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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 3, 2010
We all might be more familiar with McCullough's book on this forgotten Founder. After all, that book was turned into an HBO movie. That does not mean it is the better book, though. I would argue the Ferling's book is much, much better. It offers more insight into Adams' life and works, but without all the frilly trips into his environment. Ferling does a good job of placing Adams in the intellectual stream of his times, but without trying to novelize his relations with others of his generation. This is a sound practice because it prevents Adams from appearing as simply one individual who let his personality be shaped by the reaction to those around him. He had a brain, a very strong one as well, which is why we should not forget the fact that he responded to things beyond those around him. Ferling does this, and gives a great book in the process.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2011
WOW...........This is great biography. I thoroughly enjoyed David McCullough's 'John Adams'. I absolutely loved John Ferling's treatment of this Founding Father. Mr. Ferling has a magical quality of presenting American history during the Revolutionary Period. He has great editorial sensitivity in selecting what subject matter to cover in depth and what to slip over with brief gracefulness. He knows how to present his material in an entertaining, yet historically accurate manner. This is one of the best biographies I have ever had the pleasure to read. After reading both this and Mr. McCullough's version of Mr. Adams' life, it is a bit disturbing that we do not honor Mr. Adams as he deserves we should. Certainly, one picks up from readings that he had some personality traits that were not particularly attractive, but when we become aware of the harsh sacrifices that he and his family endured for this nation, his accomplishments clearly deserve our respect and admiration. I'm grateful to have come across this masterful work and highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in American History, and biography in general. I have read numerous books by Mr. Ferling and have thoroughly enjoyed each one and look forward to more from him in the future. As mentioned previously, this is Great Biography.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2012
I am currently reading biographies for the Presidents of the United States in order. I selected this book due to its length, being a moderate read for only my second biography into this adventure. I did not wish to become overwhelmed too quickly by too long or tedious a book. This biography was excellent! As a clinical psychologist, I found this book to provide wonderful insight into the mind of the second President of the United States. I felt like I could readily relate to the man and learned much about his life, his service to the country, and his presidency. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about this amazing man!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2011
I will keep this review short because I know how long reviews can be daunting.

I have to say that I highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to know more about John Adams. Ferling presents Adams based largely in primary sources, and sparingly in posthumous conjecture. Of course some of this can surely not be avoided, as with any work, but Ferling does well to minimize its effect on the reader. He present Adams in a very realistic way that shows you the true character of the man. He aptly conveys the conflict within Adams and the circumstances that surrounded him.

The book is very well written, and not at all dry which is always a concern with the historical genre. It is also well organized so that the reader can stop and start without having to back track to remember what they read last.

In short, this book is a wonderful way to learn more about a tragically forgotten founding father. I highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2012
Ferling is one of those authors of whom you expect great things. I was not disappointed with his take on John Adams. With the exception of the fact that he did not earn a Pulitzer for his version like David McCullough did, I found little to disappoint with "John Adams: A Life".

One word of advance counsel: Before you get comfortable, you will need close access to a dictionary while you read this work. Since I like to learn new words, I was not too frustrated. However, by the end of the book, it did get just a little old. Words like captious, sybarite, querulous, peculation, irascible, supercilious, truculence, vertiginous and hirsute are just a few of the many examples of very uncommon words littering the pages of "John Adams: A Life" that kept me searching. But don't take my word for it. Dig in and see for yourself. I don't say this as a criticism, unless you are wanting an unchallenging and mundane read. I read to learn, and this book was right up my alley.

Besides learning new words, I learned a lot of new things about our second president, as well as his times, the revolution he participated in, and his contributions to our national origins. I also learned more about his cousin, Samuel Adams than I had read in other books. In fact, Ferling drove me straight into the arms of Mark Puls ("Samuel Adams, Father of The American Revolution" and "Henry Knox, Visionary General of The American Revolution") when I finished his work on John. I have read Puls' work on Henry Knox and I know he is good, too.

In short, to me, a good writer is one who creates interest, curiosity, and a desire to learn more. Like David McCullough and a host of other great writers, John E. Ferling does just that. I am totally satisfied with what I have read in this great work, but also sufficiently unsatisfied that I am inspired to learn more. John Ferling did his job well and I highly recommend this result of his efforts.

