HomeGroupsTalkMoreZeitgeist
Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

The Education of Henry Adams

by Henry Adams

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,830455,066 (3.78)121
'Every generalisation that we settled forty years ago, is abandoned'As a journalist, historian and novelist born into a family that included two past presidents of the United States, Henry Adams was constantly focused on the American experiment. An immediate bestseller awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, his The Education of Henry Adams (1918) recounts his own andthe country's education from 1838, the year of his birth, to 1905, incorporating the Civil War, capitalist expansion and the growth of the United States as a world power. Exploring America as both a success and a failure, contradiction was the very impetus that compelled Adams to write theEducation, in which he was also able to voice his deep scepticism about mankind's power to control the direction of history. Written with immense wit and irony, reassembling the past while glimpsing the future, Adams's vision expresses what Henry James declared the `complex fate' to be an American,and remains one of the most compelling works of American autobiography today.… (more)
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 121 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography by (you guessed it) Henry Adams (1838-1918), who was the great grandson of President John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the son of Charles Francis Adams, the American Ambassador to England during the American Civil War. Because of his “blue blood” and the political connections that went with it, Adams was able to be a firsthand witness to many of the important events of the latter half of the 19th century. The book was written in 1905 when Adams was in his late 60s, a time when he admits his career as a writer, journalist, historian, and Harvard professor was pretty much over.

Unusual for an autobiography, the narrative is delivered in the third person with Adams as the principal protagonist. It begins with his birth at the pinnacle of Boston society. He wrote:

“Had he [Adams] been born in Jerusalem under the shadow of the Temple and circumcised in the Synagogue by his uncle the high priest, under the name of Israel Cohen, he would scarcely have been more distinctly branded, and not much more heavily handicapped in the races of the coming century, in running for such stakes as the century was to offer . . .”

The quoted paragraph is typical of Adams’ writing style throughout the book: ironic, self deprecatory, often witty, but a bit pretentious and florid. In fact, his efforts to be clever sometimes begin to cloy, but more often are charming and entertaining. Nonetheless, if Earnest Hemingway expressed the very same thoughts and concepts, the 505-page book would have been only about 210 pages long.

The persistent focus throughout the book is, as the title suggests, the nature of Adams' learning experiences. He evaluates his formal education at Harvard in Latin, Greek, and the classics as virtually worthless to prepare him for the momentous events he participated in or witnessed. His judged two years of study of civil law in Germany as even less beneficial, although he valued his experiences there outside the classroom.

His "real" education began in earnest when, at age 23, he accompanied his father to England, Charles having been appointed by President Lincoln to serve as Minister and hopefully to forestall the British from recognizing and aiding the Confederate states. The younger Adams went as his father's private secretary. Henry's role, as he described it, "was to imitate his father as closely as possible and hold his tongue." This did not prevent him however from becoming a keen observer of what transpired around him. Adams noted, for example:

". . . in May, 1861 no one in England - literally no one - doubted that Jefferson Davis had made or would make a nation, and nearly all were glad of it, though not often saying so. They mostly imitated Palmerston [the UK Prime Minister until his death in October of 1865], who, according to Mr. Gladstone [Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time and Prime Minister beginning in 1868], 'desired the severance as a diminution of a dangerous power, but prudently held his tongue.' The sentiment of anti-slavery had disappeared."

Charles Adams's mission was stymied, in Henry's view, by the fact that "for some reason partly connected with American sources [such as Copperheads, or Democrats who wanted peace], British society had begun with violent social prejudice against Lincoln, Seward, and all the Republican leaders except Sumner." Newspapers published regular accounts of "the incapacity of Mr. Lincoln and the brutality of Mr. Seward, or vice versa."

But gradually Minister Adams gained allies in London, and Henry himself made friends, among them Sir Charles Trevelyan, with whom "his friendly relations never ceased for near half a century, and then only when death stopped them." [Trevelyan, it should be recalled, shut down Irish famine relief in 1846, contending that culling the numbers of the Irish was all part of Divine Providence. Such sentiments apparently had no negative effect on Henry.]

