60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holton does justice to Abigail's life story
Abigail Adams is perhaps best remembered for requesting that her husband, the not-yet-president John Adams, "remember the ladies" as he helped forge a new government in 1776. This famous private letter has turned Adams into a feminist icon, and while here she may have been specifically referring to domestic violence, in other letters she expressed what is often seen as a...
Published on November 16, 2009 by Bookreporter
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Having a Hard Time Getting Into Mrs. Adams
This is not a page turner. Perhaps because it's my first bio on her I don't appreciate the minute details this author is generous with. Most information is from letters written either to or from Abigail and lots of subjective fill in by the author. I find it rather questionable and not that informative regarding the kinds of things I would like to know about her life...
Published 8 months ago by Julianna Faucher
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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holton does justice to Abigail's life story,
Abigail Adams is perhaps best remembered for requesting that her husband, the not-yet-president John Adams, "remember the ladies" as he helped forge a new government in 1776. This famous private letter has turned Adams into a feminist icon, and while here she may have been specifically referring to domestic violence, in other letters she expressed what is often seen as a progressive, enlightened view that women should be equally educated with men and allowed to engage in business and control their own finances. This aspect of Adams's biography is well-known. But less so are her conflicted ideas on religion, African-Americans, money making, Europe, politics and family. In ABIGAIL ADAMS, by American history scholar Woody Holton, readers are given a vivid and complete picture of America's second first lady.
Abigail Smith was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1744, the daughter of a parson. She was raised by her overprotective parents but spent a lot of time with her more affectionate maternal grandmother. Along with her brother and two sisters, she had a typical childhood. She was atypical, though, in the sense that she yearned for an education forbidden to her, one of science and critical thinking in addition to literature and language. She managed to find ways to more fully educate herself through the study of languages and by reading whatever she could get her hands on.
Just before her 20th birthday, she married John Adams, a lawyer family friend nine years her senior. Though one would expect her concern with education and worldly topics to end at that point, she remained true to her belief that girls should be educated as boys are and that women possess intelligence, reason and dignity.
However, as Holton shows, Adams was not a feminist by today's standards. Her ideas of gender were complicated; she asserted that education and business opportunities were important to girls and women, but also believed that propriety, decorum and fashion were important as well. Her own business dealings were often done behind her husband's back, and at times those dealings verged on illegal. She was usually less than generous about African-Americans and foreigners or immigrants in her private letters, though she was always charitable and mostly kind.
It is the contradictions that make Adams so fascinating and Holton's book so interesting. This is not a romantic or idealized view of this American icon, but an honest, refreshing exploration of a remarkable woman who at once personified and challenged the perceptions of women of her time and embodied many of the changing mores and deeply rooted beliefs of the foundering generation of the United States.
Adams's tale gets all the more rich as she finds herself moving up in the political world. She spends years in Europe as the wife of a diplomat and comes home to be the wife of the first vice president and second president of the new nation. But while the politics and history are important, it is as a wife, sister, daughter, friend, mother and thinker that Adams is most compelling. And Holton does a terrific job explaining the ways in which she was a product of her time and place and how she was unique and trailblazing. The relationship between Adams and her husband is tender and relatable and their exchanges surprising in their language, passion and thoughtfulness. These sections often make for some of the best reading in the biography.
Holton's prose is at once light and scholarly; the details and facts are clearly presented, but he lets the story unfold in an entertaining way and allows the main characters to speak for themselves, stepping in to elucidate, explain and occasionally question the material.
ABIGAIL ADAMS is a must read for those interested in American history but will find many happy readers among those who thought historical biographies had to be stuffy or dull. Adams was a true partner with her powerful husband, a well-read and outspoken advocate for women, a financial risk-taker, and loving mother and sister. Holton does justice to her life story.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, original, well written,
Everybody knows the name Abigail Adams but few people know much about her. The John Adams mini-series and the book it was based on hardly tell anything about her. Boy, was she interesting. Woody Holton doesn't just take us through her whole life but provides tons of interesting details. The part I found the most fascinating was the stuff about her financial wheeling and dealing. She was quite the savvy investor. And she even wrote her own will--at a time when women couldn't legally pass along property--to make sure her assets were divided how she wanted them. She was quite the feisty feminist icon. I thought Holton did a great job of bringing Abigail alive in all her complexity--not just the financial speculator, but the wife, the mother, the political advisor. After reading this its hard not to think that Mrs. Adams should be added to the pantheon of "Founding Fathers" as well. Not just as an early feminist hero but as an important player in her own right. The other thing I liked about this book was how it really placed Abigail in the ebb and flow of the events of the Revolution and John's presidency. Holton's a real historian, with years of studying the Revolution behind him, so he's able to bring context that other of the biographies lack. As you'd expect from someone who was a national book award finalist, Abigail Adams is smoothly written and easy to read. He's especially good at explaining complicated business deals in a straightforward way.
