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Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography Paperback – June 5, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0766161443 ISBN-10: 0766161447

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 532 pages
  • Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (June 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0766161447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0766161443
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,819,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many great artists have had at least intermittent doubts about their own abilities. But The Education of Henry Adams is surely one of the few masterpieces to issue directly from a raging inferiority complex. The author, to be sure, had bigger shoes to fill than most of us. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather were U.S. presidents. His father, a relative underachiever, scraped by as a member of Congress and ambassador to the Court of St. James. But young Henry, born in Boston in 1838, was destined for a walk-on role in his nation's history--and seemed alarmingly aware of the fact from the time he was an adolescent.

It gets worse. For the author could neither match his exalted ancestors nor dismiss them as dusty relics--he was an Adams, after all, formed from the same 18th-century clay. "The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial," we are told,

revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped, from his greatest grandmother's birth, in the odor of political crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged.
Here, as always, Adams tells his story in a third-person voice that can seem almost extraplanetary in its detachment. Yet there's also an undercurrent of melancholy and amusement--and wonder at the specific details of what was already a lost world.

Continuing his uphill conquest of the learning curve, Adams attended Harvard, which didn't do much for him. ("The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.") Then, after a beer-and-sausage-scented spell as a graduate student in Berlin, he followed his father to Washington, D.C., in 1860. There he might have remained--bogged down in "the same rude colony ... camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for workrooms, and sloughs for roads"--had not the Civil War sent Adams père et fils to London. Henry sat on the sidelines throughout the conflict, serving as his father's private secretary and anxiously negotiating the minefields of English society. He then returned home and commenced a long career as a journalist, historian, novelist, and peripheral participant in the political process--a kind of mouthpiece for what remained of the New England conscience.

He was not, by any measure but his own, a failure. And the proof of the pudding is The Education of Henry Adams itself, which remains among the oddest and most enlightening books in American literature. It contains thousands of memorable one-liners about politics, morality, culture, and transatlantic relations: "The American mind exasperated the European as a buzz-saw might exasperate a pine forest." There are astonishing glimpses of the high and mighty: "He saw a long, awkward figure; a plain, ploughed face; a mind, absent in part, and in part evidently worried by white kid gloves; features that expressed neither self-satisfaction nor any other familiar Americanism..." (That would be Abraham Lincoln; the "melancholy function" his Inaugural Ball.) But most of all, Adams's book is a brilliant account of how his own sensibility came to be. A literary landmark from the moment it first appeared, the Autobiography confers upon its author precisely that prize he felt had always eluded him: success. --James Marcus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"The pleasure of reading The EDUCATION is the pleasure of seeing history come alive." -- Alfred Kazin
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Henry Adams was President John Adams great grandson.
Bruce E. McLeod Jr.
He seemed almost too humble and didn't seem to have a strong opinion of right and wrong because he wasn't sure which was which.
Jeffrey Van Wagoner
Adams writes like a novelist, and this book reads like a novel.
A.J.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 101 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on September 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Nearing the age of seventy, when "the mind wakes to find itself looking blankly into the void of death," Adams wrote for his closest friends his version of the earth-shattering events they had experienced. He had 100 copies printed in luxurious editions and, in early 1907, sent them to such dignitaries as Theodore Roosevelt, William and Henry James, Charles Gaskell, and Henry Cabot Lodge. This private account was not released commercially until after Adams's death, in 1918, when it became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Many scholars and critics, as well as Adams himself, view "The Education of Henry Adams" as a sequel to his earlier book, "Mont Sant Michel and Chartres" (also privately printed). Indeed, the posthumous edition of the later work opens with an Editor's Preface (signed by Lodge, but presumptuously written by Adams himself) in which the author proposes subtitles for each volume: respectively, "A Study of Twentieth-Century Multiplicity" and "A Study of Thirteenth-Century Unity." While the two works are certainly linked thematically, they are not companion works in the traditional sense: "Mont Sant Michel" is a personal examination of medieval institutional and cultural history, while the "Education" is Adams's reckoning of his own involvement in international diplomatic affairs and intellectual circles. In other words, one can safely and profitably read one book without reading the other.

So what is this difficult-to-categorize book about? Reduced to its simplest level, it recounts how an "eighteenth-century American boy" grew up during the nineteenth century, only to be intimidated and awed by the chaos of the twentieth.
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful By "dgl1976" on September 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
I can only laugh, to hear the reports of students being required to read Adams. If there is one thing I am certain, it is that Adams would not appreciate being assigned. "The Education" is intended for those real students whose *desire* is learning. I put special emphasis on *desire*, not for the sake of being pompous, but to distinguish this type of desire as being self-motivated. Adams "Education" is a tremendous rebuttal to the ordinary, institutionalized education. There is little doubt as to the socio-economic benefits and sensibilities of formal education, but one should also recognize its inherent limitations. People seldom enjoy what they are forced to do! Adams' "Education" is not to be read as a classic, or because well-read people discuss it over coffee...rather, read it because you're curious. If you've forgotten that school and education are distinct, let Mr. Adams show you the difference. And well meaning teachers of the world.....Phuhleease, don't require Mr. Adams, as you will ruin the experience. --One last note; I think the other reviewers miss the boat when they call Adams cynical and depressing. This is not cynicism, but wit-big difference. For cynicism see Sinclair Lewis' Babbit(which you shouldnt assign either I might add). As far as depressing, I just don't get that at all. It was patently obvious to this reader that Mr. Adams' high-mindedness and detachment were toungue and cheek. In writing his "Education" Mr. Adams, no doubt, enjoyed himself...and while reading it, so will you.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Dear Stefi, Now that there is a slight lull in the happy Chestertown merry-go-round, I want to write a paragraph or two explaining why <The Education of Henry Adams> is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. This is why it is so interesting: It was written about 1906 and covers U.S. intellectual and political history from about 1860 to 1906. What is clever about it is the cynical, humorous sophistication (very unAmerican) with which he, an insider, regards all of these events. The book, like Montaigne or Rousseau's <Confessions> is an autobiography and, like Montaigne, Adams is of the view that life should above all be amusing, so that any great enterprise should be undertaken only if it is indeed amusing. The driving idea of the book, however, is where to find the truth (you guessed it--he is still searching on the last page). The places where he searches are very intriguing. He begins at Harvard, where, says he, he learned nothing from books and only one thing from the classes: how to get up and talk in front of large crowds of people about nothing. He was required to do this routinely, and his speeches were, like everyone else's, greeted with hissing and criticisms, so he learned not to expect approbation from an audience. Adams got heavily into the debate about evolution (Darwin being the hot topic at the end of the nineteenth century), because he thought it was the main amusement of his era. His position on evolution is "reversion" rather than progress. One of his proofs is a comparison of George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant. He admired Washington (a great general who became a great president); he voted for Grant (a great general). He knew personally the members of Grant's cabinet, thieves or incompetents at best.Read more ›
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