Book Review: John Adams by David McCullough

July 15, 2010
John Adams by David McCullough is a fabulous biography of the second President of these United States. Mr. McCullough’s characterization of the president and his wife really shines through; their relationship – which is equal by today’s standards – is amazing and a reflection on their love, mutual respect and intelligence.

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John Adams, an interesting figure, was a person with a high standard of integrity, a standard which drove him all his life. The president’s relations with his contemporaries such as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and especially Thomas Jefferson were intriguing and fascinating.

Among the pages there are excerpts from speeches, but I found his personal family letters most interesting. Those letters let us glimpse into the genius mind of Adams. In his letters Adams seems neurotic, worrisome and very opinionated – great material for a biography. For example, Adams constantly worries about being forgotten by history, he frets that Benjamin Franklin’s “electrical rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod and thence forward these two conducted all the policy, negotiation, legislation, and war“.

How can you not love this guy?

How can you not respect a guy who took a possibly career ending case only to prove that the legal system is just and fair?

He succeeded, and won the case, by defending the British soldiers accused of killing people in a riot organized by Sam Adams – known to us today as The Boston Massacre. The book follows Adams to Europe, where he served as an envoy accompanied by his son John Quincy. Their harrowing journey across dangerous waters, avoiding storms, fires and the British Navy is just as exciting as the diplomatic maneuvers through revolutionary Europe.

Upon his return, Adams become the first Vice President of the United States, “the most insignificant office ever known to man”, as he so eloquently stated. Adams was awarded with the impossible and un-envious task of replacing George Washington as the nation’s second president.

This biography is meant to be savored, I could not rush though this magnificent book, nor did I want to, due to the dense information presented. However, unlike textbooks, Mr. McCullough tells a fascinating story instead of throwing dates and facts in one’s face.

There are several reproductions of important documents, art work and illustrations included in this Pulitzer winning book.

This book is what reading history is all about.

Please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my review, or just to say hello.

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I bought this book.
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  • Carin B.July 16, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I would actually really like to start reading about American presidents and I've seen this book around. Sounds like it's a great book from your review so I will definitely pick it up in the future!

  • Man of la BookJuly 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Carin, it's around 700 pages or so but very interesting and well written. Have you seen the HBO show? If you did, what did you think? I still haven't seen it.

  • Shelley (Book Clutter)July 20, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I love David McCullough's writing. I enjoyed this one and 1776. That's a very tempting idea to read about the president's in order. My problem is knowing which biographies are good. I'll be checking your blog for suggestions!

    • zoharOctober 18, 2010 at 10:54 am

      Hi Shelley, knowing which biographies are good is my issue as well. So far I think my picks are pretty good, if I had to change one it would be American Sphinx for another Jefferson biography.

      The nice thing about reading the biographies in order is that they overlap, so you get different perspectives to similar events.

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