This book is great for anyone interested in the Revolution or anyone looking for a good read about an important founding mother.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a spellbinding life story,
Abigail Adams was all over the place in the Revolutionary era, her life entwining not only with that of her husband John, her son John Quincy Adams, and her daughter-in-law Louisa Catherine Adams, but also with those of Benjamin Franklin, George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Mercy Otis Warren, George III and Queen Charlotte, and other famous men and women, some she admired and some she deprecated. In this brisk and engaging new biography, Woody Holton highlights Adams's keen observation of the public events and public figures of her day, but even more importantly, he shines a steady light on the recesses of her private life, her relationships with her sisters and brother, husband, children, and grandchildren, her economic ventures, her daily activities, and her private dreams and values.
Much of Holton's analysis focuses on two intertwined themes: Abigail Adams as economic agent and Abigail Adams as commentator and critic of women's roles in society. Holton convincingly argues that Adams was responsible for managing and shepherding much of the Adams family's wealth and that her investments turned a better profit than her husband's investments did. The final chapter features an intriguing account of Adams's will, which she used to endow granddaughters, nieces, and other female relations (some already married) with modest economic portfolios of their own. Throughout her life, Adams testified to her concern for women's education-- she believed that the revolution in girls' schooling was one of the most important social changes of her lifetime-- and her wish that women might have more of a voice in society. Yet, as Holton notes, she stopped short of being a feminist in the modern sense and always insisted on wives' ultimate subordination to their husbands' judgment, even when that principle came hard for her.
There are a few curious ellipses in this book. Holton says very little about Adams's Christian faith, even as he acknowledges that it was important to her, and relatively little about sexuality (aside from a speculative comment that she may have employed some form of contraception), even though Abigail and John's letters, with their passionate undertones, by-play about the prospect of infidelity during their long separations, and allusions to Abigail's evident appreciation of the sexual magnetism of one of her daughter's suitors, would seem to provide ample material for a more considered discussion. But on the topics on which he chooses to focus, particularly Adams's economic ventures and relations with her extended family, Holton is incomparable. I breezed through the 400-page book in 48 hours; I simply couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Founding Mother Of The Revolution,
Mr. Holton has written a very readable biography of Abigail Adams and has brought her to life the way David McCullough brought to life her husband, John Adams. The author did extensive research on the hundreds of letters that she wrote to John and her relatives, and quotes from them generously. Abigail was an excellent writer and fun to read. In an era of male dominance with legal sanction, she was a voice for equality and lived it within her extended family (it helped that John was gone for months at a time on political matters, so that she could develop her financial skills and thoughts at a distance from him). This is the best one volume biography of Abigail Adams.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography of Founding Mother brings to life a fascinating woman,
Abigail Adams by Woody Holton is a timely and vital update to the well-known second First Lady of the United States. Abigail Adams has gained a place in history as the Dear Friend of her husband John Adams, as well as for her famed Remember the Ladies letter to him during the American Revolution. Previous biographies of her and her husband have treated her as a spunky but devoted wife of a Founding Father, but Holton brings completely new aspects of her to life in this well researched and enjoyable read. The author views Adams through the lens of her desire for women's right to education and to own property, so many anecdotes and letters are related strengthening support for that portion of Adams' life. While several other Founding Fathers ended up in abject poverty after their terms in office, John Adams' family lived in comfort and prosperity. Much of this was due to Abigail's watchful care of their property as well as her selling of European goods during the War when those goods were hard to come by. She carefully avoided becoming known as a merchant, but added to the family's wealth, as well as her own. In a time when women couldn't own property or manage their own money, Abigail was accruing enormous wealth through speculation on government bonds. She never allowed worries about money to distract her from caring for her large extended family. She took in children belonging to her sisters, cousins, and own children, always providing a place of refuge for those in need. She kept an active hand in the lives of those she loved, never afraid to offer her opinion and advice. She faced much tragedy in her life: the death of a thirteen month old girl, stillbirth, the death of her wastrel son Charlie, and breast cancer in her beloved eldest child, Nabby. John and Abigail were also separated for many years of their marriage as he served the emerging nation, but that led to a wealth of correspondence between the two that allows Holton, and other biographers, to interpret and understand the relationship between the two. Abigail, under Holton's pen, emerges as a fascinating and intelligent woman determined to care for those she loved and unafraid to buck tradition in order to do so.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing read about an intriguing woman,
Much emphasis is rightly given to the founding fathers of America such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But rarely do we get such a detailed glimpse into the homes and personal lives of these men as we do the Adams' in Woody Holton's biography of Abigail Adams. With riveting detail, Holton introduces us to the complex woman who helped shaped America more than perhaps any other of the "founding mothers" through her influence on her husband.
