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John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger

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Very shallow biography, going over the surface of very important and interesting issues that John Quincy Adams was in the center of. You could issue this book under 'John Quincy Adams for Dummies'. It does its job as such and I guess such books are also needed hence three stars. Why is that I often encounter books like that when I read about American history whereas practically all British history books, including biographies, are far more sophisticated, even not very good ones. ( )
  everfresh1 | Mar 30, 2014 |
I did not read this book; I listened to the audiobook. Johnny Heller (sp?) did a good job reading it; I really enjoyed the voice he employed for John Quincy.

I agree with the earlier reviewer who pointed out that this book does not make any clear historical argument. It is certainly unabashedly positive in its portrayal of its subject. For example, I was surprised the author was so uncritical of John Quincy Adams's insistence on a point of courtesy in negotiating a key treaty between the US and Britain; although he did portray the opposition to the strategy of standing on courtesy of the other diplomats working on the matter, including Henry Clay.

Also, the author passes over some atrocities uncritically. For example, when I listened to the narration concerning Andrew Jackson's actions in Florida against the Seminoles and African-American communities there, I felt as though one could append the phrase "like you do" to statements like, "And then Jackson killed the entire town of black residents, giving no quarter to women and children." In other words, the book was uncritical, and the narration accordingly was nonchalant.

All that said, I was satisfied with this book. I wanted to learn new things about this President, and it certainly allowed me to do just that. I enjoyed a lot of it. ( )
  kara.shamy | Jan 9, 2014 |
John Quincy Adams led a fascinating life. As a young boy, he watched the battle of Bunker Hill from a distance; while living with his father in Paris, he ate with and was befriended by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson; he went as a diplomat to Moscow at age 14, then traveled back through the Baltics by himself. He was a warm friend of Czar Alexander I and also of Lord Castlereagh, two of the most powerful individuals at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. As US Secretary of State, he wrote the policy that became known as the Monroe Doctrine. After a horrible single term as America's sixth President, John Quincy Adams served for years in the US House of Representatives, where he became a national leader in the fight against Southern efforts to gag discussions of slavery. Through it all, somehow John Quincy Adams managed to avoid the slide into alcoholism that destroyed his uncle, brother, and two of his three sons.

Harlow Giles Unger provides a straightforward biography of Adams, relying mostly on well-chosen primary sources. On the positive side, this means the book is a brisk read. It's also well illustrated, with helpful portraits of key people and excellent captions. On the other hand, this is not a reflective biography, and it offers little psychological insight into its subject. Adams' 14,000 page diary is available for online browsing (but unfortunately, not yet for download); perhaps one has to read it directly to get a grounded sense of this amazing man. For Adams' years in the House, William Lee Miller's Arguing About Slavery (1996) offers a riveting and much more detailed account; Unger cites it in his bibliography, but, oddly, not in any of his endnotes. ( )
  bezoar44 | Jan 5, 2014 |
This book is so felicitously written that it is a sheer joy to read. It is not overly erudite, and sometimes one wonders whether it is rigorously accurate. I noted these minor but maybe inexcusable errors: On page 146 it is stated that James Madison took office on March 4, 1804, whereas he actually took office on Mar 4, 1809. On page 186 it is stated that Castlereagh prevented Russia from swallowing Poland--but Poland was swallowed in 1793 by Prussia, Austria, and Russia and stayed 'swallowed' till 1918. I really did not think it necessary to read a biography of Adams since I read Samuel Flagg Bemis' two volume biography in December 1970. But that is a long time ago and I found this book told me a lot more about Adams' personal life--all of much interest--and I am really glad I decided to read this fascinating book. The final chapters, relating Adams' time in the House of Representatives from 1831 to 1848, is most excellently done and cannot fai lto bring joy to anyone reading it, and cause one to be exultantly grateful that Adams' career closed so magnificently, after his less than happy four years as President from 1825 to 1829. ( )
  Schmerguls | Dec 19, 2013 |
Are You Smelling What I’m Stepping In?