After the Civil War, Henry tried journalism as a profession. He had extraordinary advantages because of his lineage, usually having no trouble obtaining audiences with whoever happened to be US President at the time. His evaluations of several presidents were surprising in that their reputations have altered significantly since Adams’ day. He thought Andrew Johnson to be a true Southern Gentleman and had only obloquy to spare for Ulysses Grant. His appraisal of Theodore Roosevelt more closely hewed to modern assessments:

"Power when wielded by abnormal energy is the most serious of facts, and all Roosevelt's friends know that his restless and combative energy was more than abnormal. . . . Roosevelt enjoyed a singularly direct nature and honest intent, but he lived naturally in restless agitation that would have worn out most tempers in a month...."

He also offered perceptive remarks about other important players on the national stage. For instance, he tells us about his great personal friend, John Hay (the former secretary to and biographer of Abraham Lincoln), who became Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt. Hay’s final endeavors were directed to finding a peaceful settlement to the Russo-Japanese War. Ironically but probably not surprisingly, in Henry's view Hay did most of the work, but Roosevelt got the Nobel Prize.

Of Henry Cabot Lodge, the American politician, historian, lawyer, and statesman from Massachusetts, he wrote that Lodge was:

" . . . an excellent talker, a voracious reader, a ready wit, an accomplished orator, with a clear mind and a powerful memory. . .[who was] at home and happy among the vices and extravagances of Shakespeare - standing first on the social, then on the political foot . . . The usual statesmen flocked in swarms like crows, black and monotonous. Lodge's plumage was varied . . ."

He injected analyses of other countries into his tales of what he learned over his lifetime as well, commenting on their general intellectual, moral, and cultural climates as he understood them. His perspicacious remarks about Russia remain instructive to this day.

Although the circumstances of his birth and his formal education prepared him admirably for life in the 18th century, he struggled to cope with the radical changes occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, in his opening chapter, he explains that it was this juxtaposition of starting a twentieth-century career from a "troglodytic" past that caused him to speculate about how he learned to navigate the changing universe around him. His subsequent musings about his own education and adjustment are fascinating, all the more so for being so well written.

In the end, Adams bemoaned the inadequacy of classical education and the eclipse of the neoclassical truths that influenced the founding of the Republic by epochal changes in society. In their place came politics manifested as power acting upon people without their consent.

Adams strived (and failed) to develop a Hegelian-type theory of history with the descriptive and predictive power of scientific laws to explain what he saw. He viewed history as an interplay of the conflict between what he called the dynamo (roughly, modern technology) and the Virgin (roughly, traditional customs and religion). But because he could not formulate a satisfactory thesis, history became for him the movement of events without rational causes or moral purposes.

Evaluation: In spite of its shortcomings, this book is highly readible. Adams comes across as quite an appealing character, although clearly fashioned that way by the author himself. An introduction by Edmund Morris to the volume I read points out that the autobiography conceals very unpleasant aspects of Adams's personality that came out in his letters (but not his book): his "pains to elevate himself above the rest of mankind"; his contempt of other (lesser) beings; his paranoia about Jews; "and above all, [his mistrust] of himself." This last trait, according to Morris, is why Adams chose to write his autobiography in the third person:

"By forgoing any direct claim to our notice, and remaining taciturn about his worldly achievements, he achieves the miracle of making us care for him. Vain, he fights conceit; wise, he presents himself as the archetypal American naif, bent at all costs on getting an education."

But that education, as Morris avers, reveals so much of value to readers. We benefit immensely from Adams’s real time observations and analyses of the leading politicians and events of his day. He was perhaps not “in the room where it happened” per se, but close enough. He helps us understand, to paraphrase Lin-Manuel Miranda writing for the musical "Hamilton," "how the game is played, the art of the trade, how the sausage gets made . . . how the parties get to 'Yes,' the pieces that are sacrificed in every game of chess . . ."

