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John Adams by David McCullough
Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams
John Adams Architects of Freedom by Anne Husted Burleigh
Giants of America, the Founding Fathers: John Adams by John T. Mores, Jr.
1796 Election Adams (71 electoral votes) vs. Jefferson (68) Pickney (59)
Adams was one of two Presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence.
John Adams was a second cousin to Samuel Adams, and a third cousin to his own wife, Abigail Smith Adams.
Adams was one of two presidents to live beyond his 90th birthday.
Adams was one of three presidents not to attend the inauguration of his successor. Not only was Adams disappointed in losing to Jefferson, he was also grieving the death of his son Charles.
Adams was the great-great-grandson of John and Priscilla Alden, Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
The Adams' were the first residents of the White House. They moved in in November 1800 while the paint was still wet.
When Adams and his family moved to Washington to live in the White House, they got lost in the woods north of the city for several hours.
Mrs. Adams would hang her laundry in the East Room to dry.
He was named after his father
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read. Although McCullough obviously admires (loves?) his subject he presents him realistically without down playing some of his “faults” that interfered often with his effectiveness and not shying away from describing areas where Adams was not as successful as he might have been. You get a rounded picture of both the private and public man who as much as possible remained true to his principles and his beliefs, including his religious beliefs. McCullough also give a very complete picture of the United States during its formative years and the many personalities that had a hand in shaping its beginnings. I knew very little about John Adams before reading this book and ended up admiring, yes even loving him and being astonished at how much he influenced the course of our nation. I also learned quite a bit more about Thomas Jefferson than I already knew and don’t think it is my imagination that leads me to believe that McCullough admired Adams more than Jefferson. I have never been a huge fan of Jefferson and this book didn’t change my mind.
Of course, his exquisite correspondence with Abigail makes for wonderful extra reading, and I'll post several suggestions on the First Ladies thread. I've probably read more about her than him, but one can certainly learn a lot about a man by the way he addresses his wife, and by the way she responds to him.
Down the road, I'd like to read another Adams bio, but I'm thinking I'll see how he is treated in biographies of John Quincy. I'm sure that will be a different perspective.
It was a great book about a great man.
BOY, AM I GLAD I'M READING THESE BOOKS!
It is a true shame that John Adams did not get the credit for which he was due because he was squeezed between the presidencies of Washington and Jefferson. This book by David McCullough displays the fortitude and greatness of the man who helped build our nation.
The narrative shows the life that started him on his road from his early life until his end. He is shown to be the true patriot, apparently hanging on to life to reach the 4th of July anniversary.
It amazes me how the author is able to bring to life not only President Adams' abilities as a diplomat but his attributes as a person, husband, father, grandfather.
I personally never really thought much about John Adams since he was so overshadowed by Washington and Jefferson. I now have had to rethink my appraisal and move him up on the greatness scale. His efforts throughout his life to always think more of what was better for the fledgling nation then for himself makes him indeed a great man. (4½*)
I check the threads every day to make sure that any update that is needed for the tickers is made. As soon as someone indicates that they have finished a book for a president, I update the ticker. Your separate ticker on the Ticker thread is the only one you need to worry about. If you want any changes, or have suggestions, let me know.
What a great storyteller!! I loved the tales about John and Abigail's courtship, for instance. If he can do that now, I can hardly wait to get to Adams' presidential career.
The acting was quite good, chemistry was believable between Giamatti and Laura Linney. Adams' personality was annoyingly realistic, which felt true to the book and to the reputation. I liked it quite a lot, which is saying a lot from someone who has the parade-raining tendency of finding that which to critique!
by David McCullough
At long last, after more than two weeks, I've finished McCullough'a biography of John Adams.
Five stars, in my book. This is quite a masterpiece, easily one of my favorite books of the year and probably the best presidential biography I've ever read.
Before this book, I didn't know all that much about Adams but learned so much through this book and, in particular, through Adams' letters, as well as those of his wife, Abigail.
