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The education of Henry Adams; an autobiography Paperback – 7 Sep 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 530 pages
  • Publisher: Nabu Press (7 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1171613385
  • ISBN-13: 978-1171613381
  • Product Dimensions: 18.9 x 2.7 x 24.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

Product Description


"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.

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Format: Paperback
The writing of Henry Adams can take some getting used to. At times he seems pompous, and falsely modest (after all, how modest can you be when you have decided to write an autobiography of your life), but I suspect the reality is that Adams is simply the product of another time. Clearly influenced by his illustrious family (great grandson of John Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, and son of Charles Francis Adams, a Congressman and Ambassador), one can clearly imagine that this is precisely how he was brought up to be, a product of the 18th and 19th centuries. The result is a biography, "The Education of Henry Adams" which is both personal, and yet touches on several important moments in history.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I first read EDUCATION in graduate school. The book has a great deal of interesting commentary on events of Adams' times. The touch-and-go in England to prevent aid to the South is one example. The autobiographical and historical commentary alone make the book worthwhile. Adams' discussion of the Virgin and the dynamo, however, are even more applicable now than in the early nineteenth century. (Adams also wrote a poem on this theme. It was not in my earlier Modern Library copy, but was reprinted in a journal or book.)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars 81 reviews
110 of 114 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Looking blankly into the void of death" 21 Sept. 2004
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Nearing the age of seventy, when "the mind wakes to find itself looking blankly into the void of death," Adams wrote for his closest friends his version of the earth-shattering events they had experienced. He had 100 copies printed in luxurious editions and, in early 1907, sent them to such dignitaries as Theodore Roosevelt, William and Henry James, Charles Gaskell, and Henry Cabot Lodge. This private account was not released commercially until after Adams's death, in 1918, when it became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

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.
72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stupid Teachers.....show some respect to Mr. Adams 6 Sept. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I can only laugh, to hear the reports of students being required to read Adams. If there is one thing I am certain, it is that Adams would not appreciate being assigned. "The Education" is intended for those real students whose *desire* is learning. I put special emphasis on *desire*, not for the sake of being pompous, but to distinguish this type of desire as being self-motivated. Adams "Education" is a tremendous rebuttal to the ordinary, institutionalized education. There is little doubt as to the socio-economic benefits and sensibilities of formal education, but one should also recognize its inherent limitations. People seldom enjoy what they are forced to do! Adams' "Education" is not to be read as a classic, or because well-read people discuss it over coffee...rather, read it because you're curious. If you've forgotten that school and education are distinct, let Mr. Adams show you the difference. And well meaning teachers of the world.....Phuhleease, don't require Mr. Adams, as you will ruin the experience. --One last note; I think the other reviewers miss the boat when they call Adams cynical and depressing. This is not cynicism, but wit-big difference. For cynicism see Sinclair Lewis' Babbit(which you shouldnt assign either I might add). As far as depressing, I just don't get that at all. It was patently obvious to this reader that Mr. Adams' high-mindedness and detachment were toungue and cheek. In writing his "Education" Mr. Adams, no doubt, enjoyed himself...and while reading it, so will you.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adam's cynical view of U.S. history is amusing and brilliant 10 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dear Stefi, Now that there is a slight lull in the happy Chestertown merry-go-round, I want to write a paragraph or two explaining why <The Education of Henry Adams> is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. This is why it is so interesting: It was written about 1906 and covers U.S. intellectual and political history from about 1860 to 1906. What is clever about it is the cynical, humorous sophistication (very unAmerican) with which he, an insider, regards all of these events. The book, like Montaigne or Rousseau's <Confessions> is an autobiography and, like Montaigne, Adams is of the view that life should above all be amusing, so that any great enterprise should be undertaken only if it is indeed amusing. The driving idea of the book, however, is where to find the truth (you guessed it--he is still searching on the last page). The places where he searches are very intriguing. He begins at Harvard, where, says he, he learned nothing from books and only one thing from the classes: how to get up and talk in front of large crowds of people about nothing. He was required to do this routinely, and his speeches were, like everyone else's, greeted with hissing and criticisms, so he learned not to expect approbation from an audience. Adams got heavily into the debate about evolution (Darwin being the hot topic at the end of the nineteenth century), because he thought it was the main amusement of his era. His position on evolution is "reversion" rather than progress. One of his proofs is a comparison of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant. He admired Washington (a great general who became a great president); he voted for Grant (a great general). He knew personally the members of Grant's cabinet, thieves or incompetents at best. QED: things are getting worse not better. In his old age (sixty), after many other amusements of a busy lifetime, he decided to do what I did at the age of twenty-two: to visit all the important medieval French cathedrals. (In 1958, I bought a car in Saarbrucken--VW bug--and drove to seventeen of the greatest cathedrals, Guide Michelin in hand, staying at the youth hostels.) His book is peppered with well-digested quotations from French literature; he apparently knew it from top to bottom. His goal was to understand the Middle Ages (unity in the Virgin) and to write two books, one about the unity of the Middle Ages (title: <Chartres and Mont Saint Michel>) and another about the diversity of the twentieth century, <The Education of Henry Adams>. Adam's book has a number of difficult spots (confusing original philosophy and historical references that mean something only to the well-informed historian), but the good parts are worth going on to find. I hope this vignette will persuade you to get through the boring chapters at the beginning of the book on his childhood in Quincy. The narrative becomes interesting only with his stories about the Court of Saint James where he spent his early twenties as a diplomat during the U.S. Civil War. From that point on, I think you will love it as much as I did. Cheers! Claire
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The greatest non-fiction book? 20 Aug. 2002
By W. Sean McLaughlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I was intrigued by this book because it is almost universally considered to be the best non-fiction book ever written. I went into the book with an open mind and eagerness but ultimately found myself a bit disappointed.
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.
44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An uneven but rich take on a world in transition 26 May 2000
By Doug Vaughn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Its funny how some reading experiences emcompass more than just the book itself. In the case of Henry Adams autobiographical essay collection, The Education of Henry Adams, I always think of a sunny day in the park. The first time I read the book I was still in High School and believed that I had an obligation to read all those books that had been identified as "classics". This was one. I read most of it one afternoon while sitting under a large oak tree in Shelby Park in Nashville, TN. I remember contrasting the gloom and pessimism of Adams thought with the sunny day and the optimistic prospects I believed the future held for me. I argued with him as I read. I thought his reaction to Darwin, for example, was misplaced and in bad faith. I thoroughly disagreed with his argument in the chapter "The Virgin and the Dynamo"; I felt I knew enough about the Middle Ages to prefer living in a time of electric lights, running water, medical science and imperfect democracy than in a hovel in some Medieval village dominated by King and the Roman Catholic Church. I dismissed Henry Adams as a whiner and an educated misfit who had nothing to say to me.
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.
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