The education of Henry Adams; an autobiography Paperback – 7 Sep 2010
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"The pleasure of reading The EDUCATION is the pleasure of seeing history come alive." -- Alfred Kazin --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Inside Flap
'I cannot remember when I was not fascinated by Henry Adams, ' said Gore Vidal. 'He was remarkably prescient about the coming horrors.'
His political ideals shaped by two presidential ancestors--great-grandfather John Adams and grandfather John Quincy Adams--Henry Adams was one of the most powerful and original minds to confront the American scene from the Civil War to the First World War.
Printed privately in 1907 and published to wide acclaim shortly after the author&'s death in 1918, The Education of Henry Adams is a brilliant, idiosyncratic blend of autobiography and history that charts the great transformation in American life during the so-called Gilded Age.
With an introduction by renowned historian Edmund Morris. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
In this book, Adams thinks little of formal education and sees it as not preparing him for his life to come. The education he is talking about for most of the book, is the education he gets from the experiences of life. Those experiences come from his travel, the deep and long friendships he develops with Clarence King and John Milton Hay, and of course from reading.
From his early life, one story really stuck with me, and that is Adams relating his Grandfather, and at the time former President, escorting a stubborn and defiant young Henry Adams to school. Such a scene probably could never happen again, but imagine the impact on the other students to have a President of the United States bring a classmate to school.
One of the most interesting political stories from the book is a long one, detailing his father's period as Ambassador to the United Kingdom during Lincoln's administration. Adams discusses the attitude towards the representatives of the Union and how his father built up a tremendous amount of respect after initially being viewed as a lightweight.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Many scholars and critics, as well as Adams himself, view "The Education of Henry Adams" as a sequel to his earlier book, "Mont Sant Michel and Chartres" (also privately printed). Indeed, the posthumous edition of the later work opens with an Editor's Preface (signed by Lodge, but presumptuously written by Adams himself) in which the author proposes subtitles for each volume: respectively, "A Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity" and "A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity." While the two works are certainly linked thematically, they are not companion works in the traditional sense: "Mont Sant Michel" is a personal examination of medieval institutional and cultural history, while the "Education" is Adams's reckoning of his own involvement in international diplomatic affairs and intellectual circles. In other words, one can safely and profitably read one book without reading the other.
So what is this difficult-to-categorize book about? Reduced to its simplest level, it recounts how an "eighteenth-century American boy" grew up during the nineteenth century, only to be intimidated and awed by the chaos of the twentieth. The unity of earlier ages, when everything revolved around God and Church, had been exploded into limitless possibilities by the discoveries of science and the advent of democracy, and Adams realized that "the child born in 1900 would then be born into a new world which would be not a unity but a multiple."
This somewhat obvious yet essential theme aside, the joy of this book for many readers is Adams's sardonic wit and his penchant for aphorisms; the number of quotable quotes is both delightful and exhausting. A notorious name-dropper, he knows everyone, and offers an insider's account of the most important events of the nineteenth century, volunteering his views on international diplomacy, monetary policy, evolutionary biology, and other matters.
Adams portrays the journey of his life as an ongoing attempt at educating himself, yet he disdainfully learned that formal education was useless and that his dabbling had brought him to a dead end. "Religion, politics, statistics, travel had thus far led to nothing.... Accidental education could go no further, for one's mind was already littered and stuffed beyond hope with the millions of chance images stored away without order in the memory. One might as well try to educate a gravel-pit."
Of course, Adams's self-effacing protests of ignorance are often little more than a pose. His sense of innate blueblood superiority can be grating--a stance exaggerated by his writing about himself in the third person. He repeatedly (and backhandedly) reminds the reader how, as stupid as he might be, he is in good company: "Adams knew only that he would have felt himself on a more equal footing with them had he been less ignorant." "Lincoln, Seward, Sumner, and the rest, could give no help to the young man seeking education; they knew less than he." "Ridiculous as he knew himself about to be in his new role, he was less ridiculous than his betters." One of the most unintentionally satisfying sections of this book, then, is when Adams finds himself among true aristocrats in England--and they dismiss him as a social inferior.
As even Adams's biographer Ernest Samuels and Adams specialist John Carlos Rowe both acknowledge, the "Education" is an extraordinarily challenging work. Writing for his friends, Adams assumed a familiarity with arcane historical details about such affairs as American-Confederate-British diplomatic machinations during the Civil War, the Gold Scandal of 1869, and John Hay's role in developing China's Open Door Policy. Even the annotations provided by standard commercial editions may not be enough for many readers to flesh out what Adams is talking about.
If there ever was a book that requires a study aid, this is it. Assuming you can overcome the common predisposition against such guides, you will discover that CliffNotes provides, in a useful narrative form, the necessary historical and biographical background--although it is certainly no substitute for the wit and wisdom of the work itself. And, for those who finish reading the book and want to fill in the gaps, the more scholarly "New Essays on The Education of Henry Adams" (edited by Rowe) offers additional valuable insights with a minimum of jargon.
Henry Adams was a member of the preeminent American Adams family (John and John Quincy were his great-grandfather and grandfather). Henry's autobiography follows his uniquely privileged life from childhood through old age as Henry witnesses (and always comments on) the ever-changing American experience and perpetually seeks to refine and further his understanding of the world around him. This relentless pursuit of "education" is the connective theme within the autobiography, as Henry continually considers and reconsiders the rapid scientific, technological, economic and political changes that swept through America and the world during his life. Ultimately, through these experiences and reflections, Henry comes to important conclusions about the role of education, learning and life experiences.
This book is filled with historical references and names from Henry's time period, making the book fascinating for someone who is interested in that period (mid 19th to early 20th Centuries). I personally did not find these references interesting and in several cases, I felt confused or lost because I completely missed important references. The strength of the book is Henry's always sharp observation and clever wit.
I think this would be a great book for those interested in Henry's time period or for those interested more broadly in American history. As someone with only peripheral interests in these areas, I found the book to be a little bit out of my league. People interested in this historical period will find this book quite rewarding though don't read it simply because it is supposed to be great-- for that would be an affront to Henry's belief in self-motivated education.
Its also funny how the passage of time changes one's perceptions. Rereading the book a couple of decades later I was surprised to find how much Adams and I had in common. I still didn't agree with his particular nostalgia for a time he had never experienced except in his imagination, but his sense of loss, of powerlessness, of the world slipping into some dangerous entropic state, all rang true to me. I also had read enough history of the 19th Century to appreciate more his many insightful anecdotes of the period. The subtlety of his humor and the richness of his writing style I also found appealing. I found this reading to be a much more rewarding experience - and I can't tell you a thing about where I was at the time, except deeply into the book.