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John Quincy Adams: American Visionary Hardcover – May 6, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061915416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061915413
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A failed president is the popular conception of the sixth chief executive of the U.S., but Kaplan’s open mind as he diligently researched this much-maligned figure and conceived the biographical picture he would construct based on his wide reading and study results in a much broader understanding. With great felicity of style, Kaplan, who is not only an esteemed biographer (his Thomas Carlyle, written in 1993, was a finalist for two top prizes) but also a professor of English, pays respect to his academic background by following as a major thread in this monumental biography Adams’ giftedness as a writer, as his many public writings and copiously kept diary attest. An outstanding diplomat prior to his occupancy of the White House, Adams, son of the second president, stumbled badly in the highest office in the land. But Kaplan sees not an inadequate man in a position he could not manage. He sees instead a “visionary,” who stood for a united American republic free of the divisiveness of slavery. The lack of accomplishments during Adams’ one-term presidency was the result, as Kaplan depicts it, of his enemies’ concerted and united effort to thwart any of the programs he endeavored to achieve. --Brad Hooper

Review

“Kaplan has produced a full-length narrative of this remarkable life, rendered in lucid and loving prose. . . . Kaplan rightly portrays Adams as a man ahead of his time. . . . A valuable book about an important American figure.” (Robert W. Merry, The New York Times Book Review)

“An engaging, well-crafted, and deeply researched biography that puts particular emphasis on John Quincy’s rich life of the mind.” (Susan Dunn, The New York Review of Books)

“In undertaking John Quincy Adams, Fred Kaplan. . . clearly is trying to do for the son what David McCullough did for the father. . . . It was a notable life, marked now by a notable biography.” (The Boston Globe)

John Quincy Adams should be required reading inside the Beltway. . . . Kaplan has penned a richly detailed canticle to his subject. . . . Kaplan’s narrative is both riveting and brimming with telling details.” (The Christian Science Monitor)

“Well-researched and well-written. . . . An admiring and admirable account.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Insightful and engrossing. . . . As Kaplan makes plain in his own clear and finely chiseled prose, John Quincy Adams was, at his core, a writer. . . . A fine biography.” (Annette Gordon-Reed, The American Scholar)

“An exemplary portrait. . . . Kaplan is accomplished at the art of biography.” (Louis P. Masur, The Los Angeles Review of Books)

“Beautifully researched and written. . . . Biography fans, don’t miss this one.” (The Washingtonian, Best Books of the Month)

“As well-written, comprehensive, and satisfying account of Adams’s personal life and career as we have seen in print.” (The Washington Times)

“There is much to praise in this extensively researched book, which is certainly one of the finest biographies of a sadly underrated man. . . . These are the marks of a master historian and biographer.” (Carol Berkin, The Washington Post)

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Customer Reviews

I found this book very well written and very informative.
Metallurgist
Fred Kaplan's book John Quincy Adams: American Visionary is remarkably good, far more interesting, insightful, and informative than I had expected.
not a natural
The reader with a keen interest in history will find this book a pleasure to read.
Rule 62 Ken

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Bill Barto VINE VOICE on May 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Biographies are difficult to write. A biographer seldom approaches the subject with a clean slate. Many (most?) presidential biographers approach the subject from a historical or political perspective and emphasize events or societal currents, sometimes to the detriment of the subject of the biography. In the case of this biography, we have a retired English professor writing a biography of an extremely prolific political figure who had real literary talent. The focus of this work is clearly on the person and writings of Adams rather than other aspects of his life. And yet, even accepting this prospective bias, I am left unsatisfied by this work.

On the positive side, it is an exhaustive study of John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, 17-year Congressman, Senator, Secretary of State, professor, author, diarist (50 volumes!), and anti-slavery advocate. His is a remarkable story, and the author tells it in great detail, relying on correspondence and journals to provide a first-hand account of many incidents in Adams' life.

That being noted, I found this book to be very tiresome, oddly organized, and lacking in historical and political context. For example, the author spends over 100 pages on the childhood and education of Adams but less than 40 on his presidency. What many authorities consider to be Adams' most significant period, his time in Congress, receives only a bit more coverage than childhood and early legal career. The author mentions significant historical events, e.g., the XYZ affair on page 156, without previous explanation. Elsewhere, the author begins to discuss a topic but leaves off without completing the discussion or explaining the significance of the matters mentioned.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By JoeV VINE VOICE on January 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At the risk of stating the obvious, John Quincy Adams should be remembered for more than being the son of a Founding Father and a one-term President. So a new biography to bring him out of the historical fog is a welcome and well worthy endeavor. Unfortunately - at least for this reader - this book isn't it.

First, this cradle to the grave biography is a very concerted effort to humanize JQA; a very admirable task, for much like his father, John Quincy took his public service and sense of duty very seriously; and therefore also much like his father, he was not the easiest to person to "like". The reader is presented with JQA's extensive reading list, his writings/ opinions and prose/poetry - much of this quoted directly from his letters, speeches and his lifelong journal. So there are a lot of quotes - too many for this reader - this over-reliance resulting in the narrative both losing its flow and poignancy.

Don't get me wrong, there is much I learned here - particularly how much JQA traveled during his lifetime - this when 50 miles was a "journey" - how hard he worked - and another for instance - Mrs. JQA's health issues. Poor Louisa Adams seemingly never feeling well for any extended period of time causing much concern and never permitting the marriage to blossom into the partnership the senior Adams and Abigail had.

One other quirk of the narrative worth mentioning here. Events in JQA's life are stated - his marriage, appointments, elections - with the circumstances leading to them subsequently covered. Not necessarily a bad technique in and of itself, but here the transitions aren't smooth and at times, aren't coherent - which became confusing.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful By David Zampino VINE VOICE on March 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
. . . and give it a reluctant -- but earned -- three stars.

First -- the good bits (and there were quite a few!) The most valuable part of of this book begins with the fact that it was written at all. Critical biographies of significant leaders who have fallen out of the mainstream of public view are extremely important because they provide context and background and can thus provide a different and unique perspective that can be missed.

I learned a great deal about a President about whom I already knew a fair amount. I knew that he was well-traveled in his youth -- but had no idea as to the extent of that travel. I knew that he was, at one point, Minister to Russia -- but was unaware of several of his other diplomatic postings. I knew that he was a remarkably well-educated and well-read individual -- but not to the depths of the matter. I knew that he served for 17 years with distinction in the United States House of Representatives following his Presidency -- but didn't previously know that this was public service that he felt was his duty to undertake -- even against his family wishes, and, in the end, to the detriment of his health.

In short, I found that I had learned a great deal -- and that what I learned was interesting and informative.

There were two glaring negatives, each one costing the book a star.
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