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The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

The Education of Henry Adams

by Henry Adams

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1,783223,936 (3.72)103
  1. 10
    Autobiography by John Stuart Mill (bertilak)
  2. 00
    Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis by David M. Potter (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: Two great books covering the same period and events but one from perspective of a close cotemporary observer and the other eighty years later.
  3. 02
    Main Line Wasp: The Education of Thacher Longstreth by W. Thacher Longstreth (bertilak)

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The tiresome (although not terribly so) aspect of the book was the author's continual reminder that, lest you forgot, the theme here is education. Adams' assertions that he really belonged in the 18th century were nowhere more evident than in his (falsely?) self-deprecating wit, which did indeed seem to belong in a European court somewhere. All in all though, the man turned some really great phrases on a regular basis. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Sep 20, 2014 |
One of the oddest books I've ever read, and am ever likely to read: an autobiography written in the third person, which tells us almost nothing at all about the author/central character, this seems more like a pre-modernist bildungsroman than anything else. The weirdness doesn't end there- Henry Adams spends much of his time philosophizing about history while the narrator (call him Mr Adams) spends most of his time explaining that Henry Adams is a fool who has no idea what he's talking about; Henry Adams involves himself in politics, the academy, and Grand Tourism but Mr Adams rants about the uselessness of politics and the academy, and rolls his eyes at Henry's failure to understand or properly enjoy any of the things he sees while Grand Touring.
As if that's not hard enough to deal with, Mr Adams' assumes that you've already heard of him and all his friends, and that you know what they were about. Sometimes this works okay (for instance, I know a bit about Swinburne and the presidents he encounters); often it doesn't (Henry, Mr King and Mr Hay were clearly very close friends, but what exactly the latter two did, what they believed, and what impact their actions had on the greater world remains a mystery to me). If you're deeply versed in 19th century American politics, you'll probably find his comments on those men and dozens of others amusing and interesting. I am not so versed.
Despite which, this is an amazing, brilliant book, well worth the considerable effort needed to read it, because Mr Adams and Henry Adams are pretty obviously men you would like to spend time with in heaven. One of them, or maybe both, would amuse you with lines such as:
"Modern politics is, at bottom, a struggle not of men but of forces. The men become every year more and more creatures of force, massed about central power-houses. The conflict is no longer between the men, but between the motors that drive the men, and the men tend to succumb to their own motive forces."


"Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds."

I don't know, though, if I'd like to spend much time chatting with Adams himself. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
The Education of Henry Adams is a terrible book. Like Walden and Emerson’s Essays, it reveals a peculiarly American complacency in its subject, but without the redeeming writing skill of Thoreau and Emerson. Adams is vague and general when he should be detailed and specific, and that’s pretty much all the time. He writes as if his readers had just put down a newspaper covering the events of the period he’s writing about, so that all he need do is allude to people and places.
The choice of narrating his life in the third person is never justified or explained. Perhaps Adams thought it suited his habit of self-deprecation. Unfortunately, the self-deprecation, like most of Adams’s attempts to be humorous, comes across as mere sarcasm, which is the weakest of humor’s rhetorical tools. The book’s conceit, that Adams never gets the education he needs to face the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, is undercut by Adams’s condescension about almost everyone else’s mental powers, including Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and other American presidents he meets.
Adams, a self-confessed dilettante when it comes to art (though even here he boasts of confounding the experts), is in fact a dilettante in all he tries. He plays at learning law in America and abroad, makes fun of his secretarial duties in the service of his father Charles Francis Adams when the latter is ambassador to England, and when he returns to the States after the Civil War to no prospect of high diplomatic appointment under Johnson, he gives up the idea of diplomacy altogether and becomes a part-time journalist and an unwilling history professor. Meanwhile, he has briefly taken up Darwin without understanding him; he has the mistaken popular, teleological notion that evolution aims at perfection.
In the chapters on Adams’s years in London during the Civil War, the young diplomat bewails his failure to understand what the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Minister Lord Russell, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gladstone are up to. Henry thinks their behavior reflects a wish to see U.S. power divided, since she is a rival nation (and an old enemy). In fact, if their memoirs and biographies written years later are to be believed, they were just reacting to day-to-day changes in the American situation while trying to protect England’s cotton trade with the South.
After the war Adams remains in England at loose ends, taking up Darwinism and becoming a dilettante and an art collector in a small way. When he returns to the country he can expect nothing from the Johnson administration—the southerner Johnson was anathema to the old Free Soilers (Sumner, Charles Adams, and the other men who formed Adams’s political consciousness). He had been publishing, sometimes with his identity concealed, in various stateside papers since his work for his father in the Congress, so he ended up going to Washington to try to break into a journalism job, ultimately in New York.
He supported Grant but soon discovered what a mistake that was. The Jay Gould scandal came less than a year into Grant’s presidency. Adams first turns down and then accepts a job to teach at Harvard and edit the North American Review.
After the death of his sister in the early 1870s there is a hiatus in Adams’s account: He tells us nothing about his marriage or his wife’s depression and suicide, and he leaves out any account of the years from 1872 to 1892, when he retires and begins a period of travel with various friends. Altogether I find the book unsatisfactory as autobiography or as a picture of the times Adams lives through. ( )
  michaelm42071 | Sep 3, 2013 |
read this when traveling from Paris to Moscow back in April 1996 maybe
  FKarr | Jul 27, 2013 |
Internet UPC Database
  FreeBeard | Jul 26, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Adamsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lodge, Henry CabotPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Under the shadow of Boston State House, turning its back on the house of John Hancock, the little passage called Hancock Avenue runs, or ran, from Beacon Street, skirting the State House grounds, to Mount Vernon Street, on the summit of Beacon Hill; and there, in the third house below Mount Vernon Place, February 16, 1838, a child was born, and christened later by his uncle, the minister of the First Church after the tenets of Boston Unitarianism, as Henry Brooks Adams.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0192823698, Paperback)

