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John Adams Paperback – 15 Jul 2002
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Gordon S. Wood The New York Review of Books By far the best biography of Adams ever written...McCullough's special gift as an artist is his ability to re-create past human beings in all their fullness and all their humanity. In John and Abigail he has found characters worthy of his talent.
Walter Isaacson Time A masterwork of storytelling.
Michiko Kakutani The New York Times Lucid and compelling...[Written] in a fluent narrative style that combines a novelist's sense of drama with a scholar's meticulous attention to the historical record.
Marie Arana The Washington Post McCullough is one of our most gifted living writers.
A biography of the extraordinary man who became the second president of the United States, this book traces John Adams' adventurous life and spirited rivalry with Thomas Jefferson, and encompasses both the American Revolution and the birth of the young republic. David McCullough describes the childhood, youth and coming of age of Adams, the fiercely driven Massachusetts farmer-lawyer whose marriage to Abigail is one of the great real-life love stories. He also tells the story of his lifelong rival Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia planter and slave-owner. Through their lives, McCullough explores the extraordinary factors that transformed 13 colonies into a united nation that eventually brought these two distinctly dissimilar men to the presidency.See all Product description
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As McCullough's writes in the introduction, "John Adams was a lawyer and a farmer, a graduate of Harvard College, the husband of Abigail Smith Adams, the father of four children. He was forty years old and he was a revolutionary." Why was that so? The biography reveals a man passionate about virtue and liberty, a man who would never give up the fight, and a man who was the real driver of independence. When people think of the fight for independence, they naturally bring to mind Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin - but it was Adams who was the driving force.
I am also glad that I read this book because I was able to see where the truth of Adam's life has been sacrificed for the drama of the TV series: the Hollywood version of history is just as active on America's own as well as the rest of the world's! For example, in the first episode I learn that Captain Preston was actually tried separately from his men, and of the eight soldiers, two were found guilty of manslaughter.
But there are also scenes that should have been in the series but which did not make it, scenes such as Franklin and Adams sharing a bed and arguing over whether the window should be open or closed. David McCullough's clear and highly-readable prose also covers much of the important but undramatic work of Adams, including his drafting of the constitution of his home state, Massachusetts, written whilst back home between time spent as ambassador to Holland and France.It is "the oldest, functioning written constitution in the world."
Much of the series played on Adams's relationship with his wife, and I was glad to see how true it was that they were a meeting of minds in so many ways and had a long and happy marriage, supporting each other and their children, although Adams himself had such high ideals that he was a difficult father to please.
The end came dramatically, like Beethoven, with a thunderstorm. And I still cannot get over how he died on the same day as Thomas Jefferson - and they both died on the fiftieth Fourth of July since independence! How amazing is that?
This is an exceptionally superb biography, one reason from many is that the author paints his scenes with such an abundance of detail that you really feel you are there, and can hear their voices. Just from memory I can now see Adams watching slaves at the new White House with a heaviness in his heart; I can still feel the joy the whole family experienced when John Quincey returned from Russia; or the satisfaction felt by Benjamin Rush when Adams and Jefferson start to correspond again.
So it is much more than just a political biography. This is a work of art, taking us into all that was going in and around the Adams family. And as with all good art while there is no polemic, nevertheless it is impossible not to draw some moral lessons from the lives as they are drawn on the author's canvas.
This is especially true with the contrast between Jefferson and Adams. Adams the hard-working farmer, the faithful husband of Abigail, cautious with money who died with an estate to pass on; Jefferson the extravagant land-owning aristocrat, suspected of having an affair, who died in debt. Adams the enemy of slavery; Jefferson the owner of slaves. And when he died, those slaves had to be sold because of his debts.
It is never stated, but there is no doubt which man the author - with good reason - admires more.
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