Strong-willed, intelligent and willing to speak her mind, Adams was decades ahead of her time when it came to women's rights and involvement in the everyday affairs of life and politics. Relying heavily on Adams' correspondence between her husband and others, Holton places much emphasis on Adams as an advocate of women's rights. We glimpse the struggles that the Adams family endured through the many long absences of John Adams; but through these struggles we also get to see Abigail's knowledge and fortitude in being able to "keep the home fires burning" as it were. In a culture that frowned on educating women, she was very intelligent, widely read, and very active in promoting the education of her gender. She made financial investments often without the knowledge of her husband - also a cultural taboo.
Holton does an excellent job of highlighting Adams' strengths as well as her weaknesses, giving us a well-rounded, quite readable biography of this great woman. He certainly does Adams justice in examining her life as a woman and not simply as the wife of a founding father. I would highly recommend this book to any reader of American history or of women's rights.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another A+,
Another A+ book by Woody Holton. I had already read just about everything about John and Abigail Adams, and this book was a pleasure to read.
His earlier book, "Unruly Americans & the Origins of the Constitution," is the best book I've read on the origins of our constitution.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The female half of the American Revolution's power couple,
This review is from: Abigail Adams (Paperback)
Not a fiction reader ... even the intricacies of historical fiction? Then stroll down the book store aisle to historical biographies and pick up Woody Holton's "Abigail Adams". One of the reviews I read called this "epic and intimate" and that's a perfect description. Having read so much of John Adams, I was thrilled with a readable, enjoyable walk down the path of an extraordinary woman's life ... both personal and professional. For Abigail Adams was so much more than a wife and mother to two presidents. Self-educated in a time when even well-to-do families thought educating girls was a waste of time; self-taught in business and real estate investments at a time when women were the keepers of home and hearths; intellectually independent from her famous husband and confident enough to express her independent thoughts and decisions to him. "Remember the Ladies" has taken on exaggerated proportions over the centuries, but Abigail's exhortation to her husband, then in Philadelphia writing the Declaration of Independence, went on to ask him to "... not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands" and focused her pleas to her husband on actual physical abuse of wives by their husbands for which, in those days, a husband was never held to account. And then there is Abigail, the entrepreneur ... the woman who demanded that her husband send her every pin he could find in Philadelphia telling him that there were no pins for ladies' sewing needs in Boston and she could thus corner the market and make a profit ... which she did! Absorbing, highly-entertaining, charmingly instructive ... "Abigail Adams" opens the reader's mind and heart to the other half of the American Revolution's power couple in ways that show us how powerful the Adams' friendship was to the incredible accomplishments of this political couple from the Colony of Massachusetts.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfing biography,
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This review is from: Abigail Adams (Kindle Edition)
Unique among "founding fathers/mothers" of the United States, this is the story of Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, mother of our sixth, and great grandmother to an additional generation of diplomats. The daughter of a minister whose schooling was minimal, she strove to improve education for girls and an end to coverture, the legal precept that married women ceased to be legal entities and become chattel. Although she spent many years as a single parent, (on several occasions her husband took the oldest boys to Europe on his diplomatic missions,) she managed the family farm, the children's education, became an entrepreneur, and made more money than did her husband did, until he was elected President. Not only did she amass the wealth, but she earmarked a portion of it as her money, and successfully willed it to her children. If those were not enough accomplishments, she and John Adams wrote thousands of letters to each other. Abigail also supplemented the incomes of her two sisters, and her own children as adults.
One can hardly curtail one's admiration for this woman. The biographer writes with a sense of wonder at all these achievements. His scholarship is remarkable in its thoroughness.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new froemd,
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This review is from: Abigail Adams (Kindle Edition)
I now know Abigail almost like a family member. Important too were the daily trials of living in the early days of our Republic. Frankly I couldn't lay the book down.; I was captured to the final pages.
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Abigail Adams by Woody Holton (Hardcover - November 3, 2009)
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