Review: John Adams

David McCullough (2002)

Have you ever played the game where you choose famous people (dead or alive) who you’d most want to invite to a dinner party? Well, after reading this superbly written and immensely entertaining biography, John Adams would be first on my guest list. Adams was incredibly well read, a brilliant debater, peacemaker, legal mind, patriot, diplomat, and devoted husband, as witnessed by the celebrated correspondence with his wife Abigail, a brilliant mind in her own right.

McCullough’s prose is a pleasure to read. Every chapter contains interesting information I’d either forgotten or never knew. Without bogging down in the minutia of politics, McCullough clearly outlines the steps to independence taken by Adams and his fellow delegates to the Continental Congress, as they negotiated, debated and drafted the foundation for what would become the United States of America. Time and again, Adams was called upon to take a leadership role in shaping the course of events.

In between his work on the Continental Congress and the Presidency, Adams served as an Ambassador in France and England, where he was continually frustrated by Ben Franklin’s rock-star popularity and poor work ethic, and secured financing from the Netherlands when the United States was desperately in need of funding for their war against Britain.

A fascinating aspect of Adams’ life was his love-hate relationship with friend and compatriot Thomas Jefferson. Though history has proven Jefferson the more beloved founding father, McCullough makes a compelling case for Adams, equaling the match-up between these two great minds. He does it without smoothing over Adams’ character flaws, painting a full, rich picture of the man.

Never in a million years would I have imagined I’d so enjoy a book about John Adams, let alone put it on my list of all-time favorites. After reading McCullough’s book—the first of many by this author I’m sure to read—I’m fascinated by the character, accomplishments and rich personal history of this sorely under-appreciated and nearly forgotten founding father.

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5 thoughts on “Review: John Adams

  1. I also really enjoyed McCullough’s “The Path Between The Seas” about the Panama Canal.
    I’m now Reading Walter Isaacson’s Ben Franklin biography which is great.
    I want to read a Jefferson bio but in a way I also don’t. I got a really negative feeling about him after reading the Adams bio. He certainly didn’t have Adams’ integrity.
    I also recommend “Patriots: The Men Who Started The American Revolution” by A. J. Langguth
    That book made me realize how important guys like Samuel Adams were.
    Excuse my long post – maybe I should start my own blog…

  2. I strongly recommend another book about John Adams: “Passionate Sage,” by Joseph Ellis. The author does an amazing job of bringing readers into Adams’ complex mind.

  3. Excellent suggestions, John and Karen. I’m finding this period of history quite fascinating. There’s a lot I didn’t know and a lot of really great books out there, many published in the last few years or so. Founding Brothers is also on my list to read.
    I read another McCullough book this year as well, about the Jonestown Flood. Eventually I hope to get to all McCullough’s books. I’m most looking forward to “Truman”…once I get to him in my Presidential biography reading project.
    For my Jefferson biography I read “Thomas Jefferson” by R.B. Bernstein. Many Jefferson biographies are huge and I was really looking for something a little briefer. This book was a bit too much like “Jogging through Jefferson” but I felt it was enough, especially having come off of the Adams book, since Jefferson was such a featured player there.
    My next challenge will be to find a book on Monroe that’s less than 400 pages!
    John–Long comments always welcome. New bloggers welcome too!

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