This book is a gem. Highly recommended!!!
I want to start on Jefferson fairly soon, though. I have 4 or 5 books I'd like to read about him, including one on the election of 1800.
A very good experience so far. It's just taking forever. I don't want to skim so am reading slower than I normally would.
Instead, for instance, I will likely read 7 or 8 Jefferson books. Each book I read seems to put me in the mood to add another to my list. Alexander Hamilton, Abigail Adams, and now, Henry Knox are just some of the contemporaries I want to read more about.
at most you can have 8 years (if Obama is re-elected) after that you will have to add another President to continue.... that's the penalty.
I thought this one by Joseph J. Ellis was great, much better than His Excellency : George Washington which I suspect was a bit rushed followup to his best selling Founding Brothers. It covers the years after 1800 with flashbacks to his younger days as school teacher, patriot, and president.
I was hoping it would be near Montpelier VT, as I'm going by there in a few weeks! :-(
I admire Adams more than many of the founders because he was principled, often obnoxious and always spoke from his heart. (He liked to piss people off!) These are terrible attributes for a politician, which I suspect is what doomed his Presidency more than anything else.
I have not read McCullough's book of the same name. I probably won't. The information I was looking for I found in this one. Anne Burleigh's treatment was, in my opinion, journalistic which was not really surprising as that was her expertise. The story seems fairly complete. The part I enjoyed most was towards the end when he and Jefferson were exhorted by Benjamin Rush to reawaken their old friendship. I'm glad it happened and it probably went a long way towards keeping Adams alive and kicking into his 90s. The major impression of the man I got from the book was of a brilliant paranoid who frequently thought that everyone was against him. But such brilliance was in the right place at the right time for the rest of us who enjoy the USA that has evolved.
By the way, the picture of Ms. Burleigh on the back cover shows an extremely beautiful woman with really intelligent dark eyes.
I will say without humor that there were times when almost everyone was against him, especially during his troubled presidency. Adams resistance to calls for war with France is his most enduring legacy of his otherwise sub-par perforamce as the nation's chief executive, although we should not overlook the part that he played in ensuring the first smooth transfer of power to a rival bitter political foe in the election of 1800, our most consequential national election until 1860.
I was impressed overall too, although it was long for a general bio. My eyes glazed a few times (political theory isn't my strong suit), but it held my attention and kept me reading. The excerpts from his writing, in particular, were a fascinating introduction. I can see myself reading a collection of his letters to Jefferson and/or Abigail at a later time (when I can go back and fill in around the presidents I find most interesting), so if you have a recommendation I'll put it on my wishlist.
I think I'd have found Adams a delight to know for short visits (the verbosity would have worn thin, but his intelligence and knowledge, as well as sense of humor and love of family, would have won me over). He put himself and his family completely at the country's disposal, despite many thankless periods, and for that he belongs right up there with the greats. Abigail, too. I need to reflect more on his presidency before making a final call. As with reading about Washington's time in office, I feel I have too little knowledge of the period to put it into perspective yet.
One thing that struck me repeatedly was the Fox talk show approach to criticism used by all the papers of the time towards opponents of their candidates: hateful, and independent of fact or potential consequences. It was comforting, in a way, to know it's nothing new.
"But late in July he finally offered up the analysis of his colleague on which no one has improved. Adams meant well for his country, 'is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.' "
It's probably worth noting that by this time in their lives there was no love lost between Franklin and Adams.
I've also never forgotten Joseph Ellis' description of Adams in Founding Brothers as one of 'enlightened perversity'.
All this is very much on my mind since I just finished watching (and enjoying) the mini-series based on McCullough's book. I want to read my bio of Washington first before starting on Adams. It will be a few weeks since I have other things in my queue before I can start in earnest.
Now I'm curious to read more about Franklin, and of course Jefferson.