It is a book well worth the time of aficiandos of history and of good writing generally.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | May 6, 2024 |
If you know a lot about the history of the second half of the 19th century, you will probably enjoy this book much more than the casual and the curious, as Adams does a lot of name-dropping without any kind of footnotes or contextual explanation. I was especially interested in Adams' description of his time as private secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, Lincoln's ambassador in England during the Civil War, and the diplomatic and political machinations that ocurred while trying to secure Britain's official neutrality.

There are some slow parts of the book, and his attempt to conclude with an overarching theory of history, detailed in scientific language, is unsuccessful in hindsight. Adams' ideas about the accelerating progress of technology and thought is really the culmination of Englightenment thinking, which would be disavowed by the modernists ten years after his death. Perhaps Adams would have revised his thinking if he had lived to see the cataclysm of 1914, and it is ironic how in the last lines of the book he wistfully hopes for a centenial reunion with his best friends King and Hay, to observe the progress and peace that humanity had created. The year: 1938. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
superb book
  ddonahue | Nov 30, 2022 |
I'd first heard of Adams in Gore Vidal's novel "Empire". That novel introduced me to people like John Hay, Secretary to Lincoln, and later Secretary of State itself. These memoirs enlightened me about the stellar politician John Hay was, thanks to the lifelong friendship between Adams and Hay.
Adams centres his memoirs on his rather barren quest to find meaning and understanding through "education". This theme tends to become tiresome.
Adams' period as Private Secretary to his father, First Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, is especially revealing. How close the British were to declaring for the Confederacy surprised me. Similarly, how surprised were the British by the Union's successes.
He is fully admiring of John Hay, to whom he gives credit for advancing American skill and intelligence in the diplomatic manoeuvrings that produced an alliance, or at least a commonality of understanding, between Britain, France, Germany and USA at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
I was a little confused by Adams' dynamic theory of history, but then so was he by the seismic shifts brought about by particle physics and the industrial behemoth.
Adams' life was his ever-flowering education.
  ivanfranko | Aug 18, 2022 |
Adams was born in 1838 into a family that had made American history, but his role was to be that of an observer, from the Civil War up to 1905. Perhaps the most interesting section comes early on, when Henry was serving as secretary to his father, who was US minister to Britain during the Civil War. Adams' discussion of Britain's role in that conflict broke new ground for me: I knew much of the British establishment supported the South, but I didn't know how close the Liberal Government came to recognizing the South as a country. Henry was in Washington during the Grant Administration, and his view of Grant is highly negative. He was also an intimate observer in the 1890's. Sometimes Adams' negativity (about himself more than anything else) becomes burdensome, and one misses the personal element. Still, this is key reading for those interested in the period. ( )
  annbury | May 20, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Adamsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lodge, Henry CabotPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, EdmundIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
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.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

'Every generalisation that we settled forty years ago, is abandoned'As a journalist, historian and novelist born into a family that included two past presidents of the United States, Henry Adams was constantly focused on the American experiment. An immediate bestseller awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1919, his The Education of Henry Adams (1918) recounts his own andthe country's education from 1838, the year of his birth, to 1905, incorporating the Civil War, capitalist expansion and the growth of the United States as a world power. Exploring America as both a success and a failure, contradiction was the very impetus that compelled Adams to write theEducation, in which he was also able to voice his deep scepticism about mankind's power to control the direction of history. Written with immense wit and irony, reassembling the past while glimpsing the future, Adams's vision expresses what Henry James declared the `complex fate' to be an American,and remains one of the most compelling works of American autobiography today.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary
President's grandson
writes a verdict on his life:
No education
(Muscogulus)

Current Discussions

None

Popular covers

Quick Links

Rating

Average: (3.78)
0.5 1
1 4
1.5
2 17
2.5 5
3 62
3.5 13
4 78
4.5 4
5 68

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 205,891,457 books! | Top bar: Always visible