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John Adams by David McCullough
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John Adams (original 2001; edition 2002)

by David McCullough (Author)

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10,326170416 (4.31)455
Member:Ms.Manske
Title:John Adams
Authors:David McCullough (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2002), Edition: 1st Touchstone, 752 pages
Collections:Your library
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Work details

John Adams by David McCullough (2001)

  1. 20
    Truman by David McCullough (readysetgo)
  2. 10
    Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (sergerca)
    sergerca: Similar scope and style as McCullough's about one of Adam's chief contemporaries.
  3. 10
    Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham (mattries37315)
  4. 10
    John Adams: Revolutionary Writings, 1775-1783 by John Adams (wildbill)
    wildbill: More of Adams own words in volume two of his Revolutionary Writings.
  5. 10
    Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll (morryb, readysetgo)
  6. 10
    John Adams: Revolutionary Writings, 1755-1775 by John Adams (wildbill)
    wildbill: Read Adams own words in this collection of his writings.
  7. 00
    John Adams and the American Revolution by Catherine Drinker Bowen (gordon361)
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In John Adams, David McCullough summarizes Adams’s character, writing, “He was not a man to back down or give up, not one to do anything other than what he saw to be his duty. When in another time and society might be taken as platitudes about public service were to both John and Abigail Adams a lifelong creed” (pg. 29). Further, “His marriage to Abigail Smith was the most important decision of John Adams’s life, as would become apparent with time. She was in all respects his equal and the part she was to play would be greater than he could possibly have imagined, for all his love for her and what appreciation he already had of her beneficial, steadying influence” (pg. 57).

Discussing the work of the Continental Congress, McCullough writes, “Among the surprises of the unfolding drama, as tensions increased, was the extent to which the ardent, disputatious John Adams held himself in rein, proving when need be a model of civility and self-restraint, even of patience” (pg. 93). He continues, “If there is anything that seems not in keeping, it is the tone of Adams’s self-deprecation, which is more that of the old man he became than the Adams of 1776, who was anything but inadequate as a writer and who was by no means as unpopular as he later said” (pg. 119). Addressing the topic of Adams’s personality at this key period, McCullough writes, “In all the surviving record of official and private papers pertaining to the Continental Congress, there is only one member or eyewitness to events in Philadelphia in 1776 who wrote disparagingly of John Adams, and that was Adams writing long years afterward. As critical as he could be in his assessment of others, the man he was inclined to criticize most severely was himself. In fact, the respect he commanded at Philadelphia that spring appears to have been second to none” (pg. 120).

McCullough writes of Adams’s views of France during his time negotiating French assistance for the war, “Adams’s objections stemmed not so much from a Puritan background – as often said – but from the ideal of republican virtue, the classic Roman stoic emphasis on simplicity and the view that decadence inevitably followed luxury, age-old themes replete in the writings of his favorite Romans. Like so many of his countrymen, then and later, Adams both loved and disapproved of France, depending in large degree on circumstances or his mood of the moment” (pg. 192). Discussing Adams’s philosophy in framing the Massachusetts constitution, McCullough writes, “As had no constitution before, Adams was declaring it the ‘duty’ of government not only to provide education but to ‘cherish’ the interests of literature and science – indeed, the full range of the arts, commerce, trades, manufactures, and natural history” (pg. 223).

Discussing the time Adams spent in France, McCullough writes, “To compound the pleasure and stimulation of the new life, there was the bonus of Jefferson and the flourishing of a friendship that under normal circumstances at home would most likely never have happened… But brought together as they were in Paris, in just these years between one revolution and another, none of them knowing what was over the horizon for France or their own country, or for any of them individually, the bonds that grew were exceptional. None of them would thing of Paris ever again without thoughts of the other” (pg. 311). Adams further distinguished himself as ambassador to the Court of St. James. According to McCullough, “It had all gone superbly. Adams’s remarks had been graceful, dignified, appropriate, and, with the possible exception of his reference to ‘kindred blood,’ altogether sincere. He had proven a diplomat of first rank, almost in spite of himself” (pg. 337). In all of this, Adams kept theorizing. McCullough writes, “The more Adams thought about the future of his country, the more convinced he became that it rested on education” (pg. 364). Further, in terms of the U.S. Constitution, Adams “was not so concerned about a President staying long in office, Adams said, as he was about too frequent elections, which often brought out the worst in people and increased the chances of foreign influence” (pg. 380). These concerns seem all-too-prescient after the 2016 election.

In turning to Adams’s tenure as Vice President, McCullough demonstrates Adams’s querulous nature, writing, “Adams would not be stilled. It was almost as if he had to go against the current, lest anyone doubt his independence. He repeatedly intruded on the Senate’s time to voice his views, even lecturing the Senate, as if back at his schoolmaster’s desk” (pg. 407). Eventually, the disputes and factionalization grew to such a point that Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State. McCullough writes, “From this point on, Adams and Jefferson were seldom to be perceived as anything other than archrivals. The public stage that Jefferson said he wished to avoid, the growing enmity between public men that Adams abhorred, had made them in the public mind symbols of the emerging divisions in national politics” (pg. 433). McCullough demonstrates how, in the end, Adams’s Vice Presidency was one that set the standard for others. He writes, Adams “had served longer than in any other post in his career, and in all he had served extremely well – dutifully as president of the Senate and with unfailing loyalty to Washington. He had cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate of historic importance – in protecting the President’s sole authority over the removal of appointees, for example, and in all the several stages leading to the location of the national capital. In all, Adams cast thirty-one deciding votes, always in support of the administration and more than by any vice president in history” (pg. 460).