It was somewhat encouraging and depressing at the same time to see that politics of personality hasn't changed and both sides then and now so often seem determined that the other side is just out to destroy the whole nation.
I have a bio of Franklin, 1776 by McCullough, and Undaunted Courage about Lewis and Clark (and Jefferson) on my desk. Plus someone recommended Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention so I will be immersed in this time period for awhile.
It started slowly, I thought and, at first, I couldn't believe that people raved about it. Overall, though, I thought it was terrific.
I also have read Giants of America, the Founding Fathers: John Adams by John T. Mores, Jr. I would put this book in the catergory of the Americian Presidents Series. It was a good, if breif bio of John Adams. I finished this book 12-24-2007.
John Patrick Diggins' work in the American Presidents Series is solid. It really delves into the philosophical roots of Adams' thinking, and lays out Adams' presidency well.
Ralph Adams Brown has crafted an excellent framework for the Adams Presidency in the Kansas University series. He delves deep into the foreign policy questions of the time, and into the opposition of Jefferson and Madison's Democratic Republicans. A good companion piece to the more literary work of McCullough.
Is it because it really is that good of a book? Or has no one else been able to write even a decent biography of the man? (I'm leaning towards McCullough just writing that good of a book.)
For the biography of the second president I chose a book with the same publisher but a different author from the Washington biography. The tome was a great read and a great companion piece to George Washington: A Life. Whereas Washington was from Virginia and was involved in the military actions of the Revolutionary War, John Adams hailed from Massachusetts and spent the war years serving first in Congress and then as a diplomat. I found Adams to be a very interesting and influential man. In one sense, I could see a bit of myself in him. Adams had quite an ego and had a tendancy to neglect his wife and kids for his career. Also his accomplishments never quite matched his ambitions. Where the similarity ends is that my wife has never let me get away with such neglect and Mr. Adams ended up being a very influential and accomplished man. (Though his achievements lacked the prestige of those attained by General Washington.) Mr. Ferling did a very good job of presenting Adams' life, as well as taking the time to give capsule biographies of those involved in his life. You not only get a biography of John Adams, but also a peek into his generation. Another book to get on my shelf, should I seek to increase my collection of history books.
Has anyone read Mornings on Horseback by the same author? Great read as well.
Also, don't allow Adams views on Jefferson or Franklin to influence your evaluation of these men who were each great American Founders, even if Adams took issue with them. Jefferson certainly was a flawed character, but Franklin was in many ways a greater man than Adams, whether or not Adams recognized that.
When it comes to the Founders, the team was indeed greater than their individual members.
Garp, I think Adams is an underrated President because he kept us from going to war with France despite the passions of the nation. I think Adams problem was that he didn't really care for politics. He was a policy guy.
I read somewhere that the men best suited for the rabble rousing for the Revolution -- Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Patrick Henry -- were the least qualified to be part of the later constitutional process. In the same way, it seems that those veterans of nation-building like Adams and Jefferson and Madison would have been better suited to not seek to rule in the country they made.
Two times in his carrer he could have been the absolute ruler of America. First time was after the Revolution, when he could have became King, but he didn't, he gave up the reigns of power and became just an ordinary citizen.
The second time was as POTUS. He could have been president for life, instead he again gave up the reigns of power again. He left that job and again became an ordinary private citizen.
The greatness of Washington was his ability to quit.
Constrast the American Revolution with the French Revolution. One of the biggest differences between both of them, and I think, why they ultimately turned out so different, was the fact that our early "fathers" knew when to step aside. They handed the reigns of power to someone else, without bloodshed, with out being forced.
The great thing about America is that after the Revolution, power has transferred peacefully. And George Washington modeled that twice in his life time.
Though I think it should be pointed out that giving up the presidency was not something he did out of a sense of duty or rightness. On a personal level, he was exhausted and drained of worldly ambition. He may indeed have had less ambivalence about the first term; by the second he had to be vigorously persuaded to accept, and did so largely because others convinced him the country would be riven with party factionalism without him.
