John Adams

by David G. McCullough

Hardcover, 2001

Status

Checked out
Due Oct 28, 2018

Publication

New York ; London : Simon & Schuster, c2001.

Description

Biography of John Adams portraying him as a brilliant, fiercely independent Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution and then rose to become the second president of the United States.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
I knew very little about the US Revolutionary War history before I started this book. Although I knew John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams had been presidents of the US, I don’t think I could have told anyone that the father was was the 2nd president and the son the 6th. And I thought that the late colonial and revolutionary war periods were sort of boring.

Well, I certainly was wrong about the boring part! McCullough’s splendid biography of Adams brings both periods to life and provides a fascinating account of the politics of the time (sleazy). He offers truly intriguing portraits of the prominent figures of the times: Jefferson ( a lot less noble than he is ordinarily made out to be); Washington (fairly inscrutable); and of course Adams himself along with his remarkable wife, Abigail. all these people and more and the times they lived in are vividly portrayed mostly though their own words. It was a letter-writing era, and some of the most important and most illuminating have survived. The correspondence between John and Abigail alone is worth reading the book. Abigail was no demure “little woman”, submissive and silent, leaving important matters to her husband. On the contrary, she was quite a match for John, who was one of the most erudite men of his age--more so, actually, than Jefferson.

Through these letters, between these prominent figures (and Abigail kept up a spirited correspondence of her own with Jefferson), we see the age and its issues in quite a different, more vibrant light than is usually taught in history books. Far from boring, it actually is thrilling; we know the end of the story, that US independence was won, a constitution framed and signed, and a young republic born. But how this was done--what the controversies were, the terrible odds against all of it coming to pass, the intrigues in England and France--are never exposed so thoroughly as in the letters that passed among all the principals.

I know that many times I’m tempted to think that US politics has never been worse than they are at the moment, that there have never been politicians of such low integrity, such partisanship as exist in our times. Actually, slander of all types--lies, smearing of reputations (the noble Jefferson was adept at this), blatant falsification of positions--was much worse right after the US was born that it is even now. And the US public was just as gullible, just as uninformed as it is now. McCullough does modern readers a service to point out the origin of these attitudes and behavior; while it may be depressing, it perhaps can give some comfort to know that modern US politics is no different from the way it’s always been, and that the basic issues have not changed. That may not be McCullough’s intent, perhaps; if not, then it is a serendipitous result of an affectionate look at the second president of the US.

It's also an account of a remarkable family--not just John and his wife, but their other children as well who, with the exception of the brilliant John Quincy, led tragic lives.

McCullough is not the best writer of the current crop of historians, but he is more than adequate for his subject. A very fine book--highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member FordStaff
This is an excellent one volume biography of our second president. John Adams is one of the major Founding Fathers that few are able to recognize in our times and even in his. (In France he was asked if he was the famous Adams – Samuel Adams, and even whether he had written Common Sense-Thomas Paine). This historical obscurity among the general public in all times is undeserved. He served his country relentlessly a trait that John Quincy Adams entertained valiantly himself. John Adam's character has little that can be criticized, Hamilton be damned, and should serve as an example of the ideal statesmen (insofar as how reasonably close an actual human being can approach the ideal). If the goal of McCullough was to encourage the growth of esteem for John Adams in the reader obviously he was quite successful. McCullough was slightly reverential of John Adams but not excessively so and perhaps could have been a bit more critical. Despite these slight weaknesses it is a very strong biography with a deserving subject.… (more)
LibraryThing member burnit99
In my review of David McCullough's "Truman", I commented that Harry Truman was probably the only president of whom I would read a 1000+ page biography. This biography of John Adams is slightly less wordy at just over 700 pages. In addition, he was probably one of the "founding fathers" of whom I knew the least and was least interested.

One must be wary of the tendency of biographers to lionize their subjects. But McCullough has a very good reputation as an objective historian, and "Truman" was a warts and all biography. John Adams may have been the most important single figure of the American Revolution and formation of the country. He was the main drive for selecting George Washington to lead the military revolt against England, and for choosing Thomas Jefferson to compose the Declaration of Independence. He was chosen as our representative to France during the Revolution, when that country's support was desperately needed. During that time he worked with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, with whom he formed a deep and lifelong friendship. Adams later became our first ambassador of the new America to England, our first vice-president, and our second president.He was instrumental in developing the standing navy. Short, rotund and unprepossessing in appearance, he aroused strong loyalties and enmities, and was somewhat betrayed by Thomas Jefferson when running for his second term of president, a race which Jefferson instead won.

