John Adams had the unfortunate fate of assuming the presidency between two men immortalized in American history: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Adams, as a result, has often been forgotten. David McCullough does his best to remedy this.
In his nearly 800-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning, narrative history of Adams’ life, McCullough takes readers on a comprehensive examination through the life of America’s second president. Meticulously researched, carefully paced, and written in McCullough’s familiar smooth style, the biography is an impressive feat, resurrecting the short, plump, and always fiery patriot.
McCullough skillfully weaves within his narrative just enough of the Adams family’s letters, allowing the reader to become fully acquainted with Adams’ personal voice without stopping the flow of the book.
But where McCullough most succeeds is his treatment of the revolutionary period. Interesting and entertaining, McCullough lifts the curtain on the pressure-filled atmosphere in which the Continental Congress met. Here, the reader meets not only Adams but other influential figures such as Jefferson, Dickinson, Washington and Franklin.
McCullough, however, is quite sympathetic to Adams throughout the biography. While he points out Adams’ quick temper and great pride (although Adams himself repeatedly made note of these), other disingenuous aspects of Adams’ life are surprisingly passed over. McCullough notes the infamous Alien and Sedition acts with what amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and Adams appears wholly blameless for his torched relationships with Hamilton and Jefferson and their consequences. Also surprising is the comparatively little treatment of Adams’ presidency to his role as a revolutionary leader and diplomat.
Many during Adams’ day recognized the most invaluable and influential figure in his life as Abigail Adams, his wife, and McCullough shows the reader why. He beautifully captures Mrs. Adams sharp wit and intelligence through her correspondence with her husband, so much so, we would be justified in wondering if President Adams would have had the success he did if it was not for Mrs. Adams.
Moreover, McCullough effectively traces the evolution of Adams and Jefferson’s complicated relationship—from strong friendship to bitter enemies to restored acquaintances.
McCullough, although perhaps a little too favorable toward Adams in many cases, has produced an easy-to-read and comprehensive narrative history of one of America’s most important but forgotten Founding Fathers.
Tagline: “The Candid Reader,” written by J.T. Crocenzi, reviews books from all genres and eras to explore how literature has the power to impact our daily lives and help us live better.
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