His membership in the The Society of the Cincinnati was not arbitrary. The example of Cincinnatus had great appeal. By the early 1790s, he deeply hungered to retire to his home, his family and his fields.
It seems unfair to me that George Washington gets the privilege of being considered the only Non-Party President. It seems to me Adams was quite independent and had the considerations of the nation and his own judgment well before those of the Federalist. If he had fired his cabinet at the first sight of their disobedience and perpetual loyalty to Hamilton perhaps he like Washington could have had a bipartisan Administration (not that it worked out very well). I was very impressed with Adams although not quite with Hamilton. It will certainly be interesting to contrast this book with the perspective of the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow.
Throughout the book there was no sign of religious tolerance that I desperately hoped a man with a character like John Adams would have. I was worried that McCullough might not be mentioning this because it was a blotch on an otherwise pristine character. I was glad to be proven wrong when near the end of his life he sponsored an amendment guaranteeing religious freedom for the Massachusetts constitution that he had written (amazing that it is the oldest constitution still in use).
There is only one mistake that I can point towards as a definite oversight. It should be no surprise that it is the Infamous Aliens and Sedition Act. But when judging men we must place them in their historical times. In this context this mistake it is not quite as bad as our modern preconceptions would lead us to believe. When we look back in time with our modern assumptions of that which is sacred and untouchable in a democracy (freedom of the press) our judgment may be a bit harsher than is justified. After all we live during an age in which we can call upon precedents. John Adams did not have this liberty and lived in a newly founded nation with principles never before exercised in an actual government. The “absolute” freedom of the press was not a long resolved issue as it is now and at his time was very much an unanswered question. Anyone who has read about politics in the early republic knows that it may have been the most vitriolic period for political newspapers. With George Washington newspapers wouldn’t dare raise an opposition although even Washington was not completely immune from criticism. John Adams was the first president to be under full siege from opposition newspapers whose only goal was the defrauding of his character whether it took lies or not. With this knowledge it is more understandable that when the Aliens and Sedition Act crossed John Adams desk he did not waver over its signing into law. After all why is the outlaw of false claims in newspapers an assault upon democracy. Should not democracy be strengthened by the firm foundation of a citizenry informed with newspapers that cannot misinform them? Of course those of us with the hindsight that history bestows know that this law would become a political tool and that in the end the lesser evil after all is the absolute freedom of the press.
We of the present often times use the lessons that only thousands of years of human misery and struggle can teach us and then fashion those very lessons into ammunition for use against the very humans that have lived through those times. I would like to see someone look through a mirror directly into their own eyes and profess on all that is good that they would have known those “self evident truths” that have been passed through the ages if they had lived during the times in which they were forged. For the majority of humanity I have serious doubts as to whether an affirmative could be truthful. How many among us could do that which even the elite of humanity took centuries of generations for only periodic glimpses of that which we in the present take for granted.
I believe it is a shame that all I can remember from public school American History class of John Adams was that he passed the Aliens and Seditions Act. John Adams may not be the most distinguished president but his firmness on peace while the people insisted upon a war that would have been very undesirable for the new born nation certainly makes him overall a good president despite the Aliens and Sedition Act. There can be no doubt that he was an excellent human being insisting upon public service even when this required sacrifice of health and distance from family all the while maintaining frugality. The only president I have read about so far with such insistence upon public service was Theodore Roosevelt who was also of very high quality moral fiber (It is no surprise that Theodore Roosevelt looked up to Adams partly due to his insistence on a stronger navy). John Adams' excellent example deserves a more prominent place in the public consciousness of the United States.
I apologize for the length. This is my first post on the forums so if this length is grossly inappropriate let me know.