In many ways, Adams as portrayed here reminds me of Truman; they had similar qualities and beginnings, and both were fortunate to be married to strong and supportive women who made it possible for them to devote so much of their lives to their country. By comparison, Ben Franklin, Jefferson and particularly Alexander Hamilton do not fare so well. The first two are favorite historical figures of mine. I have lengthy biographies of both waiting to be read; I'll be interested to see if McCullough's interpretation of Franklin and Jefferson reads true in the hands of other biographers. I already knew it, but the death of both Adams and Jefferson on the same day, July 4, 1826, 50 years after the country declared its independence, was incredibly moving and was seen as an omen favorable to the future of the young America.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
I wish that David McCullough had written a biography of all of the Presidents. It would make reading about them all so much more enjoyable! I don't know what his trick is, but he can keep me engrossed in a 650 page book about the second President. An excellent and thorough biography of an interesting man.… (more)
LibraryThing member HankIII
SIX STARS--a damn good read.McCollough writes so well.I learned so much in this book, certainly a great deal about Adams as well as his wife, Abigail, but also about the age itself, the way of life, definitely the founding and background of the US, and the amazing thinking and high sacrifices and toil that Adams made for his ideals and convictions.This is a great read, and possibly--no--it is-- the best biography I've read in quite a long time.… (more)
LibraryThing member sachblog
After reading this book I wished I had known John Adams in person. His loyalty, integrity and determination made me admire him as a true statesman and patriot. Thank you David McCullough.
LibraryThing member PlankGeek
Although this subject manner could have been very dry, McCullough has written it in a manner which keeps it interesting, particularly the relationship between Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Edward Hermann is an excellent narrator and his voice is well-suited to the task. Strongly recommended for those who wish to know more about the beginnings of American history and independence.… (more)
LibraryThing member lifespringworc
Chronicles the life of the second president, John Adams, describing the many conflicts--including international exploits--he faced during his long political career and exploring the love story that was his marriage to Abigail and the complexity of his friendship with Thomas Jefferson.
LibraryThing member rmolter
I got the audiobook and it is great. Well read. After listening to this I do wish I could have known the man in person. Abigail Adams who is highly regarded in American history is given her due in this account. Her words via her letters point to her ideological brilliance. As much as I learned to appreciate and admire Adams; his wife is every bit as intriguing. McCullough doesn't give her short shrift either, at every point in Adams's life and career you are blessed with her insight on matters, and when there's no historical record McCullough judiciously points this out.
I honestly find myself reflecting on my life and wondering what I could emulate from him, and find myself emboldened in our similar characteristics.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
The work is a well deserved recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Adams comes alive in these pages and his humanity, his intelligence, and his contribution to the country as a first-generation patriot is immense. Often viewed, this author included, as a second fiddle to George Washington, Adams' genuine uniqueness and dedication to the cause of liberty shines through. Often maligned and misunderstood Adams is seen here as an immense contributor and the "brains" behind the Constitution and the early efforts towards establishing a proper defense for the country and for guiding the diplomatic ship of state in the shark-invested waters between France and Great Britain.… (more)
LibraryThing member AngieN
I finished this book during the beginning of labor with Max--it was that good. Such a quirky man, and what a great love story with Abigail (a fantastic woman). I read that Obama's reading it on his summer vacation at Martha's Vineyard--I give it 5 stars, Mr. President!
LibraryThing member _________jt_________
The nice thing about this biography is that the author lets the characters speak for themselves with myriad quotes from correspondence. This history does not feel crusty. It does have the feeling of an apology, though, and the author sometimes seems to go out of his way to take dumps on Jefferson and Franklin, making me want to read about them and get their sides of the story. I guess, though, that's what a good history book should do -- inspire continued learning.… (more)
LibraryThing member cmbohn
ohn Adams is remembered today as the second president. Sometimes he is also remembered because until the Bushes, Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams were the only father-son combination to each serve as president. Sometimes he is remembered as a delegate to the convention in 1776. But this monumental book by David McCullough told me so much more about Adams than I ever knew.

This book really is monumental - over 700 pages. But for the most part, it didn't really feel too long. There were some great pictures in there, which helped a bit, but I think the main thing that made it a fun read is that there were so many stories; that's what I love to read.

I had read a little about Adams before, and about his wife, Abigail. But I loved the story of their courtship and their abiding love for each other. I was also interested to read of the complex relationship between Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Despite their serious differences, both men had an abiding respect for one another.

I couldn't help thinking that there are few such patriots around today. Patriotism is in fact a sort of code word that some political groups use to throw around, but most of us feel a little uncomfortable with such a concept. And yet how long would the United States have lasted if it weren't for unabashed patriots in the infancy of the country? Adams contributed much towards making the continuation of our country a possibility. He had enemies on almost every side, including his own cabinet, but he was able to leave a lasting legacy.

