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America's First Dynasty: The Adamses,…
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America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918 (2009)

by Richard Brookhiser

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Richard Brookhiser has written biographies of Presidents Madison and Washington, revolutionary statesmen Hamilton and Gouvernor Morris, and most recently a book on Lincoln, but my favorite of his biographies that I have read is America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918. The dates alone, spanning three centuries, suggest the significance of this family on the history of the United States.

The first two of the dynasty, John and his son John Quincy both became President. The father was one of the leaders of the American Revolution while the son was both President and, later, member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts. John's grandson Charles Francis also had a brilliant political career that included a term as Minister to England in the Lincoln Administration. The fourth Adams of this dynasty, John's great grandson Henry Adams, found his greatness in literature both as an academic historian and with the publication of his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, a classic that is read to this day.

Their story begins with John Adams, a self-taught lawyer who rode horseback to meet clients, and ends with Henry Adams in France as World War I begins and he returns to Washington, D. C. This is a well told overview of a family dynasty that more than any other helped make the United States the great nation it is today. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 28, 2015 |
While this is not his first book, nor his first biography of important American politicians, it is decidedly written differently. In a New Englander matter-of-fact tone, with a smattering of don't-take-my-word-for-it and a texture of this-is-the-way-it-was, Mr. Brookhiser writes with an authority from a standpoint of emotional detachment.

Perhaps, realizing Richard Brookhiser was the editor of a premier conservative magazine, he remained arm's length away from the antithesis of the contemporary Bush Dynasty. Brookhiser pulled countless punches; authoring a book that fellow conservatives might label "benign" and liberals would undoubtedly attach as biased.

Rather than a prosy, pseudo-novel styled biography, Brookhiser remains clinical in his approach and spares the reader from delving into unauthorized biography muckraking. For instance he writes: "John Randolph, his power long lost to opium, alcohol, and irresponsibility, but his tongue still bright and gleaming, attacked [Henry] Clay with sparkling malice.... The secretary of state [Clay] challenged him [Randolph] to a duel. Both men missed twice and shook hands." (pg 94) While literarily elegant, he refrains from unnecessary elaboration.

As the perennial disagreement goes, the party name at the genesis of the Democrat Party can be a plethora of monikers; however Brookhiser insists on calling it the Republican Party [First Generation], opting to forgo a more clear delineation between the modern Republican Party and that of the Anti-Federalists. I merely mention this aspect of the book to illustrate his non-partisanship and sticking to historical facts, rather than retooling four Adamses lives to disparage a party.

Incorporating four men's biographies into one work, not a lot of depth is expected. But delightfully, the quartet of men spanning generations from pre-Revolutionary War to the start of World War I is surprisingly comprehensive. I especially enjoyed the sections on the lesser known Adamses, Charles Francis and Henry. ( )
  HistReader | Dec 24, 2012 |
There are a number of books on "dynasty" first familes. Nagel has written more on the Adams family in Adams Women and Descent from Glory. There are an increasing number of books on the Bushes, not all flattering.
  carterchristian1 | Dec 10, 2008 |
Interesting ( )
  Harrod | Nov 29, 2008 |
An excellent discussion of the Adams generations. ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 10, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684868814, Hardcover)

In the spirit of his earlier books, Alexander Hamilton: American and Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, Richard Brookhiser produces an elegant, concise volume drawing on previous scholarship but offering a fresh perspective on four prickly generations of Adamses. Until David McCullough's John Adams became a surprise bestseller, the United States' second president and his descendants seldom had good press. Acknowledging John's essential role in the American Revolution and his son John Quincy's principled fight against slavery, contemporaries and historians nonetheless judged both men poor presidents, characterized by haughty pride and stiff-necked dislike of compromise. Charles Francis Adams, John Quincy's son, lost an almost certain chance to run for president as a Republican in 1872 by disdainfully announcing "that he would reject any nomination that had to be negotiated for;" the most famous book by Charles's son, The Education of Henry Adams (1907), implicitly blames Henry's failure to achieve the prominence of his forefathers on the loss of meaning and coherence in the modern, fragmented world. Tracing the lives and careers of these four men, Brookhiser strikes a balance between their struggles with a daunting heritage and battles with the often unappreciative outer world, identifying "the constant companion of the Adamses" as "the idea of greatness. Am I as great as my ancestors? As great as my contemporaries? Why doesn't the world recognize my greatness?" This proves a sensible organizing principle for his graceful reappraisal of a well-known but not often well-understood family. --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:48 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Richard Brookhiser has won a wide and loyal following for his stylish, pointed, and elegant biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. In "America's First Dynasty," Brookhiser tells the story of America's longest and still greatest dynasty -- the Adamses, the only family in our history to play a leading role in American affairs for nearly two centuries. From John, the self-made, tough-minded lawyer who rose to the highest office in the government he helped create; to John Quincy, the child prodigy who grew up amid foreign royalty, followed his father to the White House, and later reinvented himself as a champion of liberty in Congress; to politician and writer Charles Francis, the only well-balanced Adams; to Henry, brilliant scholar and journalist -- the Adamses achieved longer-lasting greatness than any other American family. Brookhiser's canvass starts in colonial America, when John Adams had to teach himself the law and ride on horseback for miles to find clients. It does not end until after the "Titanic" sinks -- Henry had booked a room but changed his plans -- and World War I begins, with Henry near the action… (more)

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