John Adams

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I was introduced to this book by two good friends last year. After learning I liked to read, they energetically began describing John Adams. "It's my favorite book! They're going to make a miniseries!" (Are they?) "Lorren, read it as soon as you can. Only don't read it during school, because it is really long and you won't want to do your homework." (Oops, made that mistake, despite their warnings.) These were two sports-obsessed boys that didn't seem to spend a lot of time reading so I was intrigued by their love for this book.

Fast forward about a year. I didn't have the money to buy the book at the time, but when I got my library card I put myself on the waiting list and was surprised at how fast my name made it through the queue.

I've never really been a reader of biography, so I wasn't sure if John Adams would live up to the hype.
It definitely surpassed my expectations.

Obviously, the book follows the life of John Adams, second president of the United States. I've never been a history buff, and basically all I knew about him was that he was the first president to live in the White House and he and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4. Thank you, 3rd grade social studies.

What I didn't know was John Adams' admirable character and quest for self-mastery. I didn't know that he and his wife, Abigail, had one of the most romantic and tender relationships of any of the Founding Fathers. I didn't know that Adams and Jefferson's relationship was so complicated, or how they went through years of silence to each other after Jefferson defeated Adams for the presidency. I also didn't know that they were both so bookish, which immediately endeared them to me.

In an age where politicians do everything they can to expose each others' weaknesses and morality is not an asset, I found John Adams' struggle to always make the most honorable decision refreshing. My favorite example of this is when Adams chose to defend the British soldiers following the Boston Massacre. While he disagreed with Britain's control over America and the recent taxes forced on them with no representation, he knew that in the instance of the Boston Massacre, Americans had caused the violence and broken the law. While many claimed he was disloyal to America by this action, Adams knew it was the moral action, and he did it without hesitation.

Adams also had a beautiful relationship with his wife. Although they were separated for years while Adams was the ambassador to France, England, and The Netherlands, they remained faithful to each other and wrote hundreds of letters. Abigail wrote to him during their longest separation, "The affection I feel for my friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, sanctified by choice and approved by Heaven." (pg 212) I found myself greatly admiring Abigail as well as Adams throughout the book. She was capable, educated, and a strong woman. Another of my favorite quotes from her is about her resolve to not complain, despite separations from her "dearest friend," slander and libel about the President, and struggles with their children.
"That one had to keep a 'good heart,' come what may, was Abigail's lifelong creed. 'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,' she loved to say, quoting Proverbs. 'I hate to complain,' she now wrote. 'No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches.'" (pg 423)
And of course, one of the best parts was learning about how bookish John Adams was. His entire life, he loved books and would get up before 5 am in order to have time to do his reading for the day. When his old eyes grew too tired to read, Abigail would read aloud to him.

All in all, I loved this book. I loved learning about this man that I knew so little about, and I loved going through his entire lifespan and seeing him change and grow. I recommend this book to anyone!

Accessibility/Readability - Quite! I knew next to nothing about John Adams before starting this book, but I was never confused or stuck.
Aesthetics/literary merit - 4. It was quite well written.
Plot - 3.5 At times, the political descriptions bored me and I would find myself ready to move on to the next chapter.
Characters - 5 I loved these characters! Which, as it is a biography, is rather important.
Personal Response - 4.75 While I was bored with a few sections of the book, overall I loved it. I think it taught some valuable lessons and increased my knowledge of a great man I previously knew very little about.
Overall: 4.5


  1. These are the sorts of books that I enjoy -- great review and I look forward to picking this one up. I've always been impressed with the stories of America's forefathers, so this may definitely be one for me to read soon. Great review as well, brilliant insight!

  2. @ Coffee and a Book Chick - Thanks for your feedback! Hope you enjoy the book. I am hoping to read more of McCullough's work soon - I've never been a history buff but he has made me want to learn more. :)


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