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John Adams
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John Adams [Paperback]

David McCullough
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,481 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 29, 2008
In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second president of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as "out of his senses"; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the most moving love stories in American history.

This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war and social issues, but also about human nature, love, religious faith, virtue, ambition, friendship, and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, John Adams is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

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Editorial Reviews Review

Left to his own devices, John Adams might have lived out his days as a Massachusetts country lawyer, devoted to his family and friends. As it was, events swiftly overtook him, and Adams--who, David McCullough writes, was "not a man of the world" and not fond of politics--came to greatness as the second president of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of a generation of revolutionary leaders. He found reason to dislike sectarian wrangling even more in the aftermath of war, when Federalist and anti-Federalist factions vied bitterly for power, introducing scandal into an administration beset by other difficulties--including pirates on the high seas, conflict with France and England, and all the public controversy attendant in building a nation.

Overshadowed by the lustrous presidents Washington and Jefferson, who bracketed his tenure in office, Adams emerges from McCullough's brilliant biography as a truly heroic figure--not only for his significant role in the American Revolution but also for maintaining his personal integrity in its strife-filled aftermath. McCullough spends much of his narrative examining the troubled friendship between Adams and Jefferson, who had in common a love for books and ideas but differed on almost every other imaginable point. Reading his pages, it is easy to imagine the two as alter egos. (Strangely, both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.) But McCullough also considers Adams in his own light, and the portrait that emerges is altogether fascinating. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Here a preeminent master of narrative history takes on the most fascinating of our founders to create a benchmark for all Adams biographers. With a keen eye for telling detail and a master storyteller's instinct for human interest, McCullough (Truman; Mornings on Horseback) resurrects the great Federalist (1735-1826), revealing in particular his restrained, sometimes off-putting disposition, as well as his political guile. The events McCullough recounts are well-known, but with his astute marshaling of facts, the author surpasses previous biographers in depicting Adams's years at Harvard, his early public life in Boston and his role in the first Continental Congress, where he helped shape the philosophical basis for the Revolution. McCullough also makes vivid Adams's actions in the second Congress, during which he was the first to propose George Washington to command the new Continental Army. Later on, we see Adams bickering with Tom Paine's plan for government as suggested in Common Sense, helping push through the draft for the Declaration of Independence penned by his longtime friend and frequent rival, Thomas Jefferson, and serving as commissioner to France and envoy to the Court of St. James's. The author is likewise brilliant in portraying Adams's complex relationship with Jefferson, who ousted him from the White House in 1800 and with whom he would share a remarkable death date 26 years later: July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration. (June) Forecast: Joseph Ellis has shown us the Founding Fathers can be bestsellers, and S&S knows it has a winner: first printing is 350,000 copies, and McCullough will go on a 15-city tour; both Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club have taken this book as a selection.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141657588X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416575887
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,481 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
310 of 317 people found the following review helpful
My curiousity in John Adams first piqued by repeatedly in my youth watching the musical "1776" (of which Adams is the main character), I looked forward anxiously to McCullough's latest take on America's 2nd President. It didn't hurt that McCullough's bio "Truman" is still perhaps my favorite political biography of them all. With all these high expectations, I was waiting for my hopes to be dashed. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
"Adams" is a terrific piece of work. Relying on a treasure trove of letters and correspondence written by Adams and his tremendous wife Abigail (both of whom were compulsive/obsessive writers), McCullough replays the history of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Washington Presidency and Adams's tumultuous four years as President with vibrant storytelling and just the right amount of detail without getting weighed down.
In MuCullough's view, Adams was a brilliant, determined, forthright, nonpartisan, stubborn politician who was unabashedly American and ambitious for higher office only to the point that public service (according to Adams) was the greatest calling of all.
