John Adams

by David G. McCullough

Hardcover, 2001


Checked out
Due Oct 28, 2018


New York ; London : Simon & Schuster, c2001.


The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling biography of America's founding father and second president that was the basis for the acclaimed HBO series, brilliantly told by master historian David McCullough. 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 who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second president of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history. This is history on a grand scale--a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.… (more)

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 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 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 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 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 _________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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 piefuchs
A wonderfully written, engaging biography of one of the US founding fathers - evidently a lot of people who say founding fathers know very little about how they felt. I picked this up as I thought I should learn something about my adopted country. I ended up reading aloud to my husband, it was a highly readable account of his life (as well as that of his wife and confidant. Abigail) based on his extensive letters and his diaries. The desciptions of his multiple trips to Europe were wonderful. Through reading the book I gained a fair backgroud on American life and history throughout Adam's time period. I should note however, that the author seemed to have fallen in love with his subject and the lack of criticism is tiring by the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member SLuce
Learned alot. Well written and easy to read, just very long.
LibraryThing member parus55
David McCullough allows the reader to experience John Adams as a real person...not simply a figure from American history. We see his gifts as well as his faults. The brilliance of Adams really comes through in the book. While it IS a long book, there are so many peeks into the events surrounding the shaping of our country, the Revolutionary war, and relationships between the men who fought for our freedoms we have today, that it's a great addition to any library.… (more)
LibraryThing member rubberstamper
Not a fan of biography in general, I decided to give this one a try. I was pleasantly surpised. The writing was smooth, fluid. The book reads almost like a novel, bringing to life this learned, book-loving American patriot.
LibraryThing member EricDrum
A very pleasant book to read. However I find that the author seems to make Adams seem like the good guy in most all ways while everyone else around him and his family has faults. It seems the thing to do nowadays to criticize Thomas Jefferson.
LibraryThing member MacsTomes
Like "Truman", "Adams" is a very thorough , readable account of Adams' life & times. I got a little restless at times especially w/ the chapters describing his assignments in Europe. I was surprised to discover what feet of clay Jefferson had. Kept well over 100 slaves dspite decrying the institution of slavery. Sold 130 slaves at Monticello after his death as a part of "liquidating" his estate… (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 ORFisHome
Absolutely wonderful insight into an oft-forgotten patriot. Fabulously and descriptively written. I really got a sense of John Adams' emotions and worldview.
LibraryThing member rugger1
Fianally a well written account of the "project manager" of American independence.


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