Thanks to the blessing I have of working in the Young Adult Program with addicts 18 to 25, I am privy to the latest, hippest, and most advanced slang on the planet. True, I typically understand only 6 to 17% of it, but that’s not important now.
What is important is that my current favorite way to ask if someone understands the concepts, relationships, and theories I am espousing at the time is to inquire, “Are you smelling what I’m stepping in?” If nothing else I at least have their attention.

Lately, my attention has been captive to Harlow Giles Unger’s biography of John Quincy Adams. Speaking to a room of Nobel Prize winners, nominees, and their guests, President Kennedy said, “I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” The only possible challenge to JFK’s assertion is John Quincy Adams.

The list of achievements by John Quincy Adams, the staggering breadth of his expertise, places the horizon of President Adams’ accomplishments far past the vision all that followed him. Only one or two of President Adams successors in the Oval office could demonstrate a comparable range of knowledge, Theodore Roosevelt for example, but even then they remained in more shallow waters. While we have been blessed to have as our leaders great patriots and men with a searing passion for our republic, Adams’ dedication was born while just a boy as he saw first hand the awful grip of tyranny, and the horrible cost of freedom bought through 18th century warfare. Undress your understanding of the world to that of a third grade boy, and imagine what his heart must have felt as his eyes witnessed Bunker Hill.

His service began with observing the birth of our country, and those who labored as midwives including Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, not to mention his father, and the nation’s second president, John Adams. The life given in service ended when a stroke claimed him on the floor of the House of Representatives. Though no one knew it that day, he stood on the floor with a young Congressman from Illinois who would save the union from the cancer that could not be removed before it’s birth, and in rescuing the adolescent nation, become her greatest president.

Many argue about the merit of such high praise given to John Quincy Adams, but there are two facts which seem contested by none. The integrity of Mr. Adams was above question, and when an honest broker was needed to find compromise, all eyes, friend and political foe alike, turned to the trusted eyes of John Quincy Adams. The second fact, also not disputed by his contemporaries is that John Quincy Adams was possibly the most arrogant and caustic son-of-a-bitch to ever stand within eye sight of the White House. Most of the political failures he experienced were caused by his own patronizing and belittling attitude.

Governance and diplomacy each came with a structure, an understanding, a set a rules that gave cover to the disdain Mr. Adams so often expressed for lesser men, men lacking his intellect and skill like a mint covers bad breath. Without that cover the stench of his arrogance kept folks at `such a distance they could know little else about him. To tell a group of people who, less than 50 years earlier, inspired by words like “Give me liberty or give me death!”, were willing to stand against the most skilled military on the planet that Congress should not be "palsied by the will of our constituents" is just plain stupid.

Even then, Adams continued to find a place of service to his country, and to others regardless of the expense to his family, his reputation, and even his health. Mr. Unger’s work allows us to appreciate all aspects of Mr. Adams, even his arrogance, and acknowledge and understand the gifts of a man whose skill, intellect, persistence and love of freedom were given to in the fullest, even to his very last breath. ( )
  lanewillson | Jul 18, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Who but shall learn that freedom is the prize
That nature's God commands the slave to rise,
Roll, years of promise, rapidly roll round,
Till not a slave shall on this earth be found.
-John Quincy Adams, 1827
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030682129X, Hardcover)


He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president.

John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this masterful biography, award winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation’s formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage.

A magisterial biography and a sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, Unger’s John Quincy Adams follows one of America’s most important yet least-known figures.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:45 -0400)

He fought for Washington, served with Lincoln, witnessed Bunker Hill, and sounded the clarion against slavery on the eve of the Civil War. He negotiated an end to the War of 1812, engineered the annexation of Florida, and won the Supreme Court decision that freed the African captives of The Amistad. He served his nation as minister to six countries, secretary of state, senator, congressman, and president. John Quincy Adams was all of these things and more. In this biography, the author reveals Quincy Adams as a towering figure in the nation's formative years and one of the most courageous figures in American history, which is why he ranked first in John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. This biography and sweeping panorama of American history from the Washington to Lincoln eras, follows one of America's most important yet least-known figures.… (more)

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