Many great artists have had at least intermittent doubts about their own abilities. But The Education of Henry Adams is surely one of the few masterpieces to issue directly from a raging inferiority complex. The author, to be sure, had bigger shoes to fill than most of us. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were U.S. presidents. His father, a relative underachiever, scraped by as a member of Congress and ambassador to the Court of St. James. But young Henry, born in Boston in 1838, was destined for a walk-on role in his nation's history--and seemed alarmingly aware of the fact from the time he was an adolescent.

It gets worse. For the author could neither match his exalted ancestors nor dismiss them as dusty relics--he was an Adams, after all, formed from the same 18th-century clay. "The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial," we are told,

revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped, from his greatest grandmother's birth, in the odor of political crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged.
Here, as always, Adams tells his story in a third-person voice that can seem almost extraplanetary in its detachment. Yet there's also an undercurrent of melancholy and amusement--and wonder at the specific details of what was already a lost world.

Continuing his uphill conquest of the learning curve, Adams attended Harvard, which didn't do much for him. ("The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.") Then, after a beer-and-sausage-scented spell as a graduate student in Berlin, he followed his father to Washington, D.C., in 1860. There he might have remained--bogged down in "the same rude colony ... camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads"--had not the Civil War sent Adams père et fils to London. Henry sat on the sidelines throughout the conflict, serving as his father's private secretary and anxiously negotiating the minefields of English society. He then returned home and commenced a long career as a journalist, historian, novelist, and peripheral participant in the political process--a kind of mouthpiece for what remained of the New England conscience.

He was not, by any measure but his own, a failure. And the proof of the pudding is The Education of Henry Adams itself, which remains among the oddest and most enlightening books in American literature. It contains thousands of memorable one-liners about politics, morality, culture, and transatlantic relations: "The American mind exasperated the European as a buzz-saw might exasperate a pine forest." There are astonishing glimpses of the high and mighty: "He saw a long, awkward figure; a plain, ploughed face; a mind, absent in part, and in part evidently worried by white kid gloves; features that expressed neither self-satisfaction nor any other familiar Americanism..." (That would be Abraham Lincoln; the "melancholy function" his Inaugural Ball.) But most of all, Adams's book is a brilliant account of how his own sensibility came to be. A literary landmark from the moment it first appeared, the Autobiography confers upon its author precisely that prize he felt had always eluded him: success. --James Marcus

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:55 -0400)

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A memoir of nineteenth-century historian and philosopher Henry Adams in which he discusses the forces that influenced his life including, politics, religion, society, and literature.

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