Five stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2012
As I sat trying to decide what to say in my review, I first thought it was important to say this book is by far better than the one by David McCullough. Then I noticed that the previous reviewer felt the same way! This book has touched a nerve in me. It pulled together so many unanswered questions I had about John Adams. I believe the author has painted an amazingly accurate picture. It's now much easier to understand the complex relationship between John and Abigail. I'm grateful to the author for shedding light on some false beliefs I carried, created by McCullough and others desiring to paint a rosy picture. I'm a fan of reality and I highly recommend this wonderful book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2012
Bought this after seeing the HBO John Adams series. I had intended to by the David McCullough book the HBO series is based off, but this book was on sale for $3 and the McCullough one was going for $15 so I took a chance on John Ferling's work and I am glad I did. The book gives just enough background without giving too many unnecessary details that have sometimes bored me in other biographies I have read. After reading Ferling's book, my desire to learn more about Adams and his family only increased. Great book, and I would recommend it even at a higher price.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2012
This biography is rich with detail and context. It is unlike other biographies I have read that left me with only a general impression of the person and superficial understanding of the times they lived through. Mr. Ferling has such a talent for capturing the scene that his description of President Adam's character and actions had me keenly feeling tension and intrigue. I found myself eagerly wanting to get back to this book to see what the next misstep, victory or adventure was for our second President - looking at him with reverence and irritation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
*This review is part of an ongoing series for the Presidents Project found in its entirety at [...]*

Book: John Adams: A Life

Author: John E. Ferling

Date Published- Originally published in 1992, this book stood as the best biography on the second President for years. The book may be from a previous generation yet still produces an unbiased and objective look at John Adams. With the McCullough effort postdating Ferling by almost a decade, this is not the go-to book for the most up to date look at Adams. However, despite being over 20 years old, the book still benefits from hindsight and the reflection needed to put the man in context. An Adams work predating Twitter and Facebook does not necessarily detract from a man who died in 1826.

Grade: B

Scope- The author seemingly runs out of steam right before Adams ascends to the Presidency. Truthfully, Adams is a man who leads a tremendously successful and full life with the Presidency mixed in. However, the successor to George Washington does not reach the highest office until almost three quarters into the work. The scope also fails to cover one of the longest post-presidencies in the Revolutionary era. In a time where men did not last past their 60s, Adams lives until the age of 91. His 25 years of retirement is consigned to a mere 30 pages where the tremendous correspondence with Jefferson, Rush and others does not receive its due. The scope of everything leading up to his election in 1796 is wonderful on the part of Ferling. Afterwards, the effort lacks the finishing touch. This book does not fail because it did not look into a decrepit Adams, it fails to touch on his indomitable will.

Grade: B-

Author- John Ferling is an accomplished author from the University of West Virginia. In addition to writing about Adams, Ferling has written about both the Revolutionary Era and about George Washington and Joseph Galloway. As an author ,he writes this work very much like a scholarly book would read. The narrative is progressive and certainly flows chronologically but the reliance on other historians’ work takes away from the flow. Ferling spends much time examining the previous findings of other biographers instead of breaking all the ground himself. The work of the author does not stand alone and conform entirely to the goal of the project.

Grade: C+

Length- The book provides all the functions of a short biography but does a disservice by neglecting the presidency and post-presidency. This length is ideal for a reader wanting to move at a brisk pace through the project as it does not get bogged down by irrelevant details or highly in depth examinations. The length provides a solid introduction to the life of Adams yet could be longer and give the due attention to the Presidency itself.

Grade: B+

Mission- Ferling seems to have two missions, only one of which is stated in his introduction. One is to examine the work of other biographies and put his work in the broad context of previous research. The second mission of the work is to examine John Adams the person, specifically his relationship with his family. Strangely, Ferling does not examine his family relationships or hardships until well into the work. He describes Adams’ absence from his family in multiple instances but fails interestingly enough, to mention the similar absences of his contemporaries. As a result, it seems Ferling does not paint the contemporaries of Adams with the same critical brush. It is an odd mission but because Ferling expressly mentions it in his introduction it reveals a mission unfulfilled.

Grade: C+
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on January 24, 2013
First of all, I bought this book because on it says it was published in 2010, so I thought it was a new book. In fact, it was published in 1992 and reprinted in 2010, but unchanged from the original. Probably, the reprint was motivated by the JA HBO series.

That being said, I am glad I was duped. This is a great book. Unlike some biographers who seem to adore their subject and don't seem to want to discuss their flaws, this book pulls no punches. Ferling, I think, covers all the pluses and minuses of JA's character and accomplishments. I especially like how he discusses other historians' analyses of JA's actions.

I read David McCullough's JA 10 years ago. It was the first biography I had ever read, and it got me started on reading about the Revolutionary era. It got me hooked on this period of the US. I'd have to read it again to compare it to Ferling's. But Ferling's is great.
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