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Henry Adams and the Making of America Hardcover – September 14, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618134301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618134304
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wills nimbly dusts off the nine volumes of Henry Adams's little-studied history of the United States from 1800 to 1817 and proclaims it to be both "a prose masterpiece" and a model for how to research and write history. Adams, he insists, helped to revolutionize the study of history by conducting actual archival research, not just in U.S. repositories but abroad, in London, Paris and Madrid. And at a time when provincial history was the norm, Adams adopted a broad international scope, placing the fledgling nation on the broad canvas of the Napoleonic Wars. Wills has little time for scholars who have dismissed the History as pessimistic or defensive of Adams's ancestors ("Can these people not read?" Wills cries). In contrast, Wills finds Adams's work to be optimistic about the much-needed nationalization that occurred in this period, even though it took the ill-conceived and disastrous War of 1812 to get there. He also notes that Adams could be harshly critical of his own presidential ancestors, particularly John Quincy, in favor of the bold accomplishments of Jefferson and, to a lesser extent, Madison. In all, Adams's history traces "how a nation stagnating at the end of Federalist rule shook itself awake and struck off boldly in new directions." With its revisionist stance, felicitous prose and compelling argument, Wills's book charts new directions as well. (Sept. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

According to Wills, the fact that no one these days has much regard for Henry Adams's histories of the Jefferson and Madison Presidencies is "one of the true scandals of American historiography." Wills argues that the work-nine daunting volumes of it-is a masterpiece that has been almost criminally misread by academics swayed by the "cheap pessimism" and "blatant distortions" of "The Education of Henry Adams." Attempting redress, Wills sets Adams's life story and his historical writings against each other, "stereoscopically"-thus producing what might be called the reeducation of Henry Adams. Unfortunately, after a few striking chapters portraying Adams's disdain for his Presidential forebears (he wished he could be "less Adamsy"), the book becomes a volume-by-volume gloss that is no great advertisement either for the history's readability or for the distinctiveness of its argument about the emergence of an American national identity.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

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This is an extraordinary book.
Observer
Overall, this is a very enjoyable read and will certainly encourage readership of Adams' great works.
R. Albin
It was a pleasure to read a book about a book.
Michael T. Bailey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on October 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book by Gary Wills will be of great value to anyone interested in Henry Adams, in the Jefferson and Madison administrations, and the writing of good American history. It is really several books in one. First, Wills poses the central query of the book: why are such outstanding historical contributions so little read or discussed today, especially since most everyone is familiar with Adams' Education? Basically, Wills in his Introduction concludes that most historians (such as Hofstadter) have only read the initial chapters which paint a less encouraging picture of the emerging United States than do the final chapters at the end of this long work. Also, it has often been assumed that Adams' history is really just an apologia ("the family feud" thesis) for John Adams and lacks independent professional judgment.

The second focus of the book, and that which is of most interest to students of Adams, occupies the next six chapters. This section is designated as "The Making of An Historian," and is chock full of interesting facts about Adams and his development into an historian. His ties to the South through his grandmother; his period teaching history at Harvard where he pioneered in the development of archival research; his activities during the Civil War; his stab at postwar political reform; his early writings and editorship of the North American Review are all covered with typical Wills insight and analytical clarity.

The bulk of the book is then devoted to a discussion of the actual histories of these two vital administrations. I found this to be less of interest as a student of Adams, although Wills is extraordinarily cogent in discussing his historical techniques (including archival research), but of great interest as a student of the early national period.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a very enjoyable book by the intellectual polymath Garry Wills. In this book, Wills is concerned primarily with boosting interest in Henry Adams' great history of the USA during the Jefferson and Madison administrations. As Wills points out, Adams is recognized as a major figure in American literature, but mainly for his famous autobiographical work, The Education of Henry Adams. Wills praises Adams' histories as high points of historical scholarship and also as considerable literary achievements. Wills is correct. Along with the work of his fellow Bostonian, Francis Parkman, Adams' histories are the peak of American historical writing in the 19th century and by any measure, superbly written. Wills book is divided into 2 parts. The first part is a thematic review of Adams' career up until he began writing his major historical works. Wills shows how Adams' life experiences prepared him particularly well for producing the histories. His experience in politics growing up in the home of a prominent political figure was a superb introdution to American party politics. Service as his father's personal secretary when the latter was the American Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War introduced him to diplomacy at a high level. His interactions with an older generation of Boston antiquarians and historians provided a solid grounding in archival research and analysis, and his relatively broad education, including a stint in Germany, encouraged the relatively novel, increasingly empirical approach to political and diplomatic history that became the professional norm. Wills then proceeds to a book by book gloss and analysis of Adams' histories, explicating and criticizing Adams' analysis and conclusions.Read more ›
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Henry Adams's nine-volume History of the United States in the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison is by all accounts the greatest historical study written about the United States. Adams begins with a survey of the condition of the United States in 1800, following the election of Thomas Jefferson. He concludes sixteen years later with a description of the United States in 1816, following the end of the War of 1812. For all the turmoil of these years, the country had grown and prospered, and attained something of a sense of itself as a nation. Adams researched his history meticulously, discovered previously unknown documents in the archives of England, France, and Spain, and produced a detailed diplomatic, military, and political history of the era between 1800 and 1816. Fortunately, Adams' history is accessible in its entirety to the interested reader in two volumes of the Library of America series.

In his recent book, "Henry Adams and the Making of America" (2005), Garry Wills describes the creation of Adams's seminal history and leads the reader through Adams's work. Wills's book thus is in part a mirror, describing and commenting upon both Adams' history and the underlying subject of Adams' history -- the United States in the first 16 years of the Nineteenth Century -- and Wills explains why this history matters. Wills points out that Adams's history is too little known and read and that it is frequently misinterpreted. He offers two reasons for the misinterpretations.

First, some readers assume that Adams's aim was to vindicate the policies of his great-grandfather, President John Adams, and his grandfather, President John Quincy Adams by deprecating the work of Jefferson and Madison.
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