Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams

by Lynne Withey

Paperback, 2002




Atria Books (2002), 392 pages


The lively, authoritative, New York Times bestselling biography of Abigail Adams. This is the life of Abigail Adams, wife of patriot John Adams, who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America. Rich with excerpts from her personal letters, Dearest Friend captures the public and private sides of this fascinating woman, who was both an advocate of slave emancipation and a burgeoning feminist, urging her husband to "Remember the Ladies" as he framed the laws of their new country. John and Abigail Adams married for love. While John traveled in America and abroad to help forge a new nation, Abigail remained at home, raising four children, managing their estate, and writing letters to her beloved husband. Chronicling their remarkable fifty-four-year marriage, her blossoming feminism, her battles with loneliness, and her friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Dearest Friend paints a portrait of Abigail Adams as an intelligent, resourceful, and outspoken woman.… (more)


½ (69 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member witchyrichy
A spectacular woman who spent most of her life alone, running the home for her absent husband. She was so smart and yet didn't have a vision of equality with men. Rather, she did her best to fulfill her role.
LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
This biography successfully stuck to the fine line of maintaining this reader’s interest in the subject as well as succinctly and lucidly analyzing the life of Abigail Adams and contemporaneous events. Dearest Friend reads really quickly, like a novel, with insights into personal thoughts,
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emotions, and motivations drawn from letters and diaries of Abigail and John Adams. It puts Revolutionary events into human perspective from Braintree and Boston, specifically, how Abigail and John viewed them. These events come across as open-ended, without forgone conclusions, importance, or names as later histories account them. Though summarized briefly, the events seem more like what one might read from newspapers or letters than the concise event neatly put into context by a historian. Abigail Adams, like her husband, remains a figure that is either admired or loathed – generally for the same reason – her sharp tongue and wit, yet this book generally manages to avoid either pitfall, relating her life as a person with merits and flaws.

The author treated Abigail as a mere mortal noting contradictions, changes in thinking/attitudes/relationships, for instance her stance on the Shays and Whiskey Rebellions as compared to her notions about the Revolution, as well as her eventual softening towards Republicanism later in life when the country didn’t fall apart under Jefferson. I think my favorite quote from the Adams' letters was “I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” Which deftly makes the point that not only was Abigail Adams import as a feminist but that she did so by linking the cause of women to the American Revolution. Her keen powers of observation led to her comment on Hamilton’s 1791 plan: “I firmly believe if I live Ten years longer, I shall see a devision of the Southern and Northern States, unless more candour and less intrigue, of which I have no hopes, should prevail.”

Despite these qualities, this was not a perfect or comprehensive biography – little time was spent on her relationships with her children aside from Nabby, though there is such material available (especially between her and John Quincy). At times, the narration was so caught up in the events of the day it was hard to tell if it was a biography of Abigail or John Adams. Further, though a minor point, there were a number of typos in the text I read, outside of the retained contemporary spelling, which distract from the narrative flow, and hopefully these have been fixed in a newer edition. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read overall to get a good sense of Abigail’s life and times.
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LibraryThing member lmnop2652
A great way to learn history (through the eyes of women). Wonderful book about Abigail Adams and her family (past U.S. Presidents).
LibraryThing member AdmiralLHH
Book club selection enjoyed by all. Abigail Adams amazed us by her strength of character & ability to manage properties while her husband was away conducting business for the new government of America. Loved the letters exchanged between Abigail & John
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
(life of Abigail Adams — letters)
A person of an independent mind — can't be consistent — Hard to accept there are legitimate differences of opinion

This is the life of Abigail Adams, wife of patriot John Adams, who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America. Rich with excerpts
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from her personal letters, Dearest Friend captures the public and private sides of this fascinating woman, who was both an advocate of slave emancipation and a burgeoning feminist, urging her husband to “Remember the Ladies” as he framed the laws of their new country.
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
Owning this book was sort of an accident. I had put a book called My Dearest Friend on my wishlist -- it was supposed to be largely just the collected letters between Abigail and John Adams. Andrew had made a list of the books on my wishlist and headed to a local bookstore and picked this up
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instead, thinking he'd gotten the book on my list. Oh, well. It was still very sweet!

This is more a straight-up biography, of course largely based on those letters, among other things, and sometimes containing excerpts from those letters. It seemed promising, with a lovely quote on the front from The Boston Globe of all places, saying it was "as lively, sensible, and forthright as the woman about whom it is written..." Personally, I would drop the word "lively" from the description. At times this book was so dry that the only thing that kept me reading was how excessively interested in Abigail Adams I have been from the beginning.

I acknowledge that I may have made the author's task more difficult by an over-familiarity with the subject. The basic details of her life I already know -- from 1776 and the John Adams mini-series, among other places. Every once in a while, Dearest Friend would sputter into life, and I would sit up, feeling like I was getting a truer glimpse into the details of Abigail's life -- a feeling for what it really must have been like to live that life. Then it would fade back into what seemed like a dry recitation of "and then this happened, and then this...."

I am probably being overly harsh on this poor book. Maybe the quote on the cover jaded me. Maybe I just wanted too deeply to be swept away with love for Abigail. Certainly I read the entire book with interest. But still, I want the book that was originally on my list.
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LibraryThing member Jarratt
LOVE this style of writing. Completely non-academic. Lynne Withey tells the story of Abigail Adams with great care and nuance. And what a wonderful subject. Abagail was an amazing woman for her time; perfectly suited for the brilliant but typically cantankerous John Adams.

Highly recommend.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

392 p.; 6.12 inches


074323443X / 9780743234436
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