Anybody looking for a line by line history of America's birth, from 1776 to 1800, will probably be disappointed. McCullough skips over the details of the American Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution. He instead tracks the diplomatic journeys of Adams, who travels to England, France and Holland with Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (both occasionally) as they try to negotiate various peace and commercial treaties.
The best surprise of the book? Abigail Adams, an amazing woman living entirely ahead of her time.
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127 of 134 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Brothers October 20, 2001
"In the cold...New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. The temperature, according to records kept by Adams' former professor of science at Harvard, John Winthrop, was in the low twenties."
One can almost hear the amiable yet dramatic tones of historian David McCullough, punctuated by paintings of New England blizzards and the sound of hoofbeats. (McCullough is a frequent narrator of documentaries, notably those of Ken Burns.) McCullough's familiar cadence resounds through this extremely well written best-seller. The details never slow the reading or obscure the portrait; instead, source materials (much of it from the Adams' personal letters) illuminate and concretize his subject. McCullough writes clearly, forcefully, and with an ear for detail, humor, and anecdote.
Overall this is a flattering portrait of Adams' longtime service as lawyer, revolutionary, writer and philosopher, diplomat, politician, and farmer. The book could well have been subtitled: "An Appreciation," both because Adams demonstrates so much to admire (including integrity, erudition, patriotism, work ethic, and courage) and because McCullough either doesn't criticize Adams or couches his disapproval by leaving some issues open.
Some readers may suspect a positive bias. Criticized and embattled by Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton--and by the libelous hyperbole of opposition newspapers and rivals--Adams takes on an almost martyr-like persona. To test McCullough's balance, one must read other books on both the Founders and the political culture of the times.
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
This book is an outstanding success on so many levels. The writing is most lyrical and beautiful...there is not one wasted word in the whole book. It's a book that is difficult to put down for the night.
Perhaps the greatest success of the book is the correction of many John Adams stereotypes. In this book you meet a John Adams who is a delightful wit, a man deeply in love with his nation, and more-so with his wife. Mr. McCullough also gives Abigail Adams her due as a most delightful person and one of the most important women in our history. The love the couple shared is as deep a love as humans are possible of giving and receiving, and that love is radiated to you from the pages of this book.
A warrning to Jefferson fanatics...during his research, I think McCullough, perhaps more than anybody else, gained a true understanding of Thomas Jefferson and has done the nearly impossible...portraying Jefferson as a human being. As a human being, Jefferson loses some of his shine. As a human being, john Adams shines even brighter.
Mr. McCullough has done with John Adams what he did with Harry Truman a few years ago...he has restored the lustre of a truly great and underrated American. I hope that preparing this book gave Mr. McCullough as much pleasure as I had reading it.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography, Excellent author June 20, 2001
Its a given that whenever you see David McCullough's name on a book cover that the scholarship will be awesome and the writing will be brisk and entertaining. John Adams is exceptional in that McCullough has managed to outdo even his works on Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt, which takes some doing, believe me. The typical view of John Adams is that he was a dull, humorless failure of a President sandwiched between the two great success stories of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. McCullough shows us Adams the wit, Adams the innovator, and Adamsthe truly good man. Furthermore, McCullough also lets us see the entire Adams family, especially Abigail, John's soul mate in every possible way; and his son John Quincy, a worthy heir to his giant of a father. As Revolutionary leader, Adams was one of the first to be determined that the colonies should be free from Britain and one of the strongest representatives the country had in France, Holland, and England. As President, Adams had the thankless job of balancing between the pro-British High Federalists and the pro-French Republicans so as to keep the USout of a war which he knew we could not afford. Neither vain nor charismatic, Adams met the all too common fate of those who merely do a good job without hogging the limelight: he was jeered, ignored, and pushed to one side while he still had many more years he could have served. Another fascinating aspect of Adams' life which McCullough covers brilliantly is his long friendship with Thomas Jefferson. The two men were quite different in style and manner, but were close friends for many years until political differences divided them. I was very happy to read McCullough's account of how the friendship was restored after both men were in retirement, and to know that they kept in contact with each other almost up to the day they both died, July 4, 1826.
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More About the Author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback; His other widely praised books are 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and The Johnstown Flood. He has been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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