While the Aliens and Sedition act was not well received in John Adams time the reaction then would be only a grain of sand on a beach compared with the reaction it would receive today (perhaps a tiny bit of exaggeration there). The freedom of the press is considered untouchable by modern standards (In the USA at least, don’t know about other countries). This is the bias in particular that I believe takes a black spot on John Adams Presidency and drops a can of black paint over it. We must remember that this freedom was not cemented into the foundation of our democracy at his time. Also John Adams sincerely meant for this law to be used to stop the dishonesty on both sides unlike many of his federalist brethren who aggressively used the law to persecute political opposition.
I may be a bit overly defensive of John Adams but let it be known that I do not mean to say that anyone in particular here is biased if they consider this a terrible decision on John Adams part. With this I myself agree. He should have realized that the Aliens and Sedition act would become a corrupt political tool and this was a definite lack of foresight.
It is difficult enough to accurately judge oneself. It only becomes more difficult when it is necessary to cross the boundaries of culture and time. The best treatment available is to cast aside prejudice and preconceptions before we judge others. If everyone could do only this many misunderstanding in the world would cease to exist.
Also, I well agree with you that people should be judged by their time, not by ours. But we need to be sure we understand their time and not use it as an excuse. Jefferson knew slavery was a terrible evil -- he wrote about it as such -- so we can't give him a pass because he was man born into an 18th century slave aristrocracy. Yet, we can perhaps grant Lincon a pass for favoring colonization of freed slaves because in his time even the bulk of abolitionists were racist by our standards. It is in this sense that I hold Adams to account, for he was a lawyer, a signer of the Declaration, a key player in both the Revolution and the early republic he helped forge, a man with such integrity that he represented as defense attorney the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. The Alien & Sedition Acts represent one flaw in judgment, and his whole career should not be besmirched by this one flaw, but nevertheless he earned the reprobation he received for it.
I am interested in the other President you despise besides Woodrow Wilson. I unquestionably agree that no President has ever assaulted civil liberties more than Wilson. How on earth he even gets to grace the top half in polls concerning the position of presidents in terms of their performance. Sometimes he is even TOP TEN. He deserves at least bottom ten. Not even the issues with which he was ahead of his time make up for being the President who is first and foremost an enemy of civil liberties.
First Family: Abigail and John by Joseph Ellis
Founding Gardners by Andrea Wulf Adams was not the land owner that Washington and Jefferson were with their plantations, but he strived to improve his knowledge in this area and tried to improve the agriculture he did do.
Trying to get caught up with all the posts and reading since I've just joined this group.
This book won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in the category “Biography or Autobiography” and it’s easy to see why. This story about John Adams’ life is engaging, interesting and full of historical details that really make it come alive. I especially loved the part where Adams is in the Netherlands, as it gave me a look at my own country through the eyes of an American – both Adams’ view as the author’s view came through in the writing. The author clearly likes his subject, but he does not overlook John Adams’ flaws, making this a very balanced book.
However, sometimes McCullough gets into so much detail it becomes an unnecessary tangent. I think the book could have been a more reasonable size of about 400 pages with a bit more editing. It’s well written and interesting, but it could have done with 200 pages less, which would also make it much more attractive to readers who might find the size daunting. I did not mind the size, as the story remained interesting, but even I recognize some more editing could and perhaps should have been done in some places.
But despite that one flaw, this was a very good book. For me, as someone with no knowledge of John Adams and almost no knowledge of US history, this was a very readable book. There was never a moment where I was confused about what was happening or why it was happening. So all in all it was a well written, engaging book and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in US history, US presidents, or John Adams in particular.
As an aside, I found it very interesting to read the happenings surrounding the US independence from another point of view – as opposed to Washington’s, which I read in Founding Father. This is only my second presidential biography, but it certainly showed me the value in reading the presidents in order. Because all the president’s lives overlap each other, you get a unique view of history – a continuous story from one president to another that shows the making of a country from the fight for independence to the present day.
#96 I wonder if that was said of Caligula at one time? In 50 years it could only go down lower, not up, but it's hard to imagine much of a change ...IMHO