I gave this book 5 stars. It kept my attention, despite the size, and I felt that I knew so much more about John Adams than I did before I started. A really great book.
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LibraryThing member Smiley
Wonderful, long overdue and compulsively readable. Reads like good fiction. Appropriate use of primary source material placed throughout. Made me want to read the letters of Abigail and John Adams. Maybe McCullough overstates the case for Adams a bit, but it is also hard for this aged reader to let go of a life time of subtle bias too. Read it and judge for yourself. Good American history and excellent biography.… (more)
LibraryThing member johnredmond
Deservedly popular. I really enjoyed this biography of the 2nd American President. It's hard not to read the biographies of these major figures from centuries past and not think that for all of our technology and communication, our lives are somehow shallower and our learning less truly human.
LibraryThing member billiecat
This book - one of many that came out in a recent flurry of books about the founders of the United States of America - paints Adams as the misunderstood giant among the American revolutionaries, and a greatly underestimated President. It is tempting, after reading this engaging and informative book, to buy into that conceit. But McCullough's book fails in the end, I think, to make the sale.

Not that McCullough fails to show that Adams was one of the three great revolutionaries of the period (Washington and Jefferson being the other two). McCullough admirably shows the reader Adams' central role in the American cause, and his efforts to keep the struggle alive by obtaining financing and support in foreign courts while Washington did his part by keeping the British army occupied in North America. Nor can one fault McCullough's efforts to bring an irascible and sometimes all-too-human and irritating character to life. The problem is that Adams clearly did his "best work" before and during the revolution, and his post-revolution career had little direct and lasting influence on the young nation. He was clearly out of his depth as President, adrift and ineffective in his one term, and after his wretched experience and bruising re-election defeat he essentially fled public life.

It is in his descriptions of Adams the private man that McCullough's book excels. Adams' self doubt and consciousness of his own foibles go a long way toward endearing him to us, and making the long tale of his post-Presidential exile (essentially a litany of health problems and private correspondence) hold our interest in McCullough's capable narrative. In the end, though, McCullough could not improve on Benjamin Franklin's one-sentence summation of Adams: "He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses."
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LibraryThing member elric17
What can one say, another great book by the best history writer going. He brought one of our founding fathers to life after years of only dust collecting on his portrait. I look forward to reading this one again.
LibraryThing member keely_chace
Adams comes to life in this sprawling yet highly readable biography.
LibraryThing member fschipani
One of my favorites. McCullough's book reads like a novel. I understand that he started writing about Jefferson and Adams but became so interested in Adams that he wrote the book about him. I agree. Adams is one of the most real of the founding fathers. I've read the book about 4 or 5 times and each time is like visiting wth an old friend.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanStratton
I listened to an abridgement of this book while going to and from work. The Founding Fathers were great men and I feel every American needs to know more about them, what they did, why they did it and the cost they had to pay for doing it. John Adams was at the thick of the political fight for independence from Britain. Trained as a lawyer, he wrote the Massachusetts constitution, on which Jefferson based a large portion of the United States Constitution. One of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, Adams was also one of the first envoys to France and, after the Revolution, was the first ambassador to England.

I found the stories of Adams and his constant support of the fledgling country engaging. I have tried to follow his example of constantly reading. He had an extensive library and always had a book with him where ever he went. This last summer my wife and I took a trip to Rhode Island and New Hampshire. We took a couple days to tour Boston and Quincy, Massachusetts. We toured John Adams' house and library. If you really want to enjoy a biography, go see the places discussed in the book. It was thrilling to see the very book that Adams discussed as his nemesis while studying law. The library is a two story building he had built that is filled floor to ceiling with his and his son's (John Quincy Adams) books. With permission, you can look at them and see the notations they made in the margins. He made scribbled his feelings on everything, often arguing with the writer, in the margins.

I would really like to get the unabridged book some day and fill in all the holes they had to leave out. The history is huge, mostly taken from his letters to and from Abigail, his wife. They wrote to each other constantly. During the Continental Congresses, John would often write two letters to her a day. They were the vision of perfectly matched couple, each loving the other more than anyone else. Their writings are probably the most prolific of any couple.

