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John Adams (The American Presidents Series, No. 2) Hardcover – June 11, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (June 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069372
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Diggins pays tribute to David McCullough's reestablishment of John Adams's reputation, but he has his own take in this entry in the American Presidents series, edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. He seeks to rebut the conventional wisdom that the country's second president was a "loser," a view based on the fact after losing the election of 1800, Adams's party, the Federalists, disappeared from the scene. The 1800 election was, in fact, a triumph for Adams and the ideas the Federalists espoused, says CUNY historian Diggins (On Hallowed Ground), as an opposition party came to power "without America shedding a single drop of blood." Furthermore, Diggins asserts, "American political history begins with the rift between Adams and Jefferson," and though Adams has been disparaged by historians, he played a central role in the development of American democracy. More than just a miniature of our second president, Diggins's slim volume offers a reconsideration of Adams, a thoughtful study of American politics of the period and Adams's legacy for today.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Repudiated by the electorate in 1800 and denigrated by historians ever since, the second president rose from the dead in David McCullough's blockbuster John Adams (2001). In this study, part of the publisher's accessible series on each of the country's chief executives, historian Diggins' academic specialty, intellectual history, influences his appraisal of Adams. The president wrote copiously about political philosophy, and in one chapter, Diggins closely evaluates the material. This is a wise confinement, for, except for his correspondence, Adams is a chore to read. The pace quickens in the balance of Diggins' narrative as he integrates Adams' fundamental ideas about politics into the hurly-burly story of the 1790s. Adams' presidency was, of course, vexed by the quasiwar with revolutionary France and associated turbulence in domestic politics. As much as recounting events, Diggins engages historians of this much-written-about decade, detecting pro-Jefferson bias in some, as he argues for Adams' significance as a political moralist. This examination will be of special interest to history readers with an analytical bent. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

This is a review of the John Adams book for the Childhoods of the Presidents series.
Suz
Ellis has been questioning whether any part of this scenario makes any sense, whether Adams is at all a villain, and whether Jefferson is nearly as heroic.
Robert Moore
You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next.
Frank Anderson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. P Spencer on October 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
To start with and to avoid disappointment for those looking for something other than what this is, some of the trade reviews are just plain wrong: this is not a biography focusing on Adams childhood and youth. In fact, it isn't really a biography at all. What it is is a short, to the point but nevertheless fairly deep analysis of Adams' political thought with a particular emphasis on the politics of his presidential administration. It is written from a very positive view point (one shared by David McCullough) and from a view point that is quite hostile to Thomas Jefferson. As such it is an invaluable read for anyone interested in the development of presidential politics in America as well as anyone seeking the "rest of the story" regarding Adams, Jefferson, and their relationship.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It hasn't been hard to notice that John Adams's reputation has been undergoing a serious rehabilitation in recent years. Joseph Ellis in particular has been dedicated to revising our understandings of both Adams and his nemesis/friend Thomas Jefferson. In his PASSIONATE SAGE: THE CHARACTER AND LEGACY OF JOHN ADAMS, FOUNDING BROTHERS: THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION, and AMERICAN SPHINX: THE CHARACTER OF THOMAS JEFFERSON, Ellis has been challenging a long established scenario in which the arch conservative John Adams was pitted against the populist liberal Thomas Jefferson for the political destiny of America, and the hero Jefferson triumphed over the mildly villainous Adams. Ellis has been questioning whether any part of this scenario makes any sense, whether Adams is at all a villain, and whether Jefferson is nearly as heroic. He has done this not by asserting the virtues of conservativism, but whether Adams has been correctly understood at all, both by his contemporaries and by subsequent generations. This reevaluation of Adams was continued by the spectacular and unanticipated mega-bestseller by David McCullough of 2001. This process of reassessment is clearly carried forward by John Patrick Diggins. For the record, I find the rehabilitation of Adams by these and other writers to be both welcome and highly convincing.

For two hundred years, our view of Adams came very much through the lenses of his critics and opponents. The truism that history is written from the standpoint of the victors is perhaps truer of Adams than any other major political figure in United States history. Adams was said to be a closet monarchist, a favorer of aristocracy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Lucas VINE VOICE on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Unlike David McCullough's thoroughly personal biography on John Adams, Diggins presents us a biography that is more political than personal. Rather than focus on Adams as the husband, lawyer, and patriot, whose picture McCullough has already well painted, Diggins focuses on Adams as the philosopher and politician.

Philosophically, we learn that Adams saw government as a check on the warring social classes and as a restraint on their desires to dominate one another. Although such a vision guarantees a stagnant government, for Adams, the solution was found in an energetic executive. Once becoming the chief executive, though, Diggins points out that Adams was too isolated, too idealistic, and too virtuous to put his vision into action. Consequently, Adams could not reconcile himself with the warring factions around him and refused to defend himself from the baseless accusations those factions threw his way. The result, a 4 AM departure from the White House after a single, tumultuous term and a relegation to obscurity for most of America's history.

While Diggins' book is only a fifth the size of McCullough's, this new level of complexity is surprising and welcoming. Recommended for those who desire this level of complexity in their subject matter, but not for those who desire a biography that is more personal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Personally, I prefer more detailed biographies of historical figures as opposed to briefer ones. Hence, I really appreciated McCullough's detailed work on John Adams. Nonetheless, Diggins' book is a worthwhile addition to one's library. Especially for those who want a briefer, accessible biography, the Diggins' book would be a good investment.

First, unlike most books in The American Presidents series, there is considerable emphasis on the ideas of John Adams. This is most important, given that he had a more philosophical bent than most American presidents, and his writings are, in themselves, contributions to our understanding of American political thought. This alone makes this book most useful to those who are interested in the impact of presidents. In this case, his ideas are important to be aware of.

Second, it is a decent biography in its own right, given its brevity (a hallmark of this series). The book traces the arc of Adams' life from birth to death--a rich, long, full life. We see his friendship with Thomas Jefferson disintegrate and become enmity--only to have the friendship rekindled after the termination of Jefferson's political career. Their letters back and forth are intriguing, in exposing the very different political perspectives at stake in the early 19th century.

We get a sense of the special relationship between Adams and his wife, Abigail. We see his unique, and sometimes problematic, personality at work--desperate for respect and prickly enough. His role as diplomat in Europe. His service as Vice President under George Washington (describing the office as "The most insignificant office that ever man contrived"). His role as President, after having defeated Jefferson. While he had some bad moments (e.g.
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