It's pretty much an excercise in repeating praise to comment upon this stellar biography of John Adams, and so I'll just limit my comments to say that the lauding of the readibility of this book combined with the well written insights into this Founding Father and early president are all well placed. There is clearly a well researched effort that brings the reader into the world of John Adams and family as well as by necessity in close brushes with Washington and Jefferson too.
It's sadly interesting to see the attempts at criticism from the lesser luminaries whom it appears, probably have more chance at being read in rebuttal to McCullough than their own primary efforts would appear otherwise.
The proof, as it were is in the pudding. While this work is very well referenced and based in solid research, it's value is that it reads cleanly and clearly inviting the common reader in to know and understand better both the man and the times. To have approached it otherwise, as some appear to suggest with a more academic emphasis, would no doubt have endeared it to those whose lives are spent in the midst of dusty tomes and intellectual sophistry , but the point is that because it is so seamlessly written and interestingly presented, the impact is much broader for the effort and the bonus is that the accurasy really doesn't suffer for it, except to the narrowest of academics who appear to need to justify themselves by casting stones from their ivory towers.
Well worth the time and effort to read.
5 undisputed stars.
on July 12, 2004
This book is a very readable book. Unlike some other history books which are dry, this one reads like a novel. I loved how they showed the personal side of a public man. His loving relationship with his wife Abigail is revealed through letters he wrote her. I also loved how the author described John Adams relationship with Thomas Jefferson, down to the little details like when they shared a room in philly one wanted the window open and the other wanted it closed. This book shows that the founding fathers did not live in a vacuum, all alone, responding to each others politics; but that they were freinds with complex relationships. I like how this book lets us see our countries greatest patriots as real people. I highly reccomend this book, there is a sage like quality to it. If this was the kind of reading offered in high school or college, I might have been more interested in history.
Until I read this book, I knew very little about John Adams (October 30, 1735 - July 4, 1826), the man who was the second President of the United States (1797-1801). I knew, vaguely, that he was one of the Founding Fathers, and that John Quincy Adams (the sixth President of the United States) was his son. Reading this book filled in many of the gaps in my knowledge. As well, by drawing on their copious correspondence, Mr McCullough's biography brought John Adams and his wife Abigail to life. It may have been unfortunate for Abigail and John that they had to spend so much time apart, but historians have benefitted as a consequence. We'd know a lot less about John and Abigail Adams without their letters.
This is a biography of a man who may have been a reluctant politician but proved himself to be a loyal and tenacious patriot. The life and career of John Adams makes for fascinating reading: his marriage to Abigail Smith and his relationship with Thomas Jefferson are central to this biography, but it's the wealth of information about people and places that provides context for the events of the 18th and 19th century as experienced by John Adams during his long life, and which shaped the formation of the fledgling republic.
It seems entirely fitting, really, that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on 4 July 1826: their long relationship brought to a close fifty years after the United States Declaration of Independence which John Adams assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting.
I found this book to be an engrossing read: I learned a lot about John Adams and his family; about the establishment of the American republic; and about European politics of the time as well.
"John Adams" by David McCullough is talented rendition of a unique story. Despite being remembered as the pigmy sandwiched between two giants, Washington and Jefferson, McCullough portrays Adams as an immensely important and interesting character in his own right. Adams is shown as being at the heart of many crucial events of our revolutionary and early national history. It was Adams of the Continental Congress who was the prime promoter of Independence and the nominator of George Washington for the post of commander of the Continental Army. He then carried out a series of diplomatic assignments in Europe, in which he was the intimate collaborator with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Among his unique diplomatic accomplishments were the negotiation of a Dutch loan at a crucial stage of the Revolution and participation in the negotiation of the peace treaty ending the Revolution. Upon his return to America he wrote the constitution of Massachusetts before serving eight years as Washington's loyal vice-president.
Adams was one of those rare figures whose greatest for whom the presidency was not the office in which he rendered his greatest service. His mistake of retaining Washington's cabinet compounded his misfortune of having his prime political rival as vice-president and a deadly enemy, Alexander Hamilton as a leader of his won party. This left him leading an administration rife with sabotage. These factors handicapped him as he confronted issues of peace or war abroad and subversion at home. Having to function more as a sole actor than a leader of men, his administration is generally regarded as a failure. His term was influential, largely in the maintenance of peace and appointment of John Marshall to the Supreme Court.
Through much of this book the reader is treated to an interwoven mini-biography of Thomas Jefferson. Through this dual biography the reader comes to understand the dichotomy of these two friends, but rivals, collaborators and opponents and, ultimately, correspondents. Their timely demises on the Fiftieth Independence Day are seen as nothing less than providential.
As the readers of my reviews are aware, I have read very many biographies. Few match "John Adams" for quality.
on May 6, 2004
David McCullough has done a great service to the memory of John Adams and to all who are fortunate enough to read this biography.
With so many other reviews posted here I wanted to mention an aspect I found fascinating about the book: The contrast depicted between John Adams and two other prominent Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. These three worked together frequently and prominently as the United States was being created, yet they were quite dissimilar except for their commitment to the success of American Independence. Adams was a pious, hard-working New Englander - a stark contrast to the Benjamin Franklin who was a generation older, not particularly religious, fond of his leisure time, and with an eye for the ladies, even in his later years. The Northerner Adams thought slavery evil, yet was able to reconcile his personal feelings ably enough to develop a fond life-long friendship and working relationship with the slave-owning Virginian Jefferson. One of the most enjoyable portions of this book is the depiction of the two former Presidents in their later years, trading correspondence about the "good old days" after reconciling from a feud which was likely precipitated by the Mischief-causing Hamilton.