I have really gained a greater appreciation for John Adams and the other Founding Fathers (except for Benjamin Franklin - John didn't like him much. I need to read the new biography on him next). Their tireless efforts in giving me the freedom I enjoy should be celebrated and made standard knowledge among his present day benefactors. We owe them a great debt.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
I normally throw historical biographies into my reading list to prevent my brain from rotting due to modern fiction overload :). Needless to say it isn't my favorite genre, but this book was wonderful. The family of John Adams is one of the few in American history with such an amazingly extensive written record of diaries, letters (many thousands), and public articles. McCullough used these resources to create one of the most well-researched epics on John Adams that I've ever seen. Due to the nature of many of the letters, the reader is able to get a glimpse at not only Adams's public and political life, but his private thoughts and feelings as well. In addition to being an historic tome, this work is also a travelogue and touching love story. It is thought provoking, inspiring, and a grand look at a president often overshadowed, overlooked, and misunderstood. An especially interesting fact learned was that Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, during the same year! This fascinating book is long, and the text is dense, so it takes some time to get through it, but it's well worth the energy spent.… (more)
LibraryThing member james.garriss
I enjoy history, and so I enjoy reading biographies, especially biographies of Christians. But all in all, I didn't care too much for McCullough's style. It seems that he included everything he ever learned about Adams, and the details were mind-numbing. I guess I just don't want to know that much about Adams; I confess I didn't even finish half the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
When asked if he were given the chance to live his life over, Adams said that he would rather be a shoemaker. Thankfully he only got the one try. That is the feeling that overwhelmed me while I listened to this book; gratitude. The creation of the United States of America was one of the most incredible events to ever take place. Even as screwed up as the government is now, at least we got to screw it up ourselves. We didn’t have a despot or monarch impose his will upon us as all governments had been up until 1776 when a few men decided they’d had enough. They knew they had the knowledge, moral fortitude and perspective to self-govern and they put it into action. Incredible. Amazing. Miraculous.

The writing is concise, but descriptive enough to give what appears to be an accurate sense of place and time. McCullough tries not to stray into hero worship too much by providing evidence of Adams’ character flaws and lapses in judgment, but this is essentially a book that tries to right some wrongs about Adams. Even though Adams might have had issues with vanity and stubbornness, I think these things actually firmed his resolve to see things through his way and we are better off for it. His insistence on neutrality in the face of multiple European wars was perfectly reasoned and worked out for us in the end. His insistence that we build up a strong Navy was ignored and we lost a great many ships and men as a result. Basically he wanted the fledgling nation to be taken seriously and that we should set up policy and precedent accordingly. In hindsight, all clearly good ideas.

McCullough’s descriptions of other founding fathers, heroes in American history, were not as positive. Jefferson, whose image has suffered greatly as of late, was a prominent example. Portrayed as a hypocritical spendthrift who betrayed trusts and scuttled friendships, I had to rethink my image of Jefferson as noble patriot. Patriot he surely was, but deeply flawed and terribly ambitious. It was a shame to see the Adams/Jefferson relationship deteriorate after such intimacy and dependence while on their ambassadorial missions to France and England. Largely due to Adams’s bountiful capacity to forgive and Jefferson’s willful blindness to his own faults, they patched things up after both their terms as President and shared a very long correspondence. It is truly auspicious that they died within hours of each other on the very same day; July 4th 1826. Spine-tingling and eerie. Just beyond the pale.

The most intense relationship of Adams’s life was that with Abigail. The scenes of their separation and her death brought tears to my eyes. Clearly they were deeply in love and even more binding than that emotion, they truly depended on each other for emotional stability and support. Abigail was extremely intelligent, well educated and unashamed of her opinions. He respected her judgment so much that he often deferred to her in situations where he was unsure how to act. When stressed beyond his limits in political skirmishes, his need for her was palpable. It is amazing how they coped with the everyday distances in life; days or weeks to get anywhere, delays of letters, of news. In today’s world of instant messaging, text messaging, the internet and cell phones, it is very hard to imagine these hardships and the toll they took on intimacy.

The end of the book is understandably less interesting and active as the beginning. As Adams lived into his 90s, it is not surprising that he slowed down. After an unsuccessful Presidency, his retreat into private life smacked of licking ones wounds. He kept his head down and out of reach. He felt resentful of those who didn’t appreciate him. He expected people to recognize and celebrate his achievements in Europe to stabilize and strengthen the US and its new place in the world. When that wasn’t forthcoming, he sulked. He admits to the sulking, but it doesn’t make it any more attractive.

The success of this book is twofold; first, I understand a lot more about this groundbreaking period of history and second, I want to read more about the major players. Chiefly Washington and Jefferson, but also the more minor players like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The Adams biography deals mostly with diplomatic and political events that shaped the times and the nation, while a Washington biography will probably deal more with battles and tactical issues of the day, which should round out my knowledge considerably. Not a bad legacy for a book.
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LibraryThing member dhogue
I rarely read nonfiction, but this was a really great book. I learned a lot and gained a greater appreciation for the creation of the Declaration of Independence among other things.
LibraryThing member KidQuislet
Everything you wanted to know about John Adams, but were afraid to ask. Well written chronology of the life and times of one of America's greatest men. This work covers all the interesting trials Adams faced during his presidency that is just not taught in school. Top notch stuff for anyone interested in American History.

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Inscribed by author. Underlining throughout

Barcode

2079
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