McCullough summarizes Adams’s inaugural speech, writing, “He spoke of his respect for the rights of all states, and of his belief in expanded education for all the people, both to enlarge the happiness of life and as essential to the preservation of freedom. The great threats to the nation, Adams warned, were sophistry, the spirit of party, and ‘the pestilence of foreign influence’” (pg. 468). He summarizes Adams’s unique position as the second President of the United States: “Having never in his public life held an administrative position, having never played any but a marginal role in the previous administration, having never served in the military, or campaigned for a single vote, or claimed anything like a political bent, he was now chief executive and commander-in-chief” (pg. 469). According to McCullough, “The year 1798, the most difficult and consequential year of John Adams’s presidency, was to provide him no respite. His stay at Quincy would be longer even than the year before, but the stress of the undeclared war – the Quasi-War, as it came to be known, or Half-War, as he called it – combined with the threatening ambitions of Alexander Hamilton and growing dissension within Adams’s own cabinet, filled his days with frustration and worry” (pg. 508). One small joy, however, came from approving funding for the Library of Congress (pg. 536).

McCullough writes of the election of 1800, “What was surprising – and would largely be forgotten as time went on – was how well Adams had done. Despite the malicious attacks on him, the furor over the Alien and Sedition Acts, unpopular taxes, betrayals by his own cabinet, the disarray of the Federalists, and the final treachery of Hamilton, he had, in fact, come very close to winning in the electoral count” (pg. 556). McCullough summarizes the Adams Presidency: “In his four years as President, there had been no scandal or corruption. If he was less than outstanding as an administrator, if he had too readily gone along with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and was slow to see deceit within his own cabinet, he had managed nonetheless to cope with a divided country and a divided party, and in the end achieved a rare level of statesmanship” (pg. 566). Further, McCullough argues, “Were it not for Adams making peace with France, there might never have been a Louisiana Purchase” (pg. 586).

Finally, McCullough turns to Adams’s retirement, the high-point of which was his correspondence with Jefferson, his friend turned political enemy, with whom he put aside old enmities. McCullough writes, “Within months a half dozen letters had traveled the roads between Quincy and Monticello, and one of the most extraordinary correspondences in American history – indeed, in the English language – was under way. In two years’ time fifty letters went back and forth, and this was but the beginning” (pg. 605). Drawing extensively upon John Adams’s papers, McCullough presents this defining figure of American history in all his glories, faults, and simple moments. He humanizes the second President and shows how his wisdom and example may serve for modern readers. ( )
1 vote DarthDeverell | May 25, 2019 |
I enjoyed the book but it was a slow read for me, except for the last chapter, at which point I felt so comfortable with John Adams that I enjoyed his company. ( )
  MichaelGlenn | Feb 3, 2019 |
Really enjoyed but could be a little wordy ( )
  mollygerry | Nov 25, 2018 |
Though the T.V. mini series was intriguing, the book is far more so. The televised series really didn't give much focus to Adams' spiritual life and his intimacy with his wife. The way that the book ended, though pretty well represented through the series, was amazing. ( )
  impactwriter | Sep 5, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Apr 2009):
- What more can be said of this brilliant work...? I believe the author first intended this as a book of Adams and Jefferson, but after he read the goldmine of touching correspondence between Adams and his wife Abigail, the "colossus of independence", as Jefferson called him, became the focus.
- Adams was, though consistently pro-independence and sometimes volatile, a relative moderate, and his sound judgement ultimately allowed this Great Experiment to begin. McCullough so clearly displays his grasp of the subject matter, yet keeps the story flowing and unfolding at a good clip. The letters between the Adams forms a glue to the story, and much of what was confided to each other is absolutely invaluable history (thank goodness most of it survives!).
- Other favorite themes to the book are the ever-evolving relationship between Adams and Jefferson, so that despite fierce political contention during their primes, they become dependable pen pals throughout retirement.; and, the fascinating intrigue involving foreign governments, esp. France, leading up to and beyond our founding.
- Read and enjoy, there is no better history than how "We the People" came to be. ( )
1 vote ThoughtPolice | Sep 4, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David McCulloughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Herrmann, EdwardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Runger, NelsonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We live, my dear soul, in an age of trial. What will be the consequence I know not. - John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1774
Dedication
For our sons David, William, and Geoffrey
First words
In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north.
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I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading,
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 141657588X, Paperback)

Left to his own devices, John Adams might have lived out his days as a Massachusetts country lawyer, devoted to his family and friends. As it was, events swiftly overtook him, and Adams--who, David McCullough writes, was "not a man of the world" and not fond of politics--came to greatness as the second president of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of a generation of revolutionary leaders. He found reason to dislike sectarian wrangling even more in the aftermath of war, when Federalist and anti-Federalist factions vied bitterly for power, introducing scandal into an administration beset by other difficulties--including pirates on the high seas, conflict with France and England, and all the public controversy attendant in building a nation.

Overshadowed by the lustrous presidents Washington and Jefferson, who bracketed his tenure in office, Adams emerges from McCullough's brilliant biography as a truly heroic figure--not only for his significant role in the American Revolution but also for maintaining his personal integrity in its strife-filled aftermath. McCullough spends much of his narrative examining the troubled friendship between Adams and Jefferson, who had in common a love for books and ideas but differed on almost every other imaginable point. Reading his pages, it is easy to imagine the two as alter egos. (Strangely, both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.) But McCullough also considers Adams in his own light, and the portrait that emerges is altogether fascinating. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:09 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history. This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.… (more)

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