From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This new biography by Grant, who has written previously on financial history (Money of the Mind), gives us John Adams's life in vivid detail. In his New England childhood, the amorous and "bookish" Adams grew up in a four-room farmhouse, the eldest of three children—"by prevailing standards of fertility, almost an only child." The heart of the book chronicles Adams's involvement in the Revolution, from his early praise of the Boston Tea Party through his stint as postwar diplomat in France. His presidency seems almost an afterthought, with almost as much space devoted to fleshing out the details of his narrow victory . One might have liked a richer depiction of Adams's friendship, falling out, rapprochement, and brilliant correspondence with Jefferson. But if that storied friendship gets short shrift, Adams's personal thoughts about wealth, and his worries about luxury corrupting the American republic, are afforded just the sort of detail one expects from a writer with Grant's financial acumen. He ably joins the shelves of recent books on the founding fathers. For Grant's sake, one hopes that David McCullough whetted, rather than sated appetites. If this biography is not quite as grand as McCullough's, it is every bit as eloquent and deserves a wide reading. (Apr.)
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In the current Adams revival, the second president comes in three sizes: large (John Adams, by David McCullough, 2001); medium (Grant's volume); and small (John Adams, by John Diggins, 2003). The latter concentrated on Adams' contentious presidency, so those desiring the full Adams in half McCullough's length will choose Grant. A financial journalist, Grant astutely appraises one of Adams' unsung achievements--arranging foreign loans that financed the War of Independence; indeed, Adams' 10 years as a diplomat (1778-88) strike the author as his subject's signal contribution to the American Revolution. Grant is less admiring when it comes to Adams' personality, conditioning his praise with amusing asides about Adams' social and political gaucheries. As the book's subtitle implies, Adams was little influenced by opinions about him: he was a libertarian, not a democrat. Grant is excellent at developing Adams' devotion to liberty, honed by British policies that affronted him and turned him into a revolutionary. In Grant's fine synthesis, Adams on the page is the pious, ambitious, and loving man he was in life. Gilbert Taylor
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