate to history when I have a link with particular people and places. McCullough established that link for me in this period of history, and for that I'm grateful.

  • Michael

    A solid and satisfying biography of a key leader in the birth of the American Republic. This book helps make him my favorite of the bunch because of his paradoxical mix of humility and ambition, idealism and pragmatism. Unlike Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton, he didn’t have aristocratic bearings and valued honesty, sincerity, and free thinking as the highest virtues. He appreciated the simple things in small town life and farming and liked doing his own physical tasks like chopping wood. I a

    A solid and satisfying biography of a key leader in the birth of the American Republic. This book helps make him my favorite of the bunch because of his paradoxical mix of humility and ambition, idealism and pragmatism. Unlike Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton, he didn’t have aristocratic bearings and valued honesty, sincerity, and free thinking as the highest virtues. He appreciated the simple things in small town life and farming and liked doing his own physical tasks like chopping wood. I also admire his 50-plus years of devotion to his wife Abigail and his family. By contrast, Franklin effectively abandoned his family for 17 years in Europe and was allured by the high life and ladies in France.

    The book is at its best in explicating Adams’ character. He came from a 100-year line of farmers and common Puritan folk in Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston now part of Quincy. His father was devout, a deacon of his Protestant church, and expected John to become a minister. Instead he chose law after graduating from Harvard College and a boring stint as a schoolteacher. He wanted to accomplish something of lasting significance and law was a more likely path. On the one hand he criticized himself for the sins of vanity and selfish ambition, while on the other was always driven to fulfill the image and succeeded like few others. Taking Abigail for his wife kept him down to earth, as she was his sounding board and most significant advisor through the rest of his active life. The letters between them are the main window to Adams thinking and personality, and McCullough harnesses them well to reveal his steady good humor, love of people in general, and overall moral optimism

    Soon his cases began radicalizing him against the powers exerted by the colonial government, like customs searches without a warrant and the imposition of import taxes without representation. I liked his courage in acting on his belief in a fair trial to the point of defending the British soldiers who killed several colonists who were protesting the Stamp Act in 1770 in a dangerously rowdy manner. He learned the arts of public speaking, of applying logic to negotiation, and of reading people’s motivations and likely actions. His ability to inspire trust and his reputation for honest dealings contributed to his becoming a leader among the Patriot crowd. His effective service as a Massachusetts provincial legislator led to his being included in their delegation to the Continental Congress. And the rest is history, as they say.

    After the violence of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, Adams could readily lead efforts to build-up the local militias into an integrated Continental Army and was responsible for nominating the Virginian Washington for command. One last hurrah of the Loyalists had to play out with a failed petition to King George to relent before the majority was ready to assert independence. Compared to Adams, Franklin and Jefferson were surprisingly restrained and inarticulate in terms of pushing their ideas in debate. When it came to drafting the Declaration of Independence with them and two others on the committee, it fell to Jefferson to compose most of the writing, but Adams was its chief advocate and most responsible for its passage.

    When the British response was cutting off trade and blockade, the key to success and survival as a nation became recognition of American independence by counties like France, including a source of naval muscle to assert rights of free trade. Adams was sent with the delegation to France to help pull this off. The dangerous trip, accompanied by his young son John Quincy, in a stormy February crossing was nicely covered in the book. Success in Paris came slow, and he only had a junior role. Upon return, he took up the task of drafting a constitution for Massachusetts, which was one of his accomplishments he was most proud of. In 1779 he was sent back to head up negotiations for a peace treaty with Britain. This time he took Abigail and their daughter along. McCullough is especially engaging in probing for the changing reactions of their plebian family to the fashionable and decadent lifestyles of Parisian society and the state of filth and misery of the lower classes.

    The book seems to lose energy after this point. His languishing as the first vice president and tenure as president have few high points. The dissension between his Federalist Party and the Republican Party of his vice president Jefferson is given short shrift. When the French began seizing American merchant ships doing trade with Britain, Adams broke with his cabinet advisors (and Abigail) in refusing to join Britain in their war against Napolean’s forces. The libelous press became a target with the Sedition Act, which he felt violated the First Amendment, and did not support aggressive prosecutions as even Abigail wished. Life winds down for Adams after losing the next election to Jefferson. The high point in this book for the long succeeding decades of private life was his ten-year correspondence with Jefferson starting in 1812 through the encouragement of mutual friend Benjamin Rush to put aside their differences. I wish McCullough had done even more than pulling out a few choice sections on their play of ideas.

    In the end, I felt the book was great for conveying a sense of the man in his times, but t was missing the elements of critical analysis and perspectives that provided a better balance in his biographies of Truman and Teddy Roosevelt. For example, in Isaacson’s biography of Franklin Adams comes off a bit as a drudge and moralistic party pooper in his time with Franklin in Paris. And the Wiki summary on Adams reveals unclear or contradictory positions of Adams on slavery and heredity legislators like Britain’s House of Lords. For readers interested in the American Revolution, McCullough’s “1776” is a better resource for the drama and broader understanding of how it was that ordinary rural people in a diverse set of colonies came together to form an independent nation. I loved Philbrick’s “Bunker Hill” even more. These relative judgments are subject to the caveat that I did this “read” as an abridged audiobook. I am only aware of missing sections that cover what his reactions and activities were during the period of British blockage of Boston and early battles of revolt, the course of his contentious relations with Jefferson and with Hamilton, and much of Adams; time as an ambassador to England.

  • Rincey

    Well now I just want to read a biography on Abigail Adams. Watch me discuss this book in my June wrap up:

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