This book is a pleasure to read and unless you are already a Revolutionary Scholar of the highest order, you'll learn a few things as well.
I recommend it highly.
on March 20, 2004
I found this book absolutely fascinating and it has now inspired me to read some other biographies on those men who formed the principles by which we live today. Fortunately for the author, most of the members of the Adams family were prolific letter writers helping us to get a peak inside their eighteenth century world. These letters have become the foundation of so much of the historical fact of that time.
As I was reading about the difficulties between Adams and Franklin and then between Adams and Jefferson, I couldn't stop thinking about that saying, "Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer" because John Adams, in his quest to be a good American, did in fact make some enemies. It's amazing that he made it to the Presidency with all the animosity surrounding him.
I'm certainly not going to relate the story as told by the author in this book as there are five hundred other reviews that can tell you that. What I'd like to share are the things that amazed me. Sure I studied John Adams in school but can one truly study a leader of our country without reading an in depth biography? I don't think so.
Things that surprised me....
I was blown away to learn that everyone who was nominated actually ran for President and the runner up became Vice President. I don't remember learning that years ago. It gave me a good laugh to think of George Bush today with Al Gore as his Vice President.
I was also shocked that Adams kept Washington's cabinet basically in tact when he assumed office, even though many of them were from an opposing party. What was he thinking?
The book certainly does not show Thomas Jefferson (very liberal), Alexander Hamilton (a conspirator) and Ben Franklin (should have been French) in the best light. My mission now is to read these biographies to see if McCullough was being biased or objective.
Adams was a huge proponent of the Navy and here are two great quotes from him....
"Peace was attainable only as a consequence of America's growing naval strength."
"A strong defense and a desire for peace are compatible."
Now there's some food for thought.
And here is the most amazing bit of trivia I learned while reading this book.....
John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of this signing.
Thomas Jefferson, signer of the Declaraton of Independence, died on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of this signing.
I can't get over this coincidence. These two founding fathers died on the same day within hours of each other....the most momentous anniversary of not only their lives but of ours as well.
I have come to the conclusion that John Adams was a true patriot who wanted only to serve his country in the only way he knew how......honestly.
on March 1, 2004
A great deal has been written about the number two in this particular case. John Adams was not merely the second President of the United States, he was the father of yet another American president (John Quincy Adams) and a contemporary and colleague of such historical players as Thomas Jefferson (with whom Adams seemed to have an eerie and almost supernatural link), Benjamin Franklin and James Madison: all of whom take prominent roles in "John Adams," David McCullough's thorough and deservedly lengthy biography of the longest lived American president's life.
While the rich ground of Adams' life has been probed many, many, many times since his death on July 4th, 1826, no one has blasted as much life into this story as McCullough. The author understands exactly what it takes to breathe life into material that, in other hands, has the potential to be deadly boring. Reading "John Adams," you get the feeling that McCullough could write a biography on your neighbor the plumber and make it at least passably interesting. Working with a historical character like Adams, whose long life was filled with fascinating people and deeds and who lived at a time of great change, the result is little short of mesmerizing.
on January 28, 2004
I thought the book was very well written, though I should disclose that I listened to the abridged audio version. In any case, I thought the book was great: informative, enjoyable, and with the right mix of macroscopic and microscopic detail. (I assume that the unabridged version goes into much greater detail, which I don't regret missing).
In some reviews, McCullough is criticized for being too forgiving of Adams' personal and political faults. I disagree. In fact, my overriding impression of Adams after listening to this book was that I probably would not have liked him at all had I known him personally. For someone who esteemed humility in others, he was outwardly very arrogant. And despite his frequent claims to desire the simple life, he seemed continually determined to attain high office and personal glory, even at the expense of familial relationships. He often claimed to be unconcerned with how history would remember him, but I can't help but feel that many of his letters to Jefferson and even family members were tinted with attempts to reshape his reputation for posterity. One response from Jefferson in the book suggests that even T.J. suspected Adams' motives for wanting to rehash old battles in his letters.
To be fair, I do believe that Adams sincerely changed for the better once he was out of office and out of the limelight, and that he was finally able to enjoy the company of friends and family above power and prestige. I also gained new respect for the key role that he played in building the new nation.
on November 27, 2003
I enjoyed the book, but impartial it's not. From McCullogh's viewpoint, the reason that no one liked Adams was because everyone else was a jerk. It's a fairly blunt observation, but I don't know how else to put it.
Adams was a man of integrity and history has given him short shrift, but this defense is too vigorous. According to McCullogh, Adams' failings in France and England and during his first term in office had nothing to do with Adams and all to do with Jefferson and Franklin.
Never mind that Adams wasted much of his political capital in a fierce battle on what to call Washington (Mr. President).
Adams was a man of integrity that kept us out of war and who was a keen architect of our form of government. But he was a lousy diplomat and an average politician.
on June 17, 2004
This book is one of the best of any kind I have ever read. It has received high praise, including a Pulitzer Prize, all of which is richly deserved. McCullough paints a vivid picture of Adams and his greatness while also showing his human weaknesses. The book draws heavily on Adams's written correspondence with his wife and with Jefferson, giving a wonderful insight into not just his political ideas, but his personal relationships. I also found the descriptions of life during the 1700s to be particularly compelling. It was a much different world than the one we live in today and McCullough artfully brings that world to life. I